Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Sayings from Appalachia

Appalachian Sayings – I Gave Him What For

Appalachian saying I gave him what for

“That burned me up! I went right down there and told him what for and I made sure he understood that it better not ever happen again.”

Sentence translation: A man did something unacceptable that upset me. I went to see him and in a aggressive manner I explained to him how upset I was and shared my expectations that the event should never happen again.

Giving someone what for is like giving them a scolding but in a more fierce manner.

—————————–

The usage of the phrase what for is more than common in my area of Appalachia. But boy is it hard to explain in writing! Maybe it would help if I shared a few more sentences with it included.

  • I about laughed myself to death. She followed him all the way out to the car giving him what for every step!
  • I better see some changes down there at the school or I’m going to be giving that teacher what for over this homework.
  • You sure give them what for the other night and it’s about time somebody did!

This page says the first recorded instance of the phrase usage was in 1873, and Horace Kephart documented the usage in Swain County NC in the early 1900s.

So where did the saying come from? I haven’t a clue! This page has a lot of theories about the origin but nothing definitive.

Even though no one seems to know where the saying came from, I think it’s pretty cool that its still alive and well in my neck of the woods.

Tipper

 

You Might Also Like

34 Comments

  • Reply
    Adam Welkin
    September 17, 2020 at 9:09 pm

    Originaly it was “Give them Watts..full story here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5i2viK-C8o

  • Reply
    N. K. Dover
    September 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Well, that just irritates the peewallikin fuzz outa me! You go cut me hickry and I’ll teach you a thing r three about how to talk to someone! I’ll put a knot on your head you’ll have to tiptoe to scratch.

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    September 7, 2016 at 7:52 am

    The devil to pay, and no tar hot is the longer phrase I’ve heard.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    September 7, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Heidi
    Thank you for the comment! I haven’t heard of the book, but hopefully someone else who has will chime in with the answer!

  • Reply
    Jean
    September 6, 2016 at 11:29 am

    We used to say “the what for”, as in giving somebody “the what for” If they misbehaved.

  • Reply
    Heidi
    September 2, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    Does anyone know of a children’s book ” give you what for” is used in? I’m sure I remember reading it, but I cannot remember what book it was! Thanks!!

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    March 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I have heard “what for” all my life.
    Pam
    scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Quinn
    March 10, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I remember “I’ll give you what for” from my childhood, and it always carried the threat of someone being grabbed by the upper arm and thoroughly smacked on the behind!
    A couple of folks mentioned the riot act…this expression has a sad history in Ireland, where the actual Riot Act – an 18th-century English statute – would be read aloud to people before their rural cottages were destroyed before their eyes by English authorities, and the families thrown off the land. The Riot Act warned against unruly behavior, which might well be expected by desperate people.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    March 9, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    I remember our paternal Grandmother saying it about something at least once. Now what it was about or who it was directed at I can’t recall, but I know she didn’t lose her temper easily, so it must’ve been something serious.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    I don’t get “what for”, I get “blessed out”. It happened to me in an email just a few minutes ago. It’s a good thing people can’t come through these wires and things or I would be in a body bag about now.
    As I get older I become more likely to say what I think and have to suffer the repercussions. Sometimes I get “blessed out”, sometimes it’s “chewed out”, sometimes it’s “chewed up and spit out.” Then there is “cussed up one side and down the other.” I haven’t had “what for” before but I’m sure when they hear about it, I’ll get my share of that too!
    Remember the little poem:
    “Sticks and Stones
    bring moans and groans!
    But words bring comfort
    to the living!”
    Adieu!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    March 9, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Absolutely! All my life I have heard and used that. First you give someone a piece of your mind, and if that doesn’t fix things, you give them what for!

  • Reply
    Bob
    March 9, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    This reminded me of a little thing Mom says. When somebody asks, “Well what did ya do that fer?”, she says, “Cat fur, make kitten britches!”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 9, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Tipper,
    Sometimes you have to straighten out folks a bit and I’ve had to do some of that too, although I try to get along with folks. I had the privilege of working with a bunch of folks from Rochester, N.Y. and we had a good relationship for 13 years. They loved to hear me talk. One time I asked the President of the company what does ESCOD Industries name mean. After giving me a list of their 30 sister companies he said “EAST SOUTH CAROLINA OCEANVIEW DRIVE.” This was their headquarters at Myrtle Beach…Ken

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    March 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    People who use uncommon local expressions have a rich heritage. City people tend to “Throw Off” on them. This really galls me. So I’ll give them what for soon’s I get the gumpshun. Them younguns are out there Sparkin again etc. etc.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 9, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Tipper,
    Whoops! I was given a bit of a guilty conscious “what for” for the names I used in my snippet comment!NOTICE: I want to post that that the names are not changed but do not totally reflect on my Dad’s deceased family and friends…ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….It is so beautiful here today….Roy brought in a mess of Crappie yesterday evening. I am still foundered on fried crappie, garden slaw, hush puppies and I made Grannies (quick) baked oven tater chips….How great and wonderful that the Lord blesses us with those healthy mid-depth feeding fish. First of the year Spring crappie…I’ll be happy, even if we don’t catch and eat another one until next Spring!

