Appalachian Dialect

Ain’t That A Caution

The Pressley Girls
We’re cautions!

caution noun A great wonder, unusual event; an unusual or amusing person.
1963 Edwards Gravel 62 Teacher Bowers was what the people in our community would call “a case” or “a caution.” “Now he’s a case I tell you”; or “He’s a caution, from all the children say.” 1996-97 Montgomery Coll. (Adams, Brown); He was a regular caution (Oliver). 1998 Montgomery File “That boy’s a caution” meant that you just never knew what he might do…liable to do anything (55-year-old woman, Jefferson Co TN).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

A few years ago Blind Pig reader, Charles Howell, sent me a comment about his family using the saying “ain’t that a caution” for something that surprised them.

For some reason I remembered the saying about two weeks ago and I’ve had it on my mind ever since. You can see from the dictionary entry it must have been common enough to be included in the compilation, but I’ve never heard anyone use caution in that manner.

I found a thread about the usage on the website English Language & Usage that’s pretty interesting. The definitions given are more inline with the usage Charles sent me.

I’m going to make a real effort to bring this word back. It ought to be fairly easy since I definitely live with two girls who are real cautions—Chatter and Chitter.


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  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 18, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    I never heard the word “Caution”, that doesn’t mean that Daddy or Mama used it in a sentence, I just wasn’t paying any attention. Back when I was a kid, the Feists were My World.

    When ole Copper Died Jack and Bob wouldn’t hardly let Me and Harold bury him, as we’d put him in the hole, either Jack or Bob would pull him back out. They Just couldn’t let their Daddy go. I looked at Harold and he was just balding, like Me. We grabbed the Feists and hugged them, told them that we Loved Them. Old Copper was 20 or 21 years old when he Passed and had lived a full life. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I haven’t here it used that way but I have heard Your A Case..

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 18, 2020 at 10:38 am

    I can remember my Aunt Avery Collins, my mother Azie Collins Dyer’s using it this way: “Well! For goodness sake! Ain’t that a caution?” Also, Aunt Avery would say, “Well, I never thought it! Ain’t that a case.” My Aunt Avery was an “unclaimed blessing,” my mother’s next-to-youngest sister. Also, her youngest sister, Ethel, was also an “unclaimed blessing” until she was nearly 50 when she, Ethel, believe it or not, began to date a widower, and they eventually married. When I was born (ages ago, for I’m now a Nonagerian!”) my mother, who had help Grandmother “look after” her youngest sister when Ethel was young, wanted to name me for her youngest sister. So my mother came up with the suffix “ENE” to add to ETHEL, making my name Ethelene. And she also gave my my Grandmother’s name for my first name: Georgianne. So my whole name now is Georgianne Ethelene Dyer Jones! Now isn’t that long name an absolute caution? Loved your post today–and every day–but lately, when I’ve learned again how to get my comments posted, I can’t seem to “get around to” checking Blind Pig every day! Now AIN’T THAT A CAUTION??? Shame on Ethelene! Take time, long-name Nonagerian.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Never heard that word used that way. Have heard case. When I heard the word “caution,” I saw in my mind a red flag meaning something bad could happen if you wasn’t alert. I do find in the comments from your readers, a lot of words I’ve heard all my life but might not be using now – like he hasn’t heard that in a “coon’s age” and he will be along “directly.” Those two words bring back sweet memories:)

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 18, 2020 at 8:46 am

    I’m like Miss Cindy, I’ve heard it, I know I’ve heard it but, dang it, I can’t remember where!

  • Reply
    August 18, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Jim Casada said it so well. While many were trying to shed any evidence that they may have spent time in the mountains, Tipper was busy hanging onto those words and expressions. They are like lost treasures when I see them after almost forgetting. I have not heard caution, but describing somebody as being a “case” is certainly a term I heard often growing up. I think they might have been referring to me a few times. I cannot remember when I last heard that.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 18, 2020 at 8:30 am

    You have found a gray area for me again. I want to think I heard ‘caution’ growing up but I can’t be sure. I’m thinking that to say someone was “a caution” was a cautious (rather neutral) way to say they were remarkable without saying whether it was in a good or bad way. In fact, I am inclined to suspect the Appalachian old timers had lots of words and expressions designed to do just that; stake a position or let their opinion be understood without causing trouble by being provocative. But part of it was just plain ole natural courtesy. Wouldn’t it serve us well to recover that?

    Perhaps you all have heard the story of the gentle mountain woman who “wouldn’t say a harms word” against anybody. Two wags decided they would get her to. So in her presence they began to “run down” the Devil. After awhile, when she had been silent, one asked, “What do you think about him Granny?” ” Well”, she said. “I hear he is a good whistler.”

  • Reply
    August 18, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Andy, on the Andy Griffith show used “That does the Caution” to making the Darling’s put headlights on the front of their truck, instead of one of the boys sitting on the hood with a flashlight.
    Andy also used the words, “I’m to Give Out To”……in his case go to the dance that night.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    August 18, 2020 at 7:32 am

    I haven’t heard it since my grandmother died. She said it s lot. Brought good memories

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 18, 2020 at 7:18 am

    I haven’t heard caution used that way in a long time but still hear case. Case is what my Wife and I say.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 18, 2020 at 6:34 am

    Tipper, I know that word. There was someone in I’ve known that used it a lot, “Well ain’t she a caution!”
    I can’t remember who it was. I ll be thinking about that all day trying to remember who it was.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 18, 2020 at 6:21 am

    Tipper–While I haven’t heard “that rascal’s a caution” or words to that effect in a ‘coon’s age, it was something I heard fairly regularly as a youngster. It’s just another example, I fear, of mountain talk moving inexorably into a world we have largely lost. Thankfully there are those, like you, who swim against that tide.

    As for having raised a pair of “cautions,” there’s flat-out no doubt about that.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Joe Chumlea
    August 18, 2020 at 6:18 am

    Never heard anyone use “caution” in that way over here on this side of the mountain in east TN. I have heard & used “case” in that way. Hope to get over your way for a visit directly.

    • Reply
      Margie Goldstein
      August 18, 2020 at 8:13 am

      I never heard “AINT they a caution!” But I definitely think lots of people are just that- some in a good way and some in a not so good way. I do remember cousin Pearl in The Beverly Hillbillies used the term once when describing Jethrine…. I think Chatter and Chitter are the cutest cautions I ever saw!!! God bless all you cautions out here and have a great day filled with TRUTH, PEACE AND QUIET CONTEMPLATION!

  • Reply
    August 18, 2020 at 5:22 am

    I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it used that way before, but it’s not hard to understand what the phrase is trying to tell you.

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