Appalachia Sayings from Appalachia

Appalachian Sayings – Root Hog Or Die

Root hog or die

Root, hog, or die = to survive; to fend for yourself; to make it through tough circumstances by working hard.

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I seldom hear the old saying root, hog, or die today. It’s in the same vein of sayings like: you’ve got to stand on your own 2 feet and sink or swim.

I believe the saying came from the days of free range hogs. In other words, the hogs were turned out on their own and they could root up enough food to make it or die.

I’m a rule follower. I like having lines drawn around my life-I’m not spontaneous in the least and all those gray areas some folks live in make me nervous.

I find comfort in the cut and dried wisdom of old sayings like root hog or die. I mean the saying doesn’t leave much room for you to wiggle around does it? You either work hard to make it or you don’t make it.

Tipper

 

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35 Comments

  • Reply
    Blain Smipy
    June 22, 2017 at 11:19 am

    This was a common saying my Pop said to us as boys. He grew up poor in North Ga. and his mother was from pure Appalachia, Cades Cover area. Of course we knew it as being a hill billy..and proud of it.
    Some sayings she used to tell us, “you better be good or the yankee’s will get you”. Also, she said she was scared to go to the corn crib at night because “the hyena’s would get you”. Whats amazing is that she is referring to the Red Wolf that used to inhabit that area, way back. It was referred to as a hyena because the old slaves and blacks didn’t know what a wolf was, and called it what they thought it looked like to them from Africa, a hyena. So that’s what the poor folk called it too.

  • Reply
    Ginny Peterson
    June 11, 2015 at 9:04 am

    So glad for this post—my grand daughter has been asking about what was some of the things I remember hearing people say.
    So I had told her about your web page and and now I see this post this morning so she will have plenty to read.
    I had also purchased a book that I had given my mother and now I have passed it on to my granddaughter for her to enjoy.
    Have a great day and look forward to what you have for us tomorrow.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    June 2, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Never heard the saying, but believe in the simplicity of it. A healthy hog, even a very young one, won’t let themselves die until they’ve rooted up and turned every inch of dirt within their pen or range.
    “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
    ~2 Thessalonians 3:10(KJV)
    Thus saith the Lord.
    AMEN!!!
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKiliip
    June 2, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Dad used slang saying like root hog or die. I always thought it be something to achieve that you started root hog or die (trying the best within you)

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKiliip
    June 2, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Dad used slang saying like root hog or die. I always thought it be something to achieve that you started root hog or die (trying the best within you)

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKiliip
    June 2, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Dad used slang saying like root hog or die. I always thought it be something to achieve that you started root hog or die (trying the best within you)

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKiliip
    June 2, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Dad used slang saying like root hog or die. I always thought it be something to achieve that you started root hog or die (trying the best within you)

  • Reply
    Tipper
    June 2, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Sheila – Thank you for the great comment! That’s what makes this world so wonderful-it’s made up of all different kinds : ) Folks like me who feel comforted by boundaries and folks like you who feel hampered by them. Reminds me of a post I did one time about how the mountains make some folks feel safe (like me) but make others feel like they’re trapped and can’t breathe. While the wide open prairie makes some folks feel safe because they can see all around but make others (like me) feel exposed and vulnerable because there’s nothing to hide behind LOL : ) I envy your ability to live without boundaries.
    Hope you have a great night!
    Tipper
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Tamela
    June 2, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Never heard the main phrase but have heard most of the others mentioned today. “Root, hog, or die” seems akin to “grab and growl”. And b.Ruth’s comment about pickin’ up acorns – well – it all seems to go together with “the blind pig and the acorn” – you just have to keep searching and you just have to keep trying. . . .

  • Reply
    Shelia
    June 2, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I thought I’d heard every old Appalachian saying..but I’ve never heard this one! Is it “Root hog, or die!” I’m, not entirely sure of the comma placement, but the comma behind the hog makes sense to me. I totally understand it, I’ve been doing it all my life.

  • Reply
    Sheila stone
    June 2, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I like this saying AND I live in the gray areas and dislike boundaries. The insistence that The Truth is out there and there is a Right Way to do things just because that’s the rules is responsible for so much suffering because it just isn’t SO! I like root hog or die because it’s colorful and succinct, but no, I definitely don’t think it’s true all the time! it’s only true if nothing ever changes.

  • Reply
    Robert Wasmer
    June 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I may be wrong, but I seem to recall June Carter Cash releasing a CD with one of tracks being “Root Hog, or Die.” Someone may be able to refresh my memory.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 2, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    I once worked for a man named German Vogel. He was originally from Argentina I think. We were working on one of the houses up on the side of the mountain opposite Nantahala Village. He left us with work to do and went to get some supplies. We were standing around talking when he came back and didn’t see him til it was too late.
    So he walks up, “Come boys, why are you just standing there when you could be sitting?” So he sat down and motioned for us to do the same. Nobody spoke a word. After a couple of minutes he said “Why sit down when you lay down?” So he layed down. We just sat there. In a couple more minutes he looked at us and said “Why just lay here when you could take a nap?” He closed his eyes and we went back to work.
    German was an artisan and a craftsman. Not only was he skilled with his hands but with his words. One phrase he used has really stuck in my mind. When he would finish up a task, he would step back and admire his work. If he was satisfied he would say “beauty fuel!” He had an accent but he knew the English language better than most people born here. He could say beautiful but “beauty fuel” had a different meaning to him as it now does to me.

