Sayings from Appalachia

Sayings by Way of Blind Pig Readers

Colorful mountain speech from appalachia

Back in January of 2011 I shared some of the comments Blind Pig Readers had left about sayings. One reader, Kris, pointed out every region of the world, Australia in his case, has their own unique sayings. Whatever the area, I believe people ought to hold on to their unique sayings so they’ll be passed on to the coming generations. I hope you enjoy this re-post of the comments.

  • John-who lives over the big pond said this in reference to my “If you’re going to dance you’ll have to pay the fiddler” saying: “He who pays the fiddler calls the tune” may well be the original saying, that’s what I used to hear when I was small, in other words “when you start to pay your way around here you can have things how you want them!” Since so much of our language came from the British Isles I bet John is right.
  • Brian Blake said: “For the love of Pete probably refers discreetly to Saint Peter, without taking the Lord’s name in vain.” A few of you mentioned the saying For Pete’s Sake I bet that one is in reference to Saint Peter too.
  • Pam Moore told about a saying I’ve never heard, one with a very interesting story behind it: “My mom would always say that we had “enough food to feed Cox’s army”. I asked her who Cox was and she said she didn’t know, it was just something that her parents said. I did some research and found out that there were two Coxs. During the Depression, in 1932, a priest named Cox led a march on Washington, DC consisting of unemployed men from Pennsylvania. In 1894, another depression year, Jacob Coxey led a protest march into Washington, DC to ask that jobs be created. I thought it was interesting that there were two “Cox’s armies”. 
  • Ethelene Dyer Jones gave a wonderful explanation for the old saying its raining cats and dogs: “How about this one: “It’s raining cats and dogs!” By researching this old saying, I found that it dates back to thatched-roofed houses, when straw was piled high to keep out the elements from the crudely-built dwelling. The cats and dogs (and other creatures) would sometimes crawl upon the thatch and sleep. When a heavy rainstorm came, the weight of the rain on the straw, plus the added weight of the poor animals (that were surely getting wet!) made the animals fall through the roof and land inside the hut. Therefore, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” We still say it. But who has ever lived in a thatched-roof house?”
  • Bill Burnett shared a saying he had just heard and his thoughts on it:  “I heard one yesterday that was new to me “I’ll be the son of a Motherless Goat.”  just what does that mean? A lot of these are used in place of some vulgar swearing but why do they catch on and pass from generation to generation?”
  • Rachelle had a cute comment: “We are forever more telling Landon we are gonna jerk a knot in his tail, and he says “Nannie, I not have a tail.”
  • PinnacleCreek shared one I’ve never heard but loved:  “I learned a new one from a lady I once worked with. She used to say to coworkers “Don’t sit there like Ned in the Primer!” I sure hope these are forever preserved.”
  • Ron Banks had one I have heard in the past but had forgotten: “In regard to a good church sermon: Now, if that don’t light your fire son, your woods wet!”
  • Bradley had this one: “The one that used to make all the young boys mad was when he would act like he was trying to cheer someone up. He would put his hand on their shoulder and say, “Now son don’t worry its always darkest right before it turns pitch black, besides it could be worse it could have happened to me.”
  • Martina had some good ones: “Grandma said of her grandson, an extreme procrastinator: “He doesn’t ride the horse the day he puts the saddle on” Mom used to have comments while driving of “great grandmother’s corset stays” and “stars and garters”. I don’t know if they were substitutes for naughty words or were just vintage expressions.”

I shared your comments with The Deer Hunter who believes strongly in using sayings to spice up his conversations. A few of his favorites:

  • deader than 4 o’clock
  • happy as a pig in slop
  • drunker than a 9 eyed spider

One of my very favorite sayings came from one of you. Back in February Linda left this comment on one of my Appalachian Vocabulary Tests: My mother used to say: “Your milk of human kindness has turned to bonnie clabber.”

That saying has stuck with me ever since she left the comment. I’m not sure if its because its probably really old,  if its the firm sound it has, or because its so descriptive. Whatever the reason, I love it.



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  • Reply
    Jo R
    June 29, 2019 at 8:55 am

    “You make your own luck.” from my Dad
    “Busy hands are happy hands.” from my Mom

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    November 14, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Our saying about the blind man is that he said, “Well, we’ll see as he took up his hammer and saw.” It is a real play on words.

  • Reply
    larry griffith
    February 1, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Dad used to say he drove his ducks to a bad market. usually meaning he really got a horrible wife.

