Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Word study: fixin' to die
Jonal entry 1111 | May 5 2010
I wouldn't want anyone to think me morbid ("unwholesomely gloomy," one dictionary well defines my use of that word here), but this phrase"fixin' to die"keeps cropping up on my list of things to consider in this space so it's time to deal with it. I have struck out on efforts to find an etymologyy (a tracing of the origin and history) of the phrase and the only uses of it I do find are in songs, one of which is attributed to Bob Dylan and another (or possibly the same one) is mentioned as a hit in the repertoire of Country Joe and the Fish, a Woodstock-era psychedelic rock band.
I can't pinpoint where I originally encountered the phrase, but I suspect it was in a western movie or a comic book in my late childhood. I have vague inklings of a bad guy saying to a cowboy hero he'd better get on with "fixin' to die." "Fix" is a fetchingly ambiguous verb in English, some of its uses seeming to have originated by users who wanted it to mean anything they had in mind without having to justify such use, and somehow those redefinitions have stuck. But its main use, to me, is to repair something or make it right, as in to fix a flat (tire) or fix someone's bad credit report. But my unabridged dictionary says the first definition of fix as a verb pertains not to repairing, but fastening, as in fixing a fence post in the ground. It also means to adhere, or to glom on to something, as in the dental product "Fixodent," (which interestingly has a competitor called "Fasteeth") meant to make your bridge work adhere to your gums, or in another context,to fix one's gaze on something worth seeing.
Then there are the noun usages. To be in a "fix" is to be in difficult circumstances, and to "bring the fixin's" might be referring to the condiments or the side dishes. The fixin's for a hotdog are mustard, ketchup, sauer kraut, chilli, and relish. The same for a turkey dinner would include mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, a cranberry dish, a salad, and a pumpkin or mince pie.
Though I could not find a history for "fixin' to die," I did find a dictionary treatment of the key word, "fixin'," which the reference in play here defines as "About to, or getting ready to. Contrary to popular belief this phrase is not used only in the south, althought it is greatly used there." And all this time I've been putting it in the Old West primarily, instead of the south. And interestingly, I found that a secondary definition of "fix's" main synonym, "repair" is "to go to," as in, "Tomorrow I'll repair to Pittsburgh." So I suspect that somehow in Old English these concepts of correcting and moving on were somehow linked.
Oldtimers like me, of course, should always have somewhere in mind the notion of fixin' to die, in at least several of its meanings. That would include getting a last will and testament prepared, something I felt I was "putting off" for years but finally got around to. It would also be nice of oldies to make at least preliminary funeral and burial arrangements, something my parents did in their seventies and which the rest of the family much appreciated when the time came. The consideration of final arrangements should also include repairing bad relationships and clearing any "debts" off one's karmic balance sheet.
But my favorite aspect of this part of the word study is the deliciously ambiguous sense of "fixin'" to mean both repairing and getting ready. There are good reasons why "Old people pray and read their Bibles more than other people because they're cramming for their finals" is such a popular joke. The main reasons are: 1. it's true, and 2. though it may be regrettable that we all tend to wait for the last minute to cram, it's better to cram than to fail.
"Fixin' to die" should, of coursefor anyone who considers the biblical account of life's purpose truebe the guiding principle of life from childhood on. Not only should we be getting ready, we should be making vitally needed repairs to our whole busted beings.
Webmaster Jon Kennedy
I have been familiar with the use of "fixin to" all of my life. My folks used this expression, and it meant to us making preparations to do something. My mother, who was a real country woman, always used that expression, I mean not fixin to die. But maybe "fixin to cook supper," or "fixin to go to bed" etc. I liked that column.
Sallie Covolo in California
This phrase is used by Oklahoma born citizens quite frequently. First time I heard my Grandson say it, I asked him to explain it to me. He said, "Grandma, it's our way of talking about what we are getting ready to do!" I have learned not to question people's way of phrasing things, & consider it as a "normal" way of talking "Okie" style! I might add that it is quite amusing to me, and go on with my day. As the saying goes here, "Only in Oklahoma!" Quite a different way of life to me, being born & raised in Pennsylvania! I often tell those I communicate with that it's just part of my Okie Dictionary! Thought you might find a bit of humor in my thoughts! We learn many things from others, don't we?
I do enjoy your articles very much!
Verna (Rutledge) Chernisky in Oklahoma