As far as I know I’m one of very few southerns blogging these days. I know of many bloggers from the New England states, and some in the mid-west. I have a friend in the central part of the country and several on the west coast but not many others here in the south. And I know several from other countries. But I felt I was in a good position to answer this question.
I was happy to get an email from a good friend the other day. She was asking about the phrase, ‘Bless your heart.’ My daughter-in-law says it's a Southern thing and it is not sincere. But I never doubt your sincerity when you say it to me. What's the deal with this expression? We never used it in where I came from. My DIL was the first person who ever said it to me and she had to tell me it was a snide remark.
I was delighted by her “bless your heart” question. I’m guessing she isn’t the only one confused. It must be instinctive in southern women because any southern woman (well, any female over the age of two) know which way ‘bless your heart’ is intended. It’s like understanding that ‘y’all’ is singular and ‘all y’all’ is plural.
There are three basic ways bless your heart is used. The first is absolutely sincerely. If you say it to someone face to face, or in a text or an email we are truly asking God to bless you. You say this to friends and loved ones who might be going through a hard time, large or small. Anything from a dinged fender to the death of a pet and it’s meant as a comfort to a person you care about.
The second use of bless your heart is probably used the most often. It’s way of negating something insulting you’ve said about someone. Southern women are taught to be polite. So if you say something unkind about someone you can use the all covering, ‘bless their heart.’
Examples: She’s as ugly as homemade sin, bless her heart.
That boy’s dumber than a box of rocks, bless his heart.
That school choir sounds like somebody trying to baptize a cat, bless their hearts.
You see, it’s not insulting if you bless them afterwards.
And then there is the angry ‘bless your heart.’ Suppose a friend tell you she overheard another friend saying your baby is ugly. Your response might be a steely eyed stare and, “Did she now? Well bless her heart.” Which translated for non-southerns would read, “She said what? Well she can kiss my fu*kin’ ass!” Remember one must be polite at all times.
I hope this lesson is a unique southernism has helped. It was fun to try and explain. And just as a bonus lesson -