I was lounging on the beach on a mini-vacation several years ago, minding my own business. I was with several female friends and this little trip was a Mother’s Day present to all of us from our husbands. They were going to take care of the toddlers all weekend long while we got to rest, relax and recoup from Mommy Things. Theirs is a different story than this one.
On the beach this fellow from the North sat down close to our group. One of the girls politely asked, “I’m fixen to go to the room, does anyone need anything?”
This fellow sits up and says in a stilted sort of way, “Pardon me, could you please explain what ‘fixin’ to’ means? I have heard that since I’ve been down here on vacation and I do not know what it means.”
Obviously, this fellow was from the far reaches of the North to have never heard this before. After all, people from the North are saying “fer” instead of “for”. They’ve been doing this for a long time. Just watch any PBS show or Today Show. Good Morning America doesn’t count because Robin Roberts is from the South. She speaks beautifully, but there are those minor slips on occasion.
Any Southerner knows what “Fixen To” means, but can it be explained? “I’m fixen to get ready.” “I’m fixen to go to the store.”
It is the warning bell, and the announcement of A Happening. The mind and heart are set on a course of immediate action. Northerners insist upon putting an apostrophe behind the n because they view the word as ‘fixing’, which does not make any sense. I believe that is their point. We must prove them wrong with clear, logical, and precise reasoning.
Fixin’ is an ingredient for a dish and is always used in the plural form, such as hamburgers and all the fixins. It is also a trimming or accompaniment or side dish such as Easter Dinner with all the fixins. Fixing is repairing. Fixing is arrangement, “fixing her hair.” Fixing is to make rigid or put in place permanently. Fixing a game is to arrange a particular outcome. Fixing is also a navigation term. Fixing a situation can mean to smooth it over. Fixing also means to deactivate a cat’s or dog’s baby-making mechanism. However, none of those is what fixen means.
“Fixen to” is a state of being. It is that precise moment or second in time which is the point just before an action is to take place. It is the jumping off point for any Southerner. We have done everything, or almost everything, necessary up to the point of action, but have not committed to the action. We are almost at the decision point of no return. We are poised for the dive. The bell has not sounded. The gun has not been shot. We could still step down from the post and not dive... if, say, something more interesting to do comes along.
My kids were fond of announcing, “I’m fixen to clean my room.” This was to make me think they were being productive children, when in fact, they were finding things to do with their toys instead of putting them away.
The declaration of fixen to do something is what a Southerner does aloud to another person or other persons. We do not say to ourselves, “Okay, I’m fixin to get in bed.” That is ludicrous. Who would announce to the inner being you are about to do something? No, the point is that you have set your mind on a course of action and are seeking something from another. This is what William Penn meant when he said he was fixen to establish a colony. It is what Chaucer meant when he penned the phrase, “Hyr eyen she fixethe on him.”
What that “something” is that you are seeking is always indicated by the words that follow the thing you are about to do. “I’m fixen to go to work, set my lunch out, please.” Or, “I’m fixen to go to the post office, do you have your letter ready?”
Fixen is the Middle English way of spelling this word which has the meaning of setting one’s mind upon something, such as a course of action. It was a verb used regularly in all the best colonial families in all the East Coast colonies. Alas, it is now known as an Americanism which is “chiefly Southern”. Since it is, “chiefly Southern”, then I propose it should be spelled correctly—fixen—in the dictionary.
As for “fer” and “alright” and “changing up”, that is a different rant altogether.