  • Reply
    Ronnie L.
    January 31, 2016 at 5:15 am

    “Son of a motherless goat” is from the movie The Three Amigoes, starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. I’ve always thought that saying was hilarious.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    January 29, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I like Linda’s saying too. “Your milk of human kindness has turned to bonnie clabber.”
    It’s pretty apt for some who are always ready to rain on someone else’s parade and need little reason to do so, bless their hard little hearts.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    January 29, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Tipper: my favorite of the old sayings , is i,m as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. regards k.o.h

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    My Grandmother used to advise me, “When it comes to love boy, it’s better to take it slow. Like a cat eatin’ a grind stone.”
    If a little kid or animal had a real fidgity personality, she say, “Well ain’t he a rang tailed tooter!” Not shure, but assumed the ref is to catching a wiggly little pig who has a healthy case of flatulence when you grab him around the middle.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 29, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    “As quiet as a three-legged horse on a fire escape.” So clear as to make your ears hurt just imagining it. I don’t know where my father got the saying but it was funny when he said it.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    January 29, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    I don’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned this one- Mitchell’s Mother used to say “he’s up against a naked rooster” when someone was between a rock and a hard place. His folks were both very descriptive people. This one is my favorite 🙂

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    You know we all like to “brag”( for lack of a better word) about our children and the things they accomplish and we had a preacher who had lots of sayings…he was from Texas and he had lots of ’em and he would say, “you know it’s a poor rooster what won’t crow on his own fence.” I loved that saying and never felt bad about crowing from then on. lol

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    We had a neighbor who ended every sentence with “by hokies”. He was so bad to say it that all the kids in the community called him By Hokies.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Growing up, one of my friends would always want us to eat supper at his house. There were usually about 5 of us. I still remember his mother saying, “I’m not feeding Cox’s army!” Makes me laugh to this day.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    January 29, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Our family’s history in East Tennessee illustrates two of these colorful sayings. Thanks, Tipper! I’ve entered both of them to my book, “Under Brilliant Stars.”
    “I’ll be the son of a motherless goat” reminds us of Great-great Grandfather. His father and mother separated when he was eight, and Dad, 45, married second, an eighteen-year-old who was three years younger than his oldest sister. Lucinda was prolific, bearing a new baby every eighteen months. At age fifteen, Tom Jr. wrung the neck of his last chicken and “lit out for the Territory.”
    “Now, if that don’t light your fire, son, your wood’s wet!” sounds like it refers to the Second Great Awakening, a largely Baptist and Methodist-Arminian religious movement which swept America from 1800 through the mid-1840s. Preaching salvation through born-again piety enrolled millions of new church members. “It is necessary to raise an excitement,” declared famed evangelical Rev. Charles G. Finney, whose Revival Camps could attract 20,000 people. Great-great Grandfather was caught-up: he named his first son Jesu Columbus Blake — known thankfully as Jesse — and his last, John Young Fillmore Blake, for Morman leader Brigham Young.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    January 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Great to see some Australians chiming in. Good on you, mates!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 29, 2016 at 11:14 am

    When my mother thought somebody was stretching the truth she’d simply say “Pssst”

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 29, 2016 at 10:28 am

    I like the saying “fell a flood” – cause and effect in three short words, and with alliteration thrown in for good measure.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 29, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Hope today finds Pap feeling better and home recuperating! Still having prayer and thoughts about the Blind Pig Family here in E. TN.
    Mom was trying to cook for company in our small kitchen. Kinfolks were always talking and peering around, making cooking and food preparation comments. Of course not all were derogatory comments, some were just watching the way she cooked, but I knew it made her nervous. You know the old adage…”Too many cooks, spoil the soup”…so to speak!
    Dad whispered to me, “Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians!”. I didn’t know what he meant until years later! ha He then put one of them to work, getting ice out of those old pop-handle aluminum ice trays and filling glasses with tea to keep them busy until dinner was set on the table!
    Me, I tried to stay out of her way, until I got old enough to be of real help! ha
    Thanks Tipper, loved this post today….

