It is often times said that good Southern women are easy to identify; they love to dig in the dirt, they sip tea, they have an affinity for wearing large hats, and are always polite and proper. I am not particularly certain how true the first few are (especially considering that urban sprawl can kill gardening and hats are not something everyone can wear fashionably) but this last bit is true and a lovely fallacy all at the same time.
You see while southern women can be sweet and graceful, they also can be the snarkiest, cattiest, and vicious creatures known to man. When one is raised to ire (which happens more often than not) they can leave behind a trail of words that would make a sailor blush. The only thing is, they do it in the most civilized and polite manor as to leave you wondering if you should thank them for the insults they have laid at your feet.
All it takes is one little phrase: Bless her heart.
Once these words are uttered you know two things.
The first is simply that whatever they say next is not going to be flattering in the least.
The second is that it is alright that they said whatever it is that was on their mind.
Somehow those magic words make everything alright.
If a southern woman were to simply say "My god she looks like a mange ridden cow"...well now that is just rude and uncalled for.
However if she just prefaces it with "Bless her heart" It is suddenly perfectly acceptable.
There is something about preemptive pity that allows our less socially acceptable comments to slide by as though they were perfectly acceptable. I suppose it is a bit of a cheat really, but it is one that is used often and fondly.
There are also degrees of the golden phrase. Bless her heart and Bless her soul are most common, but people get creative. Bless her little pea picking soul is my favorite. I have no idea why 'pea picking' is used, or why it makes it any different, but it does. If you say something that descriptive it allows for a harsher follow up statement. I suppose in the end it is a balance of words.
I suppose when it comes down to it, you really just never want to really get to the point where a southern woman is talking about you in such a fashion that they need to use the preface at all. It really is safer for you to stay as far from that phrase as possible.
And heaven forefend that you ever make a southern woman flat out insult you without those magic words. If that happens you should just close your eyes and pray that her words are the worst thing she will throw at you.