Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Appalachian Grammar Lesson 21


Appalachian Grammar Lesson 21

In Appalachia we offer advice like this:

  • you might could soak the plants in water to revive them
  • you could might soak the plants in water to revive them
  • you might can soak the plants in water to revive them
  • you mighta coulda soaked them plants in water to revive them
  • you might ought to soak those plants in water to revive them
  • you might should soak them plants in water to revive them
  • you might should ought to soak those plants in water to revive them
  • you might would want to soak those plants in water to revive them

A conversation I had with a gentleman the other day got me to thinking about how I use the word might. Every one of the phrases above are ones I would say myself-and all are common usages of the word might in Appalachia.

As I studied on the way might is used in the Appalachian dialect, I went straight to my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. This is what the dictionary had to say:

Modal auxiliaries in Smokies speech differ from general usage only
in usage, not in form. As in other Southern varieties of American English,
might and occasionally may combine with other modals to express conditional
force and indirectness.

After I read that I thought AH HA! The dictionary described exactly what I had been thinking about the usage of might. No not the modal auxiliary part, but the last part: to express conditional force and indirectness.

Sometimes when I tell people “they might could or might should do something or the other” I really mean they ‘might’ do it-in other words I haven’t a clue if it will work. But often when I suggest someone ‘might could or might should do something’ I really mean “You should listen to me and do exactly what I’m telling you because I know what I’m talking about.” So why don’t I just say that? I believe the use of might in Appalachia can be directly connected to the way we look at life.

  • Most native Appalachians will go to great lengths to avoid offending someone directly. Telling someone they ‘might could’ is a more tender way of giving advice.
  • Most native Appalachians are modest as well. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve heard Pap suggest a solution to someones problem in such a modest manner that it left them wondering how someone as quite spoken as Pap could give them the answer they’d been searching for. There again-‘might could’ is a modest way of offering advice to someone without coming off like you think you’re the smartest person on Earth who holds all the answers.

How about you-do you ‘might could’, ‘might should’ or ‘might ought’?


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  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I’ve used all those terms in the way Tipper describes, but I’ve also used the Northern way of saying it which is “might”, “could” or “may”, as in…
    You might/could/may choose to do it this/that/or another way. When I’m directing or guiding someone, I try to remember to give two or more choices for them to pick from. That way they “might could” come to think their choice was their idea to begin with. ;o)
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    May 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

    It’s funny how in tune to the dialect you are and bring out these little phrases. I don’t even notice them until you bring them out, I guess when folks from north of the border say we talk funny, it is different to the way they talk, and I guess sometimes confusing to them. Yes, I use this quite often “might oughta”..

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    This is so nice. It’s no fun to get advice from a know it all.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Present and future versions but rarely the past versions. All very familiar among my Kansas and South Texas friends and family.
    – – now what about “fixin’ to get ready to . . . .” – do y’all use that?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Yes Gina! I pronounce it Vi-ennie wienies. Had you tried the ones with Jalapenos? A can of Vi-ennies and a fist full crackers to make it a square meal. Yum! If the Jalapenos cause too much heat, a good glass of cold buttermilk will take the burn away.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 29, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Now if it was me, I might would have said “Now if it was me,” but that’s just me.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    And it seems I remember Mama sayin “You might shouldn’t do that.” at least a few times.
    (She probably shoulda said it more often.)

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 29, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I would use “might should”. I think you hit the nail on the head about avoiding being impolite or offending someone. And “might should”, “might ought”, etc. give advice without being too direct or making it sound like it is the only thing that makes any sense to a rational person.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I see – you want to leave the choice up to the listener instead of telling them you really know what you are talking about. That way if it doesn’t work, you aren’t responsible. No problem! I like the use of two adverbs – one emphasizes the other, but protects you. I like it!

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    This is a late post, but it is gardening time. You are so right, Tipper, that Appalachians sometimes try to be very polite when giving advice. Around here you might hear, “If you like, you might just wanna soak that plant to revive it.”
    Now, however, there are some areas in WV where they are so direct and blunt that it could startle you. Gotta love them, and I certainly do. These folks I describe as painfully honest. They are good honest people with no sugar coatin’.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I got to admit I use all these words
    in the manner you described, mainly
    to not hurt someone’s feelings.
    Years ago I had a neighbor from the thumb part of Michigan. I understood him pretty much and he didn’t beat around the bush when he spoke. That made a lot of my friends mad as a settin’ hen, and I found myself as a go-between, explaining he meant no harm.
    But I thought he hada oughta
    knowed better…Ken

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    May 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I think you nailed it Tipper.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Might ought to–sounds nicer than direct advice!!!

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 10:52 am

    We’re home, darnit! It was a grand visit with kin and grandkids, so great that we might wanna do it again nest year. The Mountain Woman’s daughter suggested we might oughtta just sell out down here in west Georgia and move up there where she can care for us in our old age.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 29, 2013 at 10:44 am

    We use “might ought” a lot. My Mother was more inclined to be
    more modest in her conversation with some folks…
    I “might ort” to bell my cat! The Bob White has been back twice this morning. He/she is a lazy “IT” cat, but could scare the “peediddle” out of the quail.
    “IT” stays in the house mostly, but likes to go out and look around sometimes….
    I have to go, I hear the Bob White again. Is third time charm? We have a small pond (handmade plastic) with a thicket of Azaleasl, Dogwood and Maple in the back of it. It has lots of cover to the pond. I am thinking this here Bob White might be scouting out that area for a nest. Lordy, I hope so! May for sure is mating month for them. Of course there are feeders all around with native grains etc. in them….Outta here….
    You know you “might ought” to start a little post on bird habitat and conversation as well as conservation!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Aways remember (but don’t tell Jim)…”A bird in the bush is worth more than two in the hand!” by b. Ruth

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 29, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I did a search on some recent e-mails and found that I’d used “You might want….” a slew of times. Interestingly, it showed up in both personal and professional messages.
    I also ran across an incoming message with: “As you might could’ve told…” from a lady over in Brasstown;-)

  • Reply
    Gina S
    May 29, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I thought folks everywhere used the word might in the way that we here in Appalachia do. I frequently use it in a suggestion especially when remarking to a child so he will consider options. I might try to quit using it, but more’en likely I won’t. A question I have been pondering lately: am I the only person who once said Vi eena sausages rather than Vee-ena? Seems we don’t eat them as much as when I was a kid, so I haven’t heard their name pronounced in years. Daddy always took them and small cans of baked beans when he traveled for work. He would place them under the hood of his car for a short time to heat them a bit. There were few fast food burger joints back then.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

    That just sounds like home to me. Yoda might coulda not got in a fight with that other cat and I might not had to take him to the vet yesterday.
    Tipper, all those examples are things I hear all the time. You know how when you hear something wrong it hits your ear funny. Well these expressions don’t hit my ear funny. They sound normal.
    I thought a modal was one of those pretty women in the magazines! LOL

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    May 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Yes, it is a part of my speech too, I also use you maybe should, could,ought to.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 9:29 am

    That’s the right way to suggest reviving the plants, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever said mighta coulda, but I might ought to practice saying it. Mom would have said, “might ort to.”

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Reckon you might not ought to consider the possibilities of expanding this essay into a thesis or dissertation.
    This piece is well thought out and well written. I have to say it is best I have seen from you, yet!

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    May 29, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Might ought to do that at my house. Barbara

  • Reply
    Alica @ Happily Married to the Cows
    May 29, 2013 at 8:27 am

    As usual, I find these Appalachian grammar lessons interesting and fun! I might could do a post on PA Dutch grammar sometime! 🙂

  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I both “might could” and “might ought”. I don’t think I ever “mighta shoulda” though…
    This is one of my favorite grammatical features of Appalachia. It just sounds right and the explanation you give is probably spot on

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