Harry, FIXIN’ TO
does have that cornball factor but I just loves listenin’ to that good ol’ down-home talk. The expression is a U.S. colloquialism chiefly of the South Atlantic and Gulf States with the dictionary definition:
: To be about to; to plan or intend to (Dictionary of American Regional English
Marvin K. L. Ching, Professor of English at the University of Memphis and editor of SECOL (Southeastern Conference on Linguistics) Review
, wrote a 15-page article back in 1987 in American Speech
, Vol. 2, No. 4, Winter, titled “How Fixed Is Fixin' To?” The article analyzes in gory detail the meaning and various nuances of meaning of the phrase FIXIN’ TO
and shows that there is definitely more to the expression than the basic definitions above, although that’s probably all any of us want or need to know. To give you the flavor of the article, I reproduce below sections of the first two pages:
How Fixed is Fixin to?
Southern FIXIN’ TO is a versatile phrase with a variety of readings. Its precise meaning in a given context depends much upon its inherent linguistic meaning, which changes in shades of meaning with lexical and syntactic choices. These selections include adverbial modification with words such as now
; the choice of verb that becomes part of the infinitive in a FIXIN’ TO construction, such as get
in She's fixin' to get to work on her homework
; and possibilities of ambiguity of the infinitive phrase, such as to get into big trouble
in He's fixin' to get into big trouble
. Clues for interpretation are also provided by the speaker's tone of voice and the social context, the relationship between speaker and addressee, and the circumstances under which a conversation takes place in a given situation. This Southernism is thus a complex expression used in a variety of settings with different meanings. I discovered the complexity when my undergraduate and graduate students pointed out that fixin' to
cannot replace shall
or be going to
in a number of instances and when one student dogmatically asserted that she uses FIXIN’ TO to delay an action although the rest of the class said that the phrase signifies immediate action.
From interviewing a variety of speakers — maids, secretaries, students, and college faculty — and from administering a questionnaire to 104 informants (59 undergraduates and 45 faculty and graduate assistants) — I discovered that there is a central core to the meaning of FIXIN’ TO despite the varieties of meaning. I also discovered that, whenever informants disagreed on the grammaticality of a certain use, the conflict arose because some notions of the core were satisfied, but others were violated.
The first question was based on what a black maid actually said to me about how she would use FIXIN’ TO when she was asked to give an example of its use. Informants' responses confirmed the interpretation of the maid. Students were asked to select one of five answers and they were also encouraged to write explanations for their answers (numbers in parentheses indicate the number who checked the item):
Instructor: There's Coke spilled in the hallway on the third floor.
Maid [working on the second floor
and occupied with some duty): All right. I'm fixin' to take care of it.
What does the maid mean? Which of the following actions decides what she will do?
a) The maid will immediately interrupt her task which she is performing on the second floor and will go promptly to the third floor to clean the Coke spilled in the hallway. (7)
b) The maid will take care of the Coke spilled on the third floor as soon as she is through with the task she is performing while the Instructor was talking to her. (91)
c) The maid means that she will perform the task in the far distant future. (2)
d) The maid is implying that she does not want to do the task so that she is postponing the task. (0)
e) Other. (4)
Item (b), chosen by 91 or 87.5% of the 104 respondents was the clear choice, and it was exactly what the maid had said to me concerning how she would interpret the phrase in the context above. There are thus these notions involved in FIXIN’ TO in this situation: (l) it indicates future action; (2) there will be a period of delay, though a relatively short one, before the action takes place; and (3) the speaker feels a sense of urgency or high priority for the future action to be taken —a sense of immediacy because of the priority given to the task and/or a sense of certainty or definiteness and serious c ommitment about carrying out the task. In stating I'm fixin’ to take care of it
[the spilled Coke
], the maid, using the first person singular pronoun, is performing a commissive speech act (see Austin 1962, 150-61 for speech act terminology). She is committing herself — she is promising — to take care of the mess with due speed, as soon as she is through with her present chore. As one instructor told me orally, the maid is presently unable to clean the Coke, because she is otherwise occupied; she is probably right in the midst of scrubbing a wash basin. However, as soon as she is through with the task at hand, she will immediately attend to the instructor's request.
<1881 “I’ll tell you what I’m a-fixin’ to do.”—‘Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,’ Vol. 63, Issue 373, page 117>
<1891 “‘I’m A_FIXIN’ TO drap thet little tow-headed fiste when he comes along yere with Sallie’s young un.’”[TN]—‘Journal of American Folklore,’ Vol. 4, No. 15 page 319>
<1925 “‘Stranger, what are you doin’ here?” — “I’m FIXIN’ TO fly to heaven.’”[southern Blue Ridge Mountains]—‘Journal of American Folklore,’ Vol. 38, No. 149, page 345>
<1929 “She brought out her churn, an’ her dab o’ cream, an’ was just FIXIN’ TO begin churnin’ . . .” [KY]— “American Speech,’ Vol. 5, No. 2, December, page 142>
<1933 “I’m FIXIN’ TO make me a few jugs, come fall, and my cane juice plentiful.”[northern FL] —‘South Moon’ by Rawlings, page 37>
<1944 “FIXING TO . . . In progressive tense system, followed by infinitive. . . About to, on the point of. ‘I was just FIXIN’ TO call on you.’ . . ‘Look at that child! He’s FIXIN’ TO fall!’” [AL, NC, Upper SC, TN, VA] —‘Publication of the American Dialect Society, Vol. 2, No. 9>
<1952 “FIX. . . To be on the point of doing something. ‘I was just FIXING TO go to see you.’”—‘North Carolina Folklore’ by Brown, 1.541>
<1960 “FIX—to be on the point of. ‘I’m FIXIN’ TO go to town.’ Always common. Preparation not necessarily involved in this meaning.” [[Ozarks]]—Response by Criswell to ‘Publication of the American Dialect Society,’ 20>
<1969 “Country Joe & the Fish, with three best-selling albums last year, have a song called ‘FIXIN’ TO Die Rag.” [[Viet Nam protest song]]—‘Drama Review: TDR’ Vol. 13, No. 4, Politics and Performance, Summer, page 161>
<1984 “The sheriff trades heavily on his good ole boy charm, stumping hard in rural areas and bellowing, ‘The Republicans can call me a cowboy, or they can call me Sue, but they are FIXIN’ TO get a tiger in their tails like they've never had before!’”—‘Time Magazine,’ 1 October>
<2002 “And she would proceed to pepper the professor with questions, oblivious to her classmates' disdain. ‘It didn't matter if the bell was FIXIN’ TO ring. If she wanted to know something, she wanted to know,’ says Massey.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 30 December>
(Dictionary of American Regional English and other sources
Ken G – May 20, 2002