The Southern Phrase "Bless Your Heart" Has Many Different Meanings

If someone has ever said “Bless your heart” to you, you might think, ‘Wow, they’re so nice!’ But it has a more sinister meaning.

Jamie Lerner - Author

Mar. 11 2024, Updated 1:59 p.m. ET

We all like to see other parts of the country, and as Northern and coastal areas of America get more expensive, the draw to move to the South is growing. However, the South has some unique cultural differences from the rest of America, such as its food, traditions, and even vocabulary. In fact, Southerners are known to say, “Bless your heart” frequently, but it might not mean what you think.

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TikTokers and comedians have now started making content addressing the disparity between what it seems like “Bless your heart” means and what it actually means. The fun part about this is that there are so many different meanings, it can basically mean anything! But from the voice of those in the South, we’ve worked to define what it really means.

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“Bless Your Heart” means variations of “you’re an idiot” in the South.

Most of the time, if a Southerner says, “Bless your heart,” it probably means they think you’re an idiot. Influencer Landon Bryant first made a video in March 2023 about the nuances of what “Bless your heart” means based on the inflection.

In the original video, his various ways of saying inspired definitions such as:

  • “She’s an idiot”

  • “You don’t know what you’re doing”

  • “Pause for incoming slander”

  • “You don’t know what you’re doing, but it was cute”

  • “He is an idiot but it’s not his fault, it was a genetic thing”

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A year after going viral for his “Bless your heart” video, Landon has added that while the phrase can be genuine, “It also means sort of the opposite. And how you know is the situation that you’re in and the nuance of how it is spoken. It’s all about that inflection.” For instance, Landon said “Bless her heart” with a disappointed tone and a shake of his head.

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“That would mean she’s not paying attention to her good home raising and we’ve been in this situation before,” he explains. That’s why “Bless your heart” is so definitive of the South and its culture. Just three little words can say so much.

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In fact, comedian Trish Suhr makes light of this in an August 2023 set about Southern women. “Southern women will rip your heart out, we will show it to you, and then we’ll bake it in a pie,” she jokes, making light of the vitriol behind Southern hospitality. “And then we’ll back that move up with the three most hateful words ever strung together in the English language,” and the audience shouted, “Bless Your Heart!” She added, “If y’all don’t know what that means, it means ‘go f--k yourself!’”

In the South, “Bless Your Heart” can also be genuine.

Despite all of these nuanced meanings of “Bless your heart,” it can actually mean what it seems to mean, which is truly to “bless” someone’s heart. Landon explains what the genuine meaning of “Bless your heart” is in his new Instagram video: “[It] can and does mean literally Bless Your Heart, I hope you’re doing well, I’m sending you a blessing, I’m sending you love. It means all those things, it really does.”

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For example, if two people are talking about someone whose house burnt down, they might say, “Oh, bless their heart,” and in that case, they’d truly mean that they hope the other person is OK. However, “Bless your heart” is an example of how Southern charm and hospitality aren’t always what they seem to be.

Politeness is king in the South, trumping honesty and integrity, so even when Southerners appear to be saying something kind, that’s not always the case. But it’s up to us to read the body language and tone to spot the difference.

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