Southern Thing Column

How the word ‘tacky’ originated in the South and how to use it properly

The following excerpt is from a column on the word “tacky” that originated on It’s a Southern Thing. The link at the bottom takes you to the full column.

You know that scene in the parody film “Serial Mom” where she kills someone for wearing white shoes after Labor Day? Remember when you knew people who might actually consider doing something like that? When I was younger, it was considered the height of tackiness to wear white after Labor Day.

You were also “tacky” if your slip or bra straps peeked from under your church dress. If you wore pajamas to a store. If your roots showed. Now, women don’t wear slips, bras are considered outerwear, it’s fashionable for roots to show and no one cares what colors or types of clothes you wear as long as you cover your (whisper) privates.

In other words, the whole world is off its nut … but that’s a story for another day. This story is about the word “tacky” and why we Southerners love it. I’m including a little PSA at the end on how to properly use “tacky” in case any of your northern relatives need pointers. No need to thank me. Just doing my job.

Use of the word “tacky” to mean gaudy began in the South, although its usage has since crept into other regions. So how did a word that refers to stickiness come to mean something that is gaudy or garish or lacking in taste? It likely originated with a breed of horse. Click here to read the full column.

2 thoughts on “How the word ‘tacky’ originated in the South and how to use it properly”

  1. Hi Kelly, I started reading your column in the Newspaper, when I moved to Huntsville in 2009, after my husband passed from Cancer. I have a sister here and grew up in Clarksville, TN, where I still have friends, so it seemed like the best place to land. We have one son, who LOVES living in NYC. He is an amazing guy. Graduated from Harvard. Has had several good jobs (nothing lasts forever). Anyway, just wanted to tell you HOW MUCH JOY you being me any time I read your column. I was SOOO excited when you and Sweetums married. You two are such a great couple. Thank you for sharing much of your time together. Talk about a perfect union! It truly hurts my heart when I hear than people treat you badly. I don’t know if I could stand up to that kind of criticism. Hopefully, you will always think of those of us that find you hysterical. Take Care,Betsy Jernigan


    1. Hi, Betsy. What a sweet message! It makes my day. As for people who are negative, I don’t worry about them. Their criticism is not directed at me; they are just unhappy people. Thanks for sharing your family with me. I’m sorry about your husband and I know you are proud of your son.
      And thanks for your comments about my Sweetums. He really is the perfect match for me. Have you read my new book in which I discuss meeting him and our road trips together? If not, email me at to order a signed copy.
      Have a wonderful weekend!


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