Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Pissant

My life in appalachia pissant

pissant, pismire noun A small back ant.
1867 Harris Sut Lovingood 32 I felt like I’d crowded intu a ole bee-gum, an’ hit all full ove pissants. 1996 Montgomery Coll. pissant (Cardwell, Oliver); pismire (Ledford). [SND piss-ant (at pish III(2) “from the smell of the ant-heap”; CUD pismire (at pish); Web3 piss + ant; chiefly dialect; Web3 piss + mire “ant” (of Scandinavian origin)]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Besides describing a small black ant, pissant is also used to refer to a person in a derogatory manner.

The piss + mire of Scandinavian origin portion of the definition from the dictionary is especially interesting to me.

How about where you live-do small back ants = pissants?


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    June 28, 2014 at 10:45 am

    I have read that the term “Pissant”, or “Sugarant” was coined due to their clustering in and around urinals, especially if any of the user’s were diabetic. Many a young lad perfected their aim when these little creature’s were present.

  • Reply
    May 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Def have pissants…they were my favorite crtiiter as a kid…because I could say “the p word”

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    May 28, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I have heard it for years. I use the name quite often, of course there are never any ANTS around when I do.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 28, 2014 at 7:02 am

    I’m a day late on this. For anyone who has gotten into a fire ant hill unawares, here is a video that will give you a little vicarious, schadenfreude-like pleasure:

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

    My blog got in really late too, after dark, but don’t remember the time.
    Ah, pissants, we always called the little black ants sugar ants. But the little red ones, fire (far) ants those are the ones deserving of the name pissants. When you are bitten by a pissant, you are well and truly bitten. They bite so hard their entire body curls up like a shrimp when it is cooked.
    Your body is covered with welts that have blisters. These are bad bad boys.

  • Reply
    May 28, 2014 at 6:57 am

    I didn’t get this post until late yesterday afternoon. Pissant was a term that I have heard all of my life used to refer to the tiny black ants that get in the house – or as a derogatory term used for people.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Our paternal Grandmother use to call them that, although I believe most of hers were sugar ants, because we’d often find them in her sugar bowl to her consternation. Sometimes she’d see one and say, “There’s a pissant, step on it.” Then one day, she said (can you guess it?),
    “There’s a step ant, _____ on it.” I heard her say it that way that one time, and then I heard others deliberately say it wrong that way many times afterward, and as children, of course, we’d giggle each time we heard it said that way.
    I remember hearing stories about how pissants bite you, then turn and wee in the bite so it’d sting. We believed that back then. I don’t believe it’s true anymore though, but I could be wrong – who knows.
    Nowadays, we just call the darn things “ants,” and one thing we’ve plenty of here in the NC Sandhills is fireants, and those things are a HORRIBLE pain – for days and days after.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 27, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Not to be confused with the Stepant!

  • Reply
    Patti Tappel
    May 27, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I liked your blog post on pissants but probably not for the reason anyone else did. As you probably know my maiden name is Cardwell, so I am interested in where your information came from.
    As I hear it the Cardwell’s came from Kentucky. I will have to tell you the rest of the story in person!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    May 27, 2014 at 9:02 pm


  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    May 27, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Yes I have heard this term all my life, both to describe the ant and the person.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 27, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    My post for today just arrived at 4:35 PM today.
    I agree with B. Ruth that your ant picture looks like a Carpenter Ant, which we are seeing plenty of here in the last month or so. They are pretty large ants. I used to live in South Florida where an unattended “far” ant hill could get to be a foot or so high and 2 feet in diameter. Don’t even think about disturbing one of those hills!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    May 27, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    The little red ones are what we called a pissant. I’ll take them over those fire ants any day! Those darn things will make a preacher cuss if he gets into em! As a boy we would take a piece of plastic and light it and drop the hot plastic on ants. Sounds pretty cruel now but it sure was fun then!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    For those with fire ant problems; the most effective thing I’ve ever used was powdered Tide detergent. I cleared 3 acres in Georgia with it. I don’t know if it killed them or just run them over to the neighbors.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Tipper–For whatever reason my blog for today didn’t arrive intil just a few minutes ago. I see others got it at the normal time so I guess my local server, which is an abomination, is doing their inept deeds again.
    I’ve often heard the word “pissant” applied to a bothersome soul, and most of the time the word “little” went with the word. For example, “I swear that little pissant’s doings are enough to frost my grits.”
    As for fire ants, they are the first cousins of Beelzebub. Get in a hill of them unawares and they will not only teach you new dance moves; chances are you will set a new world record for getting naked. More than once, usually on a September dove shoot, I’ve seen some unknowing Yankee get amongst them and literally run screaming through the field, shedding clothes as he went.
    Too bad Jerry Clower isn’t still with us, because I’m sure he could have come up with a fire ant tale fit to leave the listener rolling in the floor.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Sometimes we referred to a complainer or a grump as a pissant. Interesting word to say the least.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I think everybody has had those pesky
    little boogers at one time or another.
    When my friend mows for me, he demolishes a mound of them ‘far’ ants.
    But it’s right back in a couple of days.
    And on cool days I like to sit in my
    outside building and listen to the
    creek and all the birds. Those little
    tiny ants find me after awhile, just
    about the time I’m ready to take a nap. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Dusty came home from fishing one night and left a cage of crickets on the carport. Early the next morning when I went outside, everything was really quite except for a crunching sound. I looked around for the source and finally found it. Those big black ants B. Ruth was talking about had found that cricket cage. They were cutting the crickets to pieces and carrying them away. Well I attacked the ants with the same fervor with which they had attacked the crickets. I stomped til my feet were aching but still they came. I finally had to take what was left of the crickets and hang them on a string from the ceiling.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pissant, but got called one quite often. Mama used to tell me that I was like one cause I was never still.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 10:32 am

