Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Episode 181: Bless Your Heart Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 181: Bless Your Heart

Record Date: January 28, 2023

Air Date: February 8, 2023



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

I grew up in Texas and there was a phrase the older ladies at church had mastered. It was a way of maintaining politeness while also getting across your point. Sometimes the point was one of empathy and grace, while other times it was a cutting insult that left the recipient chastised and oftentimes silenced. It is a work of art seeing someone who has the phrase, bless your heart. 


I usually start with a dictionary definition here. But none of them seem to capture the way the phrase is used to today. And perhaps that is because it can mean numerous things, depending on the tone and situation in which it was delivered. So instead I’ll read this, the early definition of this kind of phrase, from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


To confer well-being upon; ‘to make happy; to prosper, make successful’ (Johnson). Originally said of God; in later use also of persons and things, but generally with an implication of their conferring instrumentally a divine blessing.

End Quote 

The Johnson in the OED quote is Samuel Johnson. I’m not sure which version of Johnson’s dictionary the OED was using, but I found the definition in the 9th edition on page 95 and didn’t bother to keep looking after that.,+And+An+English+Grammar&printsec=frontcover 

This is generally considered to be a southern United States phrase. Here’s an excerpt from the editors of Southern Living magazine talking about the phrase’s widespread usage in what is colloquially referred to in the USA as, the South.


In the South, 'bless your heart' situations arise daily. Walk around long enough, and you'll hear 'bless your/their/his/her heart' spoken either vehemently aloud or in a breathless whisper. It's a versatile phrase. It has a thousand meanings—and just as many possible responses. 

End Quote Last updated November 21, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2023

Southern Living also has a list of other phrases you might hear when you are in the South, and we’ll cover some of those in our behind the scenes video, available to all Patrons every Friday. 

I mentioned this is widely considered to be a Southern US phrase. And it is now. But it started before the United States was even a thing. Let’s start with its early uses in the 1700s and move towards today. We’ll start to see the phrase shift from just a well-meaning statement to things with a little more nuance. And after the break, we’ll jump full in on the modern usage. 

This 1733 usage is the first attestation in the Oxford English Dictionary and also the earliest I could find as well. 

This next one is from 1765, and we are already catching the sense that this might be a more nuanced phrase than just conferring well-being on a person. 

Here’s one from 1780

Let’s jump forward now to 1849.

This next one is the first time I saw it in something that would have been considered the United States south.

Here we start seeing the phrase used in advertising.

And here’s another one, a few decades laters, still being used in advertising. And this one is fun because it is drastically different than an ad we might see these days. 

And one more advertisement, 

I feel like these last few examples have got us well into the core usage now, where you need to be in the situation and understand what is going on to really know how the phrase is being used. And we’ll talk about how to use the phrase as well as how to respond to the phrase right after we say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You

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Modern Uses

I want to start our modern takes with an excerpt from this article on the humor/lifestyle website, This one was written by Kelly Kazek and in it, she gives some examples of how one might use ‘bless your heart’ broken down from beginner all the way to expert. 


Beginner's Level, Sincere: "I just heard your dog went in for a colonoscopy, bless its little heart. Could I bring over a squash casserole?"

Beginner's Level, Sarcastic: "It's like she doesn't even own a mirror, bless her heart."

Advanced Level, Sincere: "I heard Merle is still recovering from surgery (whisper) down there, bless his heart."

Advanced Level, Sarcastic: "You really need to get your money back from that hair stylist, bless your heart."

Expert Level (do not try this without years of practice or it will backfire): First, some background. I had a friend in high school who was very sweet with a very soft, sweet voice. One day, someone in our group of friends said something particularly moronic and she responded with, "Bless your heart, you're so stupid." I can still hear the words in her soothing-but-pitying drawl. She was not being sarcastic; she was not being mean. The doltish friend ended up just laughing, and all was well. Such is the power of "bless your heart."

End Quote  published June 27, 2018, retrieved Jan 27, 2023

That covers a little about how the phrase might be used. But what if you are the recipient or bystander of a “bless your heart”? We will go back to the Southern Living magazine’s article on the subject:


A Whispered Bless His/Her Heart

A 'bless his/her heart' spoken in a whisper is often conspiratorial. It's not said to the proverbial blessed heart. It's repeated to a friend or neighbor about the 'blessed heart.' Usually, if the phrase is uttered to you in conversation about someone, not present—or present, but out of earshot—the appropriate response is a smile, and perhaps a chuckle if you agree.

An Empathetic Bless Your Heart

Everyone appreciates this version of 'bless your heart' because it's always kind and courteous. If 'bless your heart' is deployed in an expression of empathy or concern, a clear "Thank you, ma'am," or "Thank you, sir" is appropriate. 'Bless your heart,' said in this way is an outstretched hand, a pat on the back, an olive branch of understanding.

A Sassy Bless Your Heart

If you do not hear sympathy, you most likely hear a touch of sass (or more than a touch). Receiving this 'bless your heart' is a Southern rite of passage. This one has some judgment, but you know it's because the person speaking has your best interests at heart. Responding with a return volley of salt or sass may be tempting, but the best option is to smile and change the subject. (Unless, of course, you have a well-timed response teed up. If so—and if you have no fear of consequences—then the choice is yours.)

