a question for the southerners

When people talk about “good old boys” are they talking exclusively about Texans, or can anybody from the deep south join that club? Can somebody from Virginia or Georgia be a good ole boy? And would somebody from the Carolinas use that phrase to talk about a friend?

21 Replies to “a question for the southerners”

  1. Any male friend of a southern male friend is a good old boy. It’s a southern expression; regional, not a specific state. A boy can be any age, even 100.

    There’s no such thing as a good old girl. A female using the phrase in reference to a man would probably be using it with some degree of sarcasm.

    A non-southern male would be viewed askance if he were to refer to someone as a good old boy. Then he would be avoided.

    It’s usually used in a form of fond reminiscence about some male who isn’t present in the conversation. “Hey, Hank, you remember that boy in here buying the Moon Pie and NeHi?”

    “Yeah, Bobby. That was Billy Jones. He and I’ve spent a goodly amount of time hunting up the holler behind Mama’s. Billy’s a good old boy.”

  2. I don’t know about the Carolinas, but it sure is in common use in Tennessee & Georgia & several other states where I’ve been. It’s certainly used among friends, and with affection or admiration. Also can be used disparagingly… as by a woman complaining that an organization is run by ’em.

  3. I have relatives in the Carolinas who refer to close male friends as good ole boys. It always strikes me as weird since where I’m from (ohio) good ole boys refer to politicians with their hands in each other’s pockets.

  4. I’ve yet to hear anyone in Texas use it as a good thing; it seems to be used here in Austin much as it is elsewhere in the US — that is, as a corporate phrase meaning “those who hang together and have the deepest network”: the good old boys. It’s not a group of friends so much as cronies.

    In the south where I grew up, “good old boy” seemed to be more of a male-only version of saying someone is “good people”, with the additional implication of “old” meaning “and has been around here awhile.” In other words, good people can be someone who’s a recent transplant, while the “old” only gets tagged for those whose parents went to the same methodist church and whose grandparents were in the town, too.

    Also, can’t say I’ve ever heard a woman calling herself (or any other woman) a “good old girl”, though I’ve heard of the “girl’s network”. And there is one, in fact, there are several, both the college-based sorority networks that evolve out of being fellow graduates at various schools, and the post-college networks like P.E.O., Junior League, and other women’s social organizations, or the women’s groups associated with masons, elks, and the like.

  5. Not surprising I hear it in Alberta, we got oil, cowboys, do oodles of business with Texas( We make there drill bits). Redneck is somethin ya hear often too.

  6. I grew up in Georgia, and I’ve most often heard it used in a negative way. It means someone who is true to the ideals and values of rural Southern areas.

  7. I should have added: the person in question would be a white Southern male, usually middle-aged or older. I’ve never heard a woman or a person of color referred to as a “good ole boy”.

  8. It seems to me that the meaning behind the phrase completely depends on the socio-economic status of the speaker. When I lived in VA, it was as a college student and there was a definite line drawn between people affiliated with the college and the locals that lived on the periphery of town. We as students would use the term as somewhat of a pejorative to refer to the locals. It was not considered complimentary because it implied a lack of sophistication, education, and intellegence. What can I say? College kids are sometimes snobs.

  9. Karen J., did you go to UVA? Sounds like how we felt about the “locals” when I was there.

    I’m living in South Carolina, transplanted from Virginia, and I think a lot of it depends on the speaker and his own personality and ideals. For me a “good ol’ boy” is usually a middle-aged or older, white, redneck male. Or even just a man who’s very “Old South”. If you fall into the “good ol’ boy” category yourself, then obviously the term would not necessarily have a negative meaning for you. I’ve definitely heard men refer to others that way and not have it mean something negative. I, on the other hand, don’t generally mean it as a compliment and don’t see any of my male friends that way.


  10. I’ve most heard it in the derogatory (usually) corporate sense — typically by someone who perceives they are NOT part of the “good ole boy” network and are thus deprived of equal opportunity.

    I’ve heard that meaning used all over the country.

    I’m familiar with the Southern definition you describe but can’t say with authority how far usage extends. (Maybe because I’m not a good old boy — nor do I categorize as just “one of the girls” either.)

