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The Devil You Say!

The Devil You Say!
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
The Devil You Say!
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

In the sixties, seventies, and into the early eighties, my world was full of images of Satan. From listening to our Methodist minister talk about “the Devil” at church on Sundays, to listening to the Charlie Daniels Band sing about the devil coming down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal, to proudly sporting my high school’s mascot (we were the Warner Robins High School Demons) on tee shirts, jackets, and book covers, the Devil’s been on my doorstep since the day I was born. In my Southern upbringing, he was a multifaceted character — horns, a pitchfork and steeped in folklore, humor, and cultural quirky sayings. Sure, he reigned over hell, but he was no match for us. We were strong — still are. We mention Lucifer in passing on so many occasions that we tend to view him as just a neighbor none of us like — one we steer clear of.

If my family is gathered and talking about someone, and then that particular “someone” calls or rings the doorbell, we said, “Well, speak of the Devil!” We aren’t comparing the person to the actual Devil. It’s just a saying passed from one generation down to the next.

“The Devil made me do it,” is a humorous excuse for a mischievous act. Whether it’s sneaking the last piece of pecan pie or playing a harmless prank on a friend, blaming the Devil added a playful spin to otherwise naughty deeds. On television in my more formative years, comedian Flip Wilson would dress up in drag and portray a character named Geraldine Jones, who’d often proclaim, “The Devil made me buy this dress,” and we would roar with laughter at the thought of the Devil influencing her (or him) and causing her to pay a large sum of money for a short flowery frock.

Back then, if it was raining outside and the sun was shining, we’d announce, “The Devil’s beating his wife again!” I despised him for hitting his spouse, and then one day, I wondered, “Who would marry the Devil in the first place?” I began to doubt he was really married.

At potlucks and family reunions, we feasted on deviled eggs — a delicious and healthy dish with carved out boiled eggs embellished with a concoction made from the yolks, a little mayonnaise, and pickles or relish. For dessert, we devoured slices of something called devil’s food cake, a moist, rich chocolate layer cake that had a slightly heavier texture than traditional chocolate cake, and a treat that went well with milk or coffee.

If you have experienced a hot Southern summer, you know why folks down here say, “It’s hotter than the Devil’s armpit!” The combination of sweltering heat and humidity can make anyone feel like they’re roasting for eternity in the underworld. Georgia summers can be so intense that they’re often described with phrases like, “Hotter than Hades,” “Hotter than Hell,” or “The Devil’s frying pan,” capturing the intensity of our extreme temperatures with a mighty devilish twist.

Phrases like “The Devil’s in the details” remind listeners to pay attention to the small but significant aspects of a story, often leading to a surprising twist.

When someone we dislike accomplishes something big, we say, “Give the Devil his due,” a phrase that has been around since Shakespearean times.

When someone is as mean as a snake, we Southerners often say, they are “Mean as the Devil,” or are “Full of the devil.”

When we fall into shock over some situation, we often exclaim, “What in the Devil?” or its shorter form, “What the Devil?”

“Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t,” is another common saying, advising people to stick with familiar challenges rather than risking unknown troubles. This bit of folk wisdom reflects the pragmatic and cautious nature of Southern culture, where change is often approached with careful consideration.

“Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” is a saying I’ve heard since I was a child and one meaning that when a person has nothing to do, they often find trouble — or trouble finds them. I heard this a lot when I was a teenager.

We see someone smiling and comment on their “Devilish grin,” and we describe a small whirlwind of blowing dirt moving across a parking lot or field as a “Dust Devil” or “Dirt Devil.”

So that mean ol’ Devil has somehow inched his way in my everyday life since I was very young, and I have learned to live with him — even make fun of him. In the end, me and my Southern counterparts sprinkle “the Devil” into our everyday chatter, adding a charming twist to our speech, and leaving outsiders often exclaiming, “The Devil you say!”

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