A Neutral Bless Your Heart

Occasionally, the phrase 'bless your heart' can substitute your actual reaction to a conversation where that response may not be appreciated. When you can't relay your true feelings, a 'bless your heart' might be enough of a conversation-ender for the other person to understand the need to switch subjects.

Bless My Heart

'Bless my heart' has many meanings, from self-sympathy to self-admonishment to self-deprecation to modesty. The appropriate response to 'bless my heart' is usually a sympathetic nod of the head. Show enough empathy to show that you understand or agree, but not too much as to display any misinterpretations. If moved, you can also offer a validating or concerned 'bless your heart' in return. Just watch your tone—it's a powerful thing. 

End Quote

1972 song

Bless Your Heart by Freddie Hart, Released June 1972 from the album, "Bless Your Heart". Here are the lyrics to the entire song, which is less than 2 minutes long.


Bless your heart for loving me

Ad heaven knows I don't deserve you

Bless your heart for loving me

Sweet sweet baby I'll try to be worthy of loving you

You came into my life and took the world off of my shoulders

Honey you're an angel in the eyes of this beholder

Bless your heart for loving me

More words cannot express what you are worth

Bless your heart for loving me

I know I've been given a taste of heaven right here on earth

Bless your heart

End Quote 

2018 Movie

This next one is interesting. It’s a 2018 movie called Bless Your Heart. Here is the synopsis form IMdB.


A street wise puppet and a con artist preacher compete for a woman's love and $25,000.

End Quote 

So… there’s that.

2020 Burger Place

I found a cool burger joint in the pacific northwest called Bless Your Heart burgers. It’s part of a collective of stores that was founded in 2020 called Sesame Collective. It‘s a locally owned company in Portland, Oregon that operates the restaurants Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y’all, Lil’ Shalom, Bless Your Heart Burgers, Yalla, and Dolly Olive.

Here’s the the About Us section from the burger place:


At Bless Your Heart you'll find smash burgers topped with Duke's Mayo and house made zucchini pickles. You'll get deep fried Sabrett's hotdogs slathered with beer cheese and chili. You'll fall in love with our perfectly crisp BBQ fries served with ranch. On top of all of that - you'll be welcomed with open arms and a warm heart... Bless Your Heart Burgers is built on love - from every burger we make, to every individual we employ, to every relationship we build within the communities we serve…

Our love language is Burgers!

End Quote 

2021 song

Bless your Heart is a 2021 song by Abby Stewart. It’s a he-cheated-on-me-and-now-I’m-glad-we’re-apart song. Here is the chorus:


Thank you baby for taking your time 

Thank you baby for taking your space 

I hope you’re happy now with what’s her face 

It’s so much better now that we’re apart 

Baby bless your heart 

End Quote 

2022 Book

Bless Your Heart by Susannah B. Lewis is a sweet, stand-alone Southern contemporary women's fiction book published in 2022. Here’s the synopsis from Google Books. 


Sometimes what your life is missing is an eccentric group of older ladies to take you under their wing...

When Rae Sutton's mama passes away and leaves her the house where she grew up, Rae can't imagine how the little old place might restore her broken life. Mourning the recent loss of her marriage, she takes the house and settles back into her tiny hometown with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Molly Margaret, and their overweight dog.

There she’s embraced by her mother's close-knit circle of friends, the Third Thursday ladies. Though almost half their age and far less confident of positive outcomes, Rae joins their ministry-slash-book-club-slash-gossip circle and allows the women to speak wry honesty and witty humor into her tired heart. As a new career and a new romance bring their own complications, Rae relies on the unlikely family she's found and begins to wonder if her future holds more hope than she ever could have imagined.

End Quote 

That actually sounds like a good book. 

Wrap Up

Bless your heart is, quite simply, one of the most versatile phrases I’ve ever heard. It can go from “you poor thing” to “you are dumb as a bag of rocks” real quick. I would caution users of this phrase to understand the time and place this might be appropriate. Cause said in the wrong way or the wrong situation, you could end up with a whole host of people smiling at you with murder in their eyes. 


That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

You are being sent to one of the world's most populated cities for a month. Which one do you pick?

The top two responses were Mexico City and Tokyo.


I said I'm going to go with Mexico City. The primary reason is I already have a passing understanding of the Spanish language, and growing up in Texas gave me a familiarity with some facets of Mexican culture. So Mexico City holds some level of familiarity for me, even though I've never been there before. 

Mary responded to that with:


I want to go because my mother loved it so much. She talked about that trip for years and described every experience, every meal, every person she met. It has always intrigued me, and now that I am married to a person who speaks Spanish and has been there many times, I have the perfect companion and guide.

End Quote


Jan noted:


Going with Tokyo. They've got Godzilla statues there and I need to see them in person.

End Quote

To which Mary responded


Now I want to vote for Tokyo.

End Quote

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 


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