Is kudzu taking over your front porch? Has you accepted a lagniappe lately? Do you enjoy sipping potlikker, or do you prefer mopping it up with pone?
Confused? Well, have no worries. Whether you are new to the South or just want to brush up on your Southern vernacular, The Literary South is here to help you decipher some of the unique terms you may encounter while reading literature from or about the American South.
Kudzu – Kudzu is a fast-growing vine native to Southeast Asia that was introduced to the southeastern United States in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches. In the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. Kudzu has become widespread throughout the southeastern United States and can often be found covering trees and abandoned homes.
Lagniappe – Used predominately in Southern Louisiana, a lagniappe is a small gift or bonus given as a compliment or for good measure.
Mess – A large amount of something (e.g., a mess of greens); a dirty or untidy state or condition.
Picayune – In the 19th-century American South, a picayune was a coin with a low monetary value. The word derives from picaioun, which means “small coin” in Occitan (a language spoken in Southern France). The Occitan word pica means “to jingle” and was created to mimic the sound of coins jingling. Picayune can additionally mean “petty or trifling,” as in “picayune complaints.”
Originally published as The Picayune in 1837, the New Orleans paper was named for the price for which an issue was sold—about six and a quarter cents.
Po’boy – A sandwich popular in Louisiana typically consisting of roast beef or fried seafood served on French bread.
Pone – Acorn
Potlikker – The nutrient-dense broth that remains in the bottom of the pot after cooking a mess of greens.
Scuppernong – Scuppernongs, the state fruit of North Carolina, are large, bronze-green muscadine grapes found throughout much of the southeastern United States. They were named after the Scuppernong River in North Carolina, where they were first discovered.
Scuppernongs are mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird, the first and only novel by Harper Lee, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961:
Our tacit treaty with Miss Maudie was that we could play on her lawn, eat her scuppernongs if we didn’t jump on the arbor, and explore her vast back lot, terms so generous we seldom spoke to her, so careful were we to preserve the delicate balance of our relationship….”