Humor in the Heat of the Moment

Beating the heat gets a lot easier with an idiom or two in hand.

“It’s not the heat, it’s the damned humidity!” You hear that plenty down here in South Alabama. And it’s true! Our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico means that the air is pretty well waterlogged with tropical moisture. And while this muggy climate is great for your skin, it’s not so great for your health. You see, the body depends on the evaporation of sweat to cool itself, and when it’s so sticky outside, it takes longer for the sweat to evaporate, and you feel hotter. 

I was surprised to find out that the hottest place in Alabama isn’t wherever I happen to be frantically fanning myself at any given time. It’s actually Fort Morgan, which has the highest annual average temperature in the state — a sweltering 69 degrees. That doesn’t sound hot, but that’s the average, which means often the temperature is much, much higher. 

In my mind, I have a cutoff point between comfortably warm and downright hot, and that point is 80 degrees. I feel like when it’s in the 70s, it just sounds cooler. But when you get into the 80s, I start to anticipate being miserable. Did you know that last year in Mobile, it was over 80 degrees 210 days? That’s a solid seven months of being hot — more than half the year!

Dread sets in for me when the weather report starts predicting 90s. And I don’t want to even talk about triple digits. I think I could survive without heat, but I’m doubtful about my chances of making it one day to the next without air conditioning. I might just melt into a greasy puddle like the Wicked Witch of West Citronelle. 

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But from great misery sometimes comes great humor. Being the colorful people that Southerners are, we’ve come up with more than just a few idioms to describe our summers. And before y’all start messaging me about all the ones I forgot, this is a family magazine. I’m keeping it G-rated. Trust me, I know all the ones you’re thinking about. 

Let’s start with the ones for which perspiration was the inspiration. 

– I’m sweating to death!

– We were sweating buckets!

– I’m sweating bullets!

– He’s sweating like a preacher reading a love letter!

I should pause here to say that in the deep South, we don’t really sweat. As the old saying goes, “Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow.” And let me tell you, now that we’re all up into July, I’ve been “glowing” my fanny off, which brings me to idioms about our main topic — the heat.

– I’m burning slap up! (Sometimes it sure does feel like it!)

– It’s hotter than blue blazes! (The blue is the most intense part of a flame.)

– It’s hotter than fish grease! (If you’ve ever fried something and gotten spattered
by the grease, you know just how hot this is.)

– It’s hotter than a $2 pistol. And sometimes it’s hotter than a $2 pistol on
a Saturday night!

– It’s as hot as all get out! (Not just any get out. ALL get out.)

– It’s 100 degrees in the shade!

– It’s hotter than a possum in a wool sock! (Wouldn’t that be a sight!)

– It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk! (Or the hood of your car or truck.)

Of course, there are the inevitable comparisons to the hottest of all hot places. That’s when:

– It’s hot as Hell! (Or hotter than Hades if you’re in polite company and can’t say H-E-double-hockey-sticks.)

– It’s hotter than the hubs of Hell! (I’ve always wondered just what these “hubs” were. Turns out the word comes from “hob,” which is a shelf-like thing at the back or on the side of a fireplace where you’d put something to keep it warm but not burning.)

– It’s hotter than 40 hells! (This is my go-to, but I’ve heard everything from three to 200. Suffice it to say, even one hell is plenty hot enough.)

It’s 12 degrees hotter than Hell’s dishwater! (I love the specificity here.)

It’s hotter than the hinges on the gates of Hell!

And then there’s one question that always, always gets asked. Now I maintain that it’s probably one of the most pointless attempts at conversation you’ll ever hear, especially when people are hot, tired and cranky. No matter. People down here just love to use it anyway. But now that your arsenal is full of new idioms, you’ll always be armed with an answer when someone inevitably asks:

“Is it hot enough for ya?”

Or you could just say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the damned humidity!”

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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