  • Reply
    Ken
    June 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Tipper,
    I’ve heard that expression alot
    from my parents when I was growing up. And when my daddy saw something that was constructed poorly he’d
    say, “that won’t last long as Patty stayed in Hell!” (Patty musta been a mean ole gal.)
    Prayers are for B. Ruth’s loved one and for Pap’s recovery…Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    June 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    This reminded me of “ringing the pigs”. You may be familiar with this, too. They would catch the poor pig & one person would get him between his knees & hoist his head up. The other person would have the pig ringer with the sharp metal ring in it. It was pressed into the edge of the pig’s snout with the pig screaming all the time. Sometimes they put more than one. This was to keep the pig from “rooting” out under the fences, I guess, but I still remember the pigs “rooting” around anyway.
    Pigs had a hard time on the old farm–I also remember the men castrating the little boy pigs. They did it with a razor blade & of course no anesthetic.
    My brother & I would bury our heads under pillows while they were killing hogs but it never kept us from enjoying pork.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

    That saying really illustrates personal responsibility and independence. I heard it often growing up but, like you, don’t hear it much anymore. As a boy I would hear the term ‘public works’ meaning working at a regular job for wages instead of for oneself on a subsistence farmstead. It seems the 20th century ushered in that change and it was nearly complete by the 1950’s. The hard scrabble farm life was fading.
    One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was, “do like they do across the river.” I asked him once what they did and he said, “They do without.” I take it that part of what was meant was to take what was given with a wry humor rather than rage against it since one couldn’t change it anyway.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Have a blessed day you all.

  • Reply
    dolores
    June 2, 2015 at 9:13 am

    So true! I’m not familiar with the root, …. saying, but the other two were saying I grew up with. Hard work was the only way to get to the goal you set for yourself. Without a goal nothing happens; you need to work hard in this life to get the rewards of family, home, happiness, and whatever else you may need.
    Still sending prayers for Pap! Hope he is improving.

  • Reply
    Jack
    June 2, 2015 at 9:10 am

    I agree with you about living in the gray areas. I don’t understand why people do that.There are changes/detours and you have to adapt and alter your plans, but you still need the “lines”. However, I like to draw my own lines..From what I’ve seen on some hikes, there are some feral swine taking this advice to heart.Soie pig.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 2, 2015 at 9:07 am

    I’ve heard and used this expression as long as I can remember. I guess this comes from being raised and raising our food on a farm which was basically self sustaining.

  • Reply
    Quinn
    June 2, 2015 at 9:07 am

    That’s one saying I do still hear, and I agree it’s a good clear instruction!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I’m pretty fond of this one myself.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I’m pretty fond of this one myself.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I’m pretty fond of this one myself.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I’m pretty fond of this one myself.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    June 2, 2015 at 8:39 am

    This is one I’ve heard around here. And it’s an old-time song title, too. Here’s a link to the lyrics of one version. There’s also a New England one having to do with a sailing ship. http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/song-midis/Root_Hog_or_Die_%28Southern%29.htm

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    June 2, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Tipper,
    Great saying, I’ve heard it from the older generation all of my life. This is one saying we need to keep alive!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 2, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Tipper–This adage, and many others, are reminiscent of the wisdom our forebears held closely: “God helps those who help themselves.”
    Most mountain people are of Scot-Irish descent, and one of the deeply rooted beliefs of those people revolved around a staunch work ethic–a belief that there is something worthy, redeeming, and wholesome in hard work.
    I for one feel that way and seldom do I have a greater sense of inner satisfaction than at the end of a day when I can say to myself: “That was a good day’s work.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Howland
    June 2, 2015 at 8:16 am

    G’mornin’ Tipper,
    That’s been the story of my life, seems like, since before I first heard it when I moved to WV – KY 45 years ago. I’ve always taken it as “Dig them acorns up yourself, ’cause no-one’s gonna hand ’em to ya..” Good words, I still live by ’em. I think the reason that you don’t hear so many of these old homilies is that after you’ve said one, you have to explain it to the folks that heard it.
    Cheers to Pap this fine morning!

  • Reply
    Henry Horton
    June 2, 2015 at 8:01 am

    This one definitely made it to the Ozarks. Mama usta say this one all the time!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    June 2, 2015 at 8:00 am

    That wonderful saying has been in my vocabulary as long as I can remember! But I haven’t heard it from anyone else in quite a while. I suppose that city folks might not understand it, but it has always been useful for me when I start to get lazy. It has the added force of the determination and sticktoitiveness of a hog hunting for anything to eat.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

    I remember hearing this saying from my Dad, who was born and raised in Sylva, NC. I don’t recall hearing it elsewhere.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 2, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Good job, Tipper, of reminding us of this saying mountain-reared children like I were reared. It was a way to teach independence and good work habits. It taught that things were not “handed to you on a golden platter,” and that “he who works, eats.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 2, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Tipper I would say you have both feet firmly planted on solid ground. As far as I am concerned that’s a very good place for feet to be.
    Root, hog or die is a saying I’ve heard all my life and the meaning is clearly expressed. All mountain people know it.

  • Reply
    Glynn Harris
    June 2, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Yep…..that’s an old “saying” I heard all my life way down here in Louisiana. Some schools of thought are universal.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 2, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Tipper,
    I don’t know when or if I have heard that exact saying. I have heard my Dad say he had to root around like a hog to find a job during some tough times. If a job no matter how small came in, he would say “every once in a while, it’s good to pick up an acorn”!
    He finally went into business of his own…and more work came his way than he could do at times…then it was feast or famine…so to speak…LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Pray for one who is being admitted today into a major hospital for extended treatment! Thx

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