Although English is a universal language, many people find it difficult to learn or understand. There are many reasons. Differences in accents from Liverpool to the Highlands of Scotland to Ireland are bewildering just on the British Isles and become even more challenging across the globe to Australia, India, Manhattan and Maine. Who dares to accuse people from South Georgia of talking funny?
Another point of confusion is words that have multiple meanings. “Mess” is only one example. “Fix” is another and, like “mess,” it has some special uses in Southern Speak. Generally, it can mean “attach” or something unchanging as in fixed income, a concentrated state of mind or a focused stare. Among many traditional Southerners, it can mean “repair” — a synonym for “work on.” It can mean “prepare.” To “fix” supper is to cook that meal. Other applications include make arrangements for, solve a problem and improve appearances. Beauticians fix ladies’ hair and one fixes one’s sad face before going out in public.
As a noun, fix usually means a negative state, condition or situation and “bad fix” conveys serious trouble. It applies to crises in health, finances, relationships, being trapped by a mishap and more. People in a fix need help if such is possible. To be caught in a quandary is to be in a fix.
The most distinctive use of fix is in “fixing to” or “a’fixin' to.” It conveys intent to immediate action. Its use can be mundane as in, “I’m fixin' to go to bed. I’m wore out.” Here, a very tired person announces an impending break in interaction to go to bed. The phrase can also carry an element of warning, even threat. It directs that the hearer cease and desist what he/she is doing/saying right now because the speaker is on the verge of some sort of punishment. “I am fixing to cloud up and rain all over you.”
This statement has nothing to do with weather. It could mean a tongue lashing or a “butt beating,” depending upon the actors and the perceived seriousness of the offense.
“About” is another widely used word with multiple meanings. One use indicates an estimate of measurement, as in about a mile or about an ounce. Similarly, it can mean “nearly,” as in “about there” or “about tired out.” It is also used in location and movement. “About to” is parallel to, almost the same as “fixing to” to express one’s intention to act immediately, or at least soon. Some folks use both interchangeably.
The objective pronoun “me” is applied in interesting ways in some versions of South speak. It is used reflexively where action is directed to the self, as in “I’m going to drink me some water.” “I am going to town to buy me a new pair of shoes.” Sometimes it underscores personal intent. “I am going to take me a switch to you if you don’t behave.”
While this approach to personal reflexivity is unusual, some linguistic device is necessary to be able to speak and write about actions or feelings directed to oneself. This is done with the personal pronoun “myself.” Johnny Cash sang, “I hurt myself today.” I have done that many times, especially when trying to drive fence staples into a post. Who has never thought, “I am ashamed of myself” or “I am proud of myself” for some thought or deed?
The useful “myself” is often misused as the gratingly (think fingernails across a blackboard) ungrammatical substitute for “I” or “me” in sentences. “John and myself are going to the game.” No! It’s “John and I.” “It was a bad day for John and myself.” No! It’s “John and me.” There is nothing reflexive in either sentence. The question from Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” comes to mind, “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”
Following is my homework assignment for the day. “I’m a’fixin' to fix me something to drink.” Write the meaning of that sentence in whatever version of English you speak and think.
If you are unable to do so, read again the preceding as necessary until you can. If you find yourself in a fix, you may seek help from some other South speaker.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.