When my daughter was in Junior High she discovered a new way of saying something negative and diffusing the sting with the word “psych.” She could eat a bite of a new casserole I had attempted and say “This is the worst dinner you’ve made this week. Psych!” She could insult a friend’s shoes and then take it right back by saying “Hate your shoes, Heather. Psych!” Over time she became convinced (with my help) that “psych” didn’t do the job. The insult was still there.
Years have gone by and now she lives in the South, where the word “psych” has been replaced by the phrase “Bless your heart.” It is used by the Southern born to express negative feelings and then temper the harshness of the words or the forcefulness of the insult and, somehow, offer an excuse for speaking ill of someone else.
Woman: That little girl has a face only a mother could love. Bless her little heart!
Little Billy: I am 6 years old (holds up 4 fingers)
Aunt: Oh honey, bless your heart, but that’s only 4 fingers
Little Billy tries again: I am 6 years old (this time holds up the same 4 fingers and 4 more on the other hand.)
Aunt: Child…Bless you and your momma’s heart!
(Translation: You’re an idiot)
Just like psych, though, the message behind the “Bless your heart” is clear. It didn’t work in Junior High and it doesn’t work in adulthood. Too bad. Over the past 60 something years I have toted up lots of insults I’d like to hurl at the world with a little “Bless your heart” to make it less likely that the person will smack me over the head (or arrest me).
Me to policeman who tickets me for going 40 in a 35 mph zone: “Bless your heart, officer, you could see I was barely crawling through that intersection.”
Me to neighbor whose dog deposits presents on my lawn: “Your dog certainly has an active digestive system, Bless his heart.”
Me to Martha Stewart-like acquaintance: “You spent the day picking fresh chervil on an organic farm for this kidney pie? Bless your —- heart.”
Me to John Boehner: “Wish you’d take a big old tumble off the fiscal cliff into a crevasse. Bless your heart.”