    B. Ruth- I think you’re DEAD right! LOL! I think of the little bitty ones as pissants too…but Chitter’s photo of the black ant was too good not to use : ) And stepping in a mess of ‘far’ ants is something no one wants to do-but it will teach you some dance moves you never knew you had : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Had to search for you on the internet – your post didn’t arrive in the email today.
    Now about those little ants:
    1) we have little black ants.
    2) I thought the name was because their trail looks like a trail little boys would make in the dirt when they “go” outside.
    3) I don’t recall any smell at any ant bed.
    4) While I give them due courtesy to avoid ant bites – they are a good thing since their tunnels take water deep into the ground.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I may be DEAD WRONG, but that there picture of yore ant ain’t no “pissant”! I have heard and seen “pissants” all my life, and heard and saw what my Daddy was callin’ a “pissant” from his Mars Hill farm…That picture looks to me like a “carpenter ant”…yeah, the one you see a lot of in the woods and around damp decks and railings! You can actually hear them sawing, knawing and carrying off your deck! True, I swear! They will show up if you have wet or damp wood piled around or “heaven forbid” a damp area under your house. They sure will “chaw down” on wood or on you with their “pincher-like” jaws if you grab ahold of a leg and don’t lett’um loose…
    A “Pissant”, is a “noseeum” a itty,bitty,teeny,tiny speck of a black ant…almost invisible to the “naked eye”. About 1/16th inch long. To catch those, just go on a summer picnic..get all hot and sweaty and sit down..They’ll be bittin’ the devil out of you before you know it..actually they will be stinging you! Or, like my Daddy showed me, work outside, get hot and sweaty, set down to rest, eat a sandwich and soon a whole nest of them will be crawling up yore britches legs and will give you fits…That little “pissant” hurts too but more of a nuisance and easy to swat off or pour water on’em…
    Then there is that obnoxious black ant that raises his “buttux” up and calls “every memeber of his kin to war” if you pick up a rock, dead limb or straw bale. They run around screaming like a banshee, carrying there wittle white grubby babies while the rest hust you down and sting like the devil…They are almost an eighth of an inch long..with his but raised up if they are swarming after being disturbed…
    Then there is the “FAR ANT”,(fire-ant)..not so (far) away in our county. They can actually travel underground for miles before deciding to raise up and mound! They are usually, but no always, reddish rusty browish black..We haven’t killed a mound this year, and hope we got on them early a couple of years back. I dug up a nest, and you wouldn’t believe the intricate tunnels, of hard (sometimes reddish clay-like) dirt…They usually show up after a rain with a big mound. We got the Queen both times we killed a nest of them..They will scramble to defence and sting, bite, thow rocks, spit and literally cause all out “mayhem” if you step on a nest…YOU WILL KNOW IT INSTANTLY..but only a blind person, I think, would miss the obvious mound…
    These are our ant inhabitants here on our place..I am running out of room and I know we have more species I could tell you about…
    I have heard for the last few years from the County Extention office that people have been having more and more ants of all types…not just fire ants…I can deal with them all except the fire ant and carpender ant…We have seen and I measured one…a carpenter ant 1/2 inch long..!!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…My Daddy was called a “pissant” when he was playing football at Mars Hill college and Appalachian State teachers college…He was a short stout “pissant” size…that is until all that stoutness hit you on the line, he said he made up for the name callin’…
    PS…Now that I see Artists are digging out the Fire Ant tunnel clumps, firing them in the kiln and selling them for $$$ I may save the next one I dig out!!!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 27, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I’ve heard of pissants all my life but it was always used in a derogatory statement!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 7:53 am

    this is so funny. my mom wouldn’t allow us to say that word because she said it sounded like a cuss word, lol. we all knew what it was.

  • Reply
    Aunty Priss
    May 27, 2014 at 7:03 am

    We do have the same creature here but in an effort not to corrupt the burgeoning language skills of the little ones, we have sanitized the word a bit. Now we call them pissisn’ts or in the plural pissaren’ts.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2014 at 6:56 am

    O yea,, Back when my Wife and I first got married I got laid off from the Shipyard and about 6 months later got on at a place call Cook’s Pest Control, and they had their own entomology classes to help you understand and identify most common insects and how to control them, that would have been a good one to bring up in class..” I want to know how I’m suppose to control them Pissants”…

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