Lexicon Valley

Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit!

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing.

Southern dialect abounds with colorful expressions, most rooted in rural life and relationships. Some, like “bless her heart,” sound benign but have a darker edge to them (she’s an idiot, but lovably so).

Others, like “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while,” and “Even a blind mule doesn’t trip over the same rock twice” have a bit of flexibility in them, such that other animals can be substituted for the usual ones, or they’ll overcome a different kind of obstacle. Regardless, the point will be similar to “Even a broken watch is right twice a day.”

Well, sandwich me in shortbread and call me a cookie!

Photo by Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/GettyImages

What interests us here are the expressions that allow for wider substitutions, such that a basic pattern exists and the speaker can alter them on the fly for the level of force and humor desired. Of these, let’s look at:

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

This earthy interjection expresses surprise or astonishment. The same action can be performed with “Well I’ll be!” This elides the verb, which is understood to be “switched,” “struck dumb,” “a monkey’s uncle,” or something of the sort.

The longer form has spawned a range of variants in the form of “[verb] my [body part] and call me [noun or proper noun].”

A search of Web comments and discussions readily turns up:

  • Well butter my butt and call me toast.
  • Well smack my ass and call me Sally.

The name is subject to immediate substitution, e.g.:

  • Smack my ass and call me Judy!
  • Smack my ass and call me Susan.
  • Well slap my ass and call me Clementine.
  • Well, slap my ass and call me Sandy.

Intensification is possible:

  • Stick a banana up my ass and call me Susie!
  • Tickle my anus and call me Samantha.

Some opt to change the gender from female to male, perhaps more useful for female speakers:

  • Slap my ass and call me Charlie.
  • Well sit on my face and call me Bernard!

The pattern readily allows other nouns in place of a name:

  • Slap my ass and call me a hypocrite.
  • Smack my ass and call me a newborn.
  • Slap my ass and call me a donkey.
  • Kick my ass and call me crazy.

It’s also possible to tone the phrase down a bit by getting away from all the butt-business:

  • Paint me green and call me a cucumber.
  • Slap me with bread and call me a sandwich.
  • Pin my tail and call me a donkey.
  • Fry me in butter and call me a catfish.
  • Saddle my back and call me a horse!
  • Well knock me down and steal my teeth!

It has been suggested that this may not be a pattern unique to the American South, as an episode of Blackadder contains the following line:

You twist and turn like a twisty turny thing. I say you’re a weedy pigeon, Blackadder, and you can call me Susan if it isn’t so.

A close reading, however, puts paid to the idea. Lord Melchett’s meaning here could be substituted with “and damn me if.” But the pattern under examination is a speech act designed to work in two parts: 1) setting the scene, and 2) finishing with a paraprosdokian to elicit in the listener the same surprise or astonishment as experienced by the speaker.