    I am, frequently, one of the guys, but not in all senses, because I have this obvious physical “deformity” preventing me from achieving full guy status — I’m a woman, awkward that may be in a predominantly male profession.

  11. Jennifer: I went to William and Mary thus my VA experience was in Williamsburg not Charlottesville. However, I would be willing to bet that the line of distinction between “locals” and “college kids” is as clearly defined in many college towns no matter their locale (and especially in the South if you were a college kid like myself from upstate NY). Anyone agree or disagree?

    I would also agree with others who felt that “good old boy” in the corporate sense is not a regional definition but instead refers to someone with less-than-above-board connections whose success is due to “who he knows” rather than “what he knows”.

    Interesting discussion so far, isn’t it?

  12. I am from South Carolina and the term here is used between guys as a sign of respect. I asked my husband how he defines the term. He said it was a guy who you would want to have have your back.

    My husband was born and raised in the South Carolina. His family can trace thier roots for many generations in the Columbia area.

    I would also have to add that I generally hear the term used among older family members. My husband does not use it much but his Uncles use it all the time. His Uncles also live out in the country so that may have something to do with it as well.

  13. I’m originally from Louisiana, now living in Tennessee. The term has always been used to described as others have commented…cronies, those who only look after each other for the good of themselves. But I have also heard it used to describe country boys or rednecks.

  14. A history is a prerequesite to being a “good old boy” not necessarly a good one, just as long as it’s known. Good old boys generally stick close to home, have strong family and community ties. Usaully something binds them together, a shared experience, business venture etc..
    Perhaps it different down south, though I suspect there are similarities.

  15. I don’t know that I qualify as Southern, but my family is all Kentucky. The term “good ole boys” is used by this extended – and very Catholic – family to refer to any Protestant man who was born and raised in the county and who basically seems to fit in with others of the same background. It wasn’t a necessarily negative connotation, but it always implied (to me) that there’s a group of them that run together, and that’s how you identify them. As good ole boys.

    Note that to those of us in the family who were born and raised up north, calling someone a “good ole boy” means, basically, “redneck” – and is often negative. I definitely use it to denote that this guy is from that world, which is a far cry from this one. As Elisabeth said, “true to the ideals and values of rural Southern areas” – that’s about the most perfect way to describe it.

    Also, in business terms, I only ever have heard about the “old boys network” – no “good” in there.

  16. Well, as someone born, reared and still living in Georgia, I can pretty much agree with most of what has already been written here. It’s a term definitely used in this state and, I would imagine, all of the south. It can be used negatively denoting, perhaps, a lack of education and social skills, however, it can also be used affectionately — and probably is more often than not — depending, as someone said, on the speaker.

    It’s a bit hard to describe, really. I would never think of my husband as a “good ol’ boy” although he is as southern as I am. I have some relatives, however, that I would slap that moniker on in a heartbeat — some in a good way and some not!! So, it just all depends.

    I have never heard anyone refer to someone as a “good ol’ boy” to their face. It’s usually a term that is used when OTHER people are talking about someone else, as in, “Yeah, that Billy, he’s a good ol’ boy.”

    And don’t confuse “redneck” with “good ol’ boy” because they are totally different — at least, in my neck of the woods!

    And, yes, I don’t know of any term that is similar that would be applied to a female.

  17. Lynn, I was gonna add that too, that redneck and Good ol boy are two completely different things. I’m curious do they use the term “Rig pig” in Texas? Anyone know?

  18. I represent East Tennessee here.

    My dad, a farm-raised country boy, would call a friend a good ole boy.

    As a 20-something somewhat liberal female, if I call a guy my age a good ole boy, I’m usually using the term a little sarcastically, implying old fashioned ideas/values. I might call someone who is racist or sexist a good ole boy.

  19. I’m from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas. I’ve never heard of Rig Pig, so it’s not used in north Texas anyway–not that I’ve ever heard. My mom’s a country gal so I’m familiar with “hotter than a road lizard”, etc. What does “Rig pig” mean anyway?

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