Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Sayings from Appalachia

Appalachian Sayings – Scarce as Hen’s Teeth

Scarce as hens teeth

Scarce as hen’s teeth = very rare

I still hear the saying scarce as hen’s teeth in my part of Appalachia. I googled around trying to find the origin of the saying and my search turned up lots of different links. Of course the reason behind the saying is universal – hen’s don’t have teeth so finding a hen with teeth would be very rare indeed.

I stumbled upon a LiveJournal account called Word-Ancestry that says the first recorded use of the phrase was in 1862, but the entry doesn’t name the text containing the phrase.

Is scarcