A few days ago on my Garden Edition of the Appalachian Vocabulary Test more than a few of you were confused by this sentence: “Mommy had to come out and spell me a while after dinner.”
In Appalachia the word spell has several different meanings.
- Of course the most obvious: to say or write out the letters of a word. “Can you spell Mississippi?”
- A period of time. “Won’t you stay and visit for a spell before you have to go?”
- A period of sickness, illness, or general discomfort. “We didn’t get to go cause Aunt Dorsey took a dizzy spell and had to go to bed.”
- According to the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English spell can also be used to describe a short distance. “The old house that burnt down was just up the creek a spell from here.”
In the sentence “Mommy had to come out and spell me a while after dinner.” I was using spell as a period of time-meaning I was so tired Mommy had to come do my job while I rested for a few minutes.
It is very common in my area of Appalachia (and in my house) to use the word spell in the first 3 examples above, but I’ve never heard spell used to describe a distance have you?