  • Reply
    Jeanie
    March 9, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Loved today’s column but the comments following it are just as priceless!

  • Reply
    Tamela
    March 9, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Here’s a take on this from Central Texas – with roots in Kansas, Pennsylvannia Dutch, and old Virginia before it was split up.
    “burns me up” – how the recipient of the “wrong” feels but no indication of their potential response to the situation.
    The rest of the phrases refer to the recipient’s response:
    “the devil to pay” – a threat, but mainly a stern reminder;
    “the riot act” – very intense and “high class” verbage about a situation;
    “opening a can of whoop a##” – heard around but not used by my family – understood to involve the threat of a physical altercation;
    “giving ‘what for’ ” – akin to “the riot act” – but probably using more “common talk” (not foul language) rather than “high faluttin’ words” often used in “the riot act”.

  • Reply
    Kim Stalcup
    March 9, 2016 at 10:20 am

    I’m reading Our Southern Highlanders (Horace Kephart) right now. I’ve found myself trying to explain many such sayings to my son & it ain’t always easy!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    March 9, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Wish I had a dollar for every time my mother and I have said, “That just burns me up.”

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 9, 2016 at 8:57 am

    First you chew him out and give him a hefty dose of what for. If you’re still feeling sassy, then follow Howland’s description in that exact order.

  • Reply
    Maggie Roberts
    March 9, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Oh yes, giving What For was my mom’s speciality.

  • Reply
    SuzyJ
    March 9, 2016 at 8:18 am

    I was raised outside Cleveland, OH and my Mom said more times than I can remember, “If you don’t _______, I’ll give you what for!!!” and she meant it too!
    After reading that ya’ll would be at the TLC! I looked it up. What a wonderful school!!! One of my co-worker’s brother is just graduating college to go into teaching. He has been very discouraged from the teachers he has encountered during his schooling. I shared this school with her so she could show her brother the way learning is supposed to look 🙂 (I too, taught years ago and cannot understand what they are thinking now….)
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful things you bring to us each morning!

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    March 9, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Tipper: I heard that expression ‘what far’ all my young life and KNEW EXACTLY what it meant – especially when my Mother used it!
    But now it seems a bit ‘strange’ – if you know what I mean!
    Sometimes I think you must know just about every expression about our way of life!
    It ‘means a lot’ to me!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    March 9, 2016 at 8:08 am

    I just said this yesterday. It is also my Mom’s favorite. I don’t think I ever have a phone conversation with her that doesn’t include an incident of her giving someone “what for.”
    Interesting ideas about the origins as well. This is fun stuff. Thanks for a great morning starter.
    PS: I heard the spring cheepers last night.

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    It’s like “how the cow ate the cabbage”.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    What for is used here in FL too, among the natives which are few.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    What for is used here in FL too, among the natives which are few.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    What for is used here in FL too, among the natives which are few.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    What for is used here in FL too, among the natives which are few.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

    Heard that one all my life, Tip. I’ve even given a few what fors in my life!

  • Reply
    Howland
    March 9, 2016 at 7:40 am

    “I gave him what-for” could be translated to “When I seen what he done, I got up with him and gave him a dose of come-uppance!”. This is not the same as “opening a can of whoop-a$$”, that involves physical contact, where what-for and come-uppance are merely vocal. I ‘spect that if you were talking to a Yankee (If you really *have* to) you could use “I gave him a piece of my mind.”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 9, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Tipper,
    Here’s the way I think it happened.
    Old Joe really didn’t like old Cecil all that much anyhow….Joe suspected that old Cecil, that lived a stones spit near his property line was cuttin’ his trees fer farwood. In other words Cecil was taking down one of his own trees, falling it into Old Joe’s trees, then absconding with all the younger trees that was downed under the lay-down crash…
    Old Joe was sitting on the porch rocking later in the evening with a snarky grin on his face…His brother Bill asked about him a’grinnin’ and sittin’ so quite like he was a’pondering something.
    He asked him! “Old Joe, what’s that you’re studying on?” He reckoned he knew his brother quite well…recognizing that grin!
    Old Joe replies, “I went to the property line and found Cecil!”
    “What for” asked brother Bill. “That’s what I done”, said Old Joe. “I asked him “what for” are you a taking’ my trees with yorn!
    So from that day on, when Old Joe left the porch, one of the kin would say there he goes. Another would say “what for!” Bill answered, “Yep”!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 9, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Tipper–Here’s an alternative offering using other mountain talk.
    “That flat out frosted my grits. I read him the riot act and let him know there would be the devil to pay if it happened again.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Barbara Woodall
    March 9, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Love it! Have given a few folks a ‘WHAT FOR!”
    http://www.itsnotmymountainanymore.com

  • Leave a Reply