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 29, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I remember “by Ned”. In fact, I heard Pap say on one of the songs, “by Ned m, we got it that time”. My grandfather would say “well, let me see – said the blind man. As he picked up his cane and walked away. ”

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 9:27 am

    “Don’t just sit there like Ned in the Primer.” Poor Ned. I always just got a mental picture of a little clueless boy sitting at his desk for the first time. I knew this saying was old when it referred to 1st grade as the primer. Thanks to Donna Wilson King for another version of poor Ned in his first reader.The friend from Western Virginia who used this old saying at work has passed on, but hopefully others may latch onto it and keep it alive.
    Tipper, you covered way more territory than my coffee-deprived brain can absorb in one sitting. So, I would like to mention one instance where I possibly had the wrong impression on one old saying. I have long been interested in the study of the Civil War. I had always presumed “enough food to feed Cox’s army,” referred to the General Cox (Union) who marched and fought battles. With any literature on the Civil War you will find mention of extreme difficulty keeping the multitude of marching troops fed. I have to admit I had never heard of the others mentioned.
    My off the subject comment of the day. I have always wondered if yelling “uncle” during an arm wrestling is Appalachian in origin, as I cannot seem to find much. Growing up arm wrestling was one of the many free ways we found to entertain ourselves.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Drunk as a skunk. Now, how on earth did that get started? Poor as Jobe’s turkey. My parents and relatives had hundreds of sayings that I loved and still add to my daily conversations.
    I will be repeating Martina’s saying to a few procrastinators I know. Loved them all!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 29, 2016 at 9:22 am

    These are all wonderful. Tip. I’ve actually heard most of them at some time in my life. Here’s another one to add to the list. My Aunt Ruth used to say “and a yan dan fiddle doe” to or of someone who talked incessantly but saying little. I’ve tried to google it but found no results.

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    January 29, 2016 at 9:15 am

    As a response to “How are you doing?” “Fine as frog hair and twice as sleek (slick).”
    I wonder if the “high waters” in one of the comments (referring to short pants) was actually “high waders”?
    The “bonnie clabber” of course is referring to milk going sour, turning to ‘clabber’ or buttermilk. Might be a Scots saying, since ‘bonnie’ means ‘nice, pretty’ in that dialect.
    Did you ever hear someone say, “We’re high-balling it!” when they were going fast? It refers to semaphore signals on the railroad. A ‘high ball’ means the track ahead is clear and the engineer can ‘open her up.’

  • Reply
    Sallie R. Swor
    January 29, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I’ve been saving these old sayings for years. I can still hear my mother say, “jerk a knot in a dead sheep’s tail and one done jerked” probably because I often have trouble riding that saddle! Some of these are new to me. My son who has lived in Australia about 4 yrs. has found some interesting ones, too. I loved to hear the ones my parents used that came from incidences in their lives as well as the stores of the origins of the old ones.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 29, 2016 at 9:08 am

    These reminded me of: “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” and “He’s as happy as a pig in the sunshine.”

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 8:59 am

    I sometimes tell kids that are misbehaving, I’ll jump down your throat, do a tap dance on your liver and dare your heart to beat.” The first few times they hurry to find mom or dad and stick close. Later they just laugh but usually stop the behavior.

  • Reply
    grandpa Ken
    January 29, 2016 at 8:50 am

    What can they do to me, send me to Vietnam. Bet I said that and heard it thousands of times. We all felt we were as bad it could get. Sayings fit the times!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 29, 2016 at 8:48 am

    I loved, loved the reprint of the “old sayings” and how they probably came to us! Language is my favorite study. How could we live without words? They grab us, excite us, help us communicate, and can propel us to action, too. Thanks for sharing all of these again. And a friend of mine often says, “It’s in the book!”–that is, “This is a tried and true saying”–or probably going back to a reference to “It’s in the Book, the Bible” and whatever is there is “gospel truth.”
    Thanks for words and how we communicate! Superb!

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Gosh! I really enjoyed this review of sayings. Some are new to me, but it was a fun reading!

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    January 29, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Adding to John’s – If you’re gonna dance with the devil, you’ll have to pay the fiddler.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 7:43 am

    My Dad used to say to me, “Don’t just sit there like Ned in the first reader”! Another expression that I have heard was “She could clabber over Hell”!!! (meaning to make a giant mess of). Some people in my family also used the expression about enough food for Cox’s Army. Or “She would stay out till the cows come home, if I let her”.

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    January 29, 2016 at 7:20 am

    Now Tipper, you got to watch those Dudes Down Under! They will trick you before you can say ‘Scat’ and that is really swift.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Donna Wilson King
    January 29, 2016 at 6:26 am

    My grandmother often referred to Ned in the primer…especially if we were wearing pants that were too short. She’d say “You look like Ned in the first reader.” My Papaw, however, would call them “high waters.” Loved this post!

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    January 29, 2016 at 4:25 am

    One of my favourite Australian sayings is “I wouldn’t be dead for quids!”, another is “I wouldn’t call the King my uncle!”
    Both basically mean ‘I’m happy as I am.
    *quids referred to our old currency, a nickname for pounds

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