Florida Rooms, Hall Trees, and Other Things Northerners Wouldn’t Recognize in Southern Homes
If you Google “southern expressions,” you’re likely to wind up with a list of phrases that feel like someone took the speech patterns of the “Beverly Hillbillies” and Blanche from “The Golden Girls” and put them in a blender. There’s a cartoon version of the South that seems to exist mainly in novelty books and media where sweet tea is sipped at every meal and people get into knock-down, drag-out fights over grits.
When I left East Tennessee to go to college in Philadelphia, my apparent lack of an accent (or at least a heavy one) and lack of interest in sweet tea meant many people were surprised to learn that I was Southern. I had, I discovered, much more subtle tells. Despite my non-accent, for example, I tripped up by pronouncing “naked” as “nekkid” in an English class. Or there was the day I called a shopping cart a “buggy.” Over time, I’ve realized the linguistic differences between North and South (and other regions) are often much more subtle, and in a way more interesting, than the hee-haw depictions of the South. You don’t have to say “Well butter my biscuits,” or be obsessed with RC Cola and MoonPies to slightly confuse a friend from a different region of the country with your word choice.
In that spirit, here are some home-related terms that would throw off many non-Southerners. Some are found throughout the South (and even in bordering areas, like the midlands and the Midwest), and some are specific to one state or smaller region. They all remind me of the ways that, even as accents fade and national culture grows seeming less regional, there are still ways to confuse someone from just a few states over. Behold: a few words about and around our homes that might confuse anyone outside of the south.
Sleeping porch, three-seasons room, or Florida room
All three of these phrases describe roughly the same thing: a slightly more closed-in porch, or a slightly less room-feeling room. Usually, the room will have actual walls and glass windows but lack other things that make a room feel like actually part of the house, like heating or insulation. (Thus, a three seasons room—you can comfortably hang out there three out of the four seasons. In winter, it’s too cold.) “Sleeping porches’ hearken back to the days before AC, when sleeping on a porch would provide some relief from the heat in the summer. The phrase “Florida Room” has more mid-century origins. They usually have more of a sunroom/conservatory vibe but really means the same thing in practice: A step beyond a screened-in porch that still feels kind of outdoors.
Veranda, gallery, portico
Porches, not just sleeping porches, are a big deal in the South. A veranda is technically a more enclosed porch with railing, and may wrap around the house. (Of course, Southerners are also fond of wrap-around porches, or at least wistfully talking about wanting one.) A “gallery” is a porch that is roofed and typically raised and supported by columns. They’re mostly found in and around New Orleans. Porticos are roofed structures leading to the entrance of a building, and while it’s an ancient architecture term, and are found on grand houses and Greek temples, Southerners are just as comfortable talking about the porticos on their split-level ranch.
If you’ve been in and around the Charleston area, you’ve probably encountered a joggling board. A joggling board is a long, bendy piece of wood that sits on two stands and can rock back and forth. Exactly what do you do on a joggling board? You sit and joggle by gently bouncing up and down and side-to-side. So, it’s like the bench version of a medicine ball. Joggling boards are also almost always painted “Charleston green.”
Powder room, commode
“Powder rooms” aren’t strictly Southern, but it is one of those old-fashioned words that seems to be hanging on longer in the South than elsewhere. A powder room is, as you probably know, a word for a small half-bath, usually downstairs. And you say “powder room” because, of course, you don’t want to admit that you’re going to the bathroom to relieve yourself and you can instead pretend you’re powdering your nose.
A less genteel Southern-ism for the bathroom is “commode.” While more widely it’s used to refer to a ship’s bathroom, in the South, it’s just any toilet, land-bound or not.
Locker, house shoes, hall tree
In Louisiana, a closet may be called a “locker.” Another regionalism is “hall tree,” mostly said in Missouri, referring to a coat rack. (Missouri, while largely thought of as Midwestern, can also feel very southern in parts.) At either spot, you can leave your “house shoes,” or slippers, a term used more widely throughout the south.
Bottle tree, Haint Blue
Bottle trees and Haint Blue paint on porch ceilings are common throughout the South, especially in the Low Country. Both have Gullah roots: A bottle tree is either a real tree or wire stand with glass bottles (traditionally blue) on the branches. The blue bottles were meant to capture evil spirits to keep them from getting in the house. Painting a roof blue was also meant to confuse evil spirits, or “haints.” Like many aspects of Gullah culture—and African-American culture more broadly—white Southerners have appropriated the practice and you can now find bottle trees dotting yards throughout the South.
Honorable mention: “Put up”
While this isn’t a thing per se, it’s something that comes up a lot in houses. Southerners don’t say “put away,” they say “put up.” So you might put up your Christmas decorations, then put them up after the holiday. Dishes are put up, not put away. It’s one of those quirks that, accent or no, can give away a Southerner.