Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Stem Winder

My life in Appalachia - Stem Winder

stem winder noun
1 A spree.
1941 Hall Coll. Del Rio TN I have been going to Waynesville every Saturday night and getting on a stem winder.
2 A person of superior ability or intelligence.
1994 Montgomery File = someone who is smarter or more energetic than others (82 year -old man, Gatlingburg TN).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Pap’s always used the term stem winder to describe a bright energetic child. Sort of like the one in the photo. A little boy with boundless energy that figured out how to weave in and out of the other children who were contra dancing much to mine and Pap’s delight-not to mention he was cute as button to boot.


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


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  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 27, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Gosh, I raised three myself, looking back it was great, but at the time it was mind boggling!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    November 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    We also use it this way- Looks like tomorrow’s weather is gonna be a real stem winder! Happy Thanksgiving- hope it isn’t as white as mine is shaping up to be!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I remember my elders (back before I became one) using the term to refer to a pocket-watch, which had by that time fallen out of favor as wrist-watches had become the norm.
    Still asking for help for Pap…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 26, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I can’t remember ever hearing stem winder. In my world that little dude would be a cracker jack. I have one of those cracker jacks in the form of my littlest grandson. Now he is a stem winder too.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I raised a couple of “stem winders” and now I am seeing the payback, as they have stem winders of their own…If I use the term in yours and Pap’s context.
    My idea would be more of a “wound tight main spring” that suddenly goes “boing” creating upheaval all around until it totally unwinds and gets sleepy! LOL
    My Appalachian folks would think of a stem winder as someone going on a drunken spree!
    Thanks Tipper,
    very interesting…
    Yep, that little feller is cute!

  • Reply
    Joyce Heishman
    November 26, 2014 at 10:57 am

    What an education I am receiving from your blog. Thank you. Praying for Pap’s. May your Thanksgiving day be filled with love and joy. God bless each of you.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    November 26, 2014 at 10:44 am

    On a stem winder meant a drunken spree where I come from.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2014 at 10:38 am

    i’ve always heard it in terms of speeches, like political speeches. i thought of pocket watches, too, that a stem winder was a speech so long that it caused one to wind their watch, either because it had run down during it, or to time it in disbelief, just lightly shorter than a filibuster. now that i think on it, though, that may have just been my own interpretation, but:

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    November 26, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I haven’t heard that term since Papaw passed away in 1977. Thanks for the good pre-Thanksgiving memories.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 26, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I’ve always associated “stem winder” with a long speech or sermon, such as:
    “I was sitting there listening to that big winder preaching a real stem winder. Unfortunately, I was sitting right behind a first class break winder.”

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 26, 2014 at 9:05 am

    I’ve also heard Stem Winder used o describe an impressive weather event such as “The blizzard of 93 was a real Stem Winder”.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    November 26, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Growing up I heard “stem winder” all the time but not just in reference to a kid. It was used to describer anyone who was a “go-getter” or particularly active and/or ambitious.
    I always figured it dated from the days of pocket watches. In the beginning, most had to be wound with a key that was inserted into the watch. When the watches with stems came out, they were considered quite the modern thing.

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    November 26, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Well Sir, that is a new expression which I will put in my limited vocabulary! However I have know folks who belong in that classification!
    Hope your THANKSGIVING is sunny and bright. We will TRY to make it to the highest place in the Smoky Mountains for turkey dinner.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    November 26, 2014 at 7:44 am

    That little fella sure is cute. It looks like he is trying out his own dance steps. Glad for Pap’s news. He’s still in my prayers. Tomorrow is a day of thanks that we live in a country of freedom as well as a chance to enjoy friends, family, and, hopefully, wonderful food. God bless all!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 26, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Tipper–I’ve always heard this term used in a quite different context, namely, as a description of something which was especially interesting or fascinating.
    For example: “That Lash LaRue movie at the Gem Theater last Saturday was a sho’ nuff’ stem winder” or “That ball game was a stem winder right down to the last play.”
    Jim Casada

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