NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Cattywampus? Honky Tonk? Goo Goos? There are plenty of words unique to Tennessee that can leave others scratching their heads.

Tennessee is the 36th-largest state by area and split into three regions: West, Middle and East. With millions of people split in three regions, the state has created its own slang and phrases.

Here are some words or sayings that you may hear in the Volunteer State.

Hot chicken

Courtesy: Amy Whidby

In other states, when one hears the phrase “hot chicken” they may think it refers to chicken that’s hot to the touch. However, in Tennessee most — if not all — residents use the phrase to refer to a type of fried chicken that is a specialty of Nashville.



No, we’re not talking about the cocktail sausages that are simmered in a crockpot! When Tennesseans talk about the “smokies,” they are usually referencing the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.


soda coke generic
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Yes, Coke is a specific type of carbonated drink manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company. However, Tennesseans tend to use the term to represent all soft drinks, no matter the brand.

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Honky Tonk

Honky Tonk Central
(Photo: WKRN)

Planning a trip to Nashville soon? It’s time to get familiar with honky tonks. A honky tonk is a establishment that usually offers performances around the clock, casual bar cuisine and cold drinks. In Nashville, tourists can find a whole row of honky tonks on Broadway.


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Although the terms are interchangeable, Tennesseans tend to say “buggy” instead of “shopping cart” when referring to the basket on wheels used to hold items in a grocery store.


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For those who live in the north — where snow is more common — a toboggan stands for a sled that is typically used for coasting downhill on snow. For Tennesseans, the term refers to a knit hat that is usually worn in colder months.

Meat n’ Three

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Besides hot chicken, some of Nashville’s best cuisine can be found in a Meat n’ Three. At the establishments, the customers have a selection of homecooked food that they can choose from. The order usually consists of a meat and three side dishes.

Lighting bug


Most can agree that it’s a sign of summer when you begin to see these insects glow across the land! However, turns out where you live may determine what you call them. In Tennessee, the insects are called lightning bugs. Meanwhile, “fireflies” is a popular choice for those living elsewhere.

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In the south, supper is a term often used to refer to the last meal of the day. The meal is also the largest meal of day. Other parts of the nation usually refer to the meal as “dinner.”

Hold your horses

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When you hear the phrase, “hold your horses” don’t take the phrase in a literal context. According to Grammarist, the idiom originates from the 19th century when travel by horse was common, and the phrase was used as a command to keep a horse still. In Tennessee, when someone uses the phrase they’re telling you to “calm or slow down.”


Cattywampus Rock (Courtesy: Getty Images)

You might need a translator, or a Tennessean, to tell you what this word means. In fact, the meaning of the word is just as discombobulated as it sounds. The term is used when things are askew, going badly or in the wrong direction, according to Cambridge Dictionary.

Bless Your Heart

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“Bless your heart.” A common phrase used in the Volunteer state that has multiple meanings. In fact, the phrase can be used as sarcasm, as an insult, or to genuinely wish someone well. To put it simply, the intended meaning of the phrase comes down to the tone in which it is used. For example: “Maybe singing isn’t your specialty, bless your heart.”

Goo Goos

Goo Goo Cluster Lil'Goos
Lil’ Goos (Courtesy of Goo Goo Cluster)

Sweet marshmallow nougat, smooth chocolate, creamy caramel, crunchy peanuts – is your mouth watering yet? Those ingredients make up the Goo Goo Cluster, known as Nashville’s official candy. The sweet treat originated in Music City in 1901 by Howard Campbell Sr., and his foreman, Porter Moore. In the last century, the company hasn’t changed the recipe, but has added two variety flavors. Try the classic candy in-store on 3rd Avenue South in Nashville.

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To keep it simple: britches are pants. The term usually refers to denim jeans, but can also stand for shorts (short britches). The word is also used in a popular phrase that Tennesseans say when someone is acting conceited and overly confident. “Even since he got promoted to manager, he’s gotten too big for his britches.”

There are tons of words and phrases that are used and unique to those in the Volunteer State. However, the use of “y’all” and some southern hospitality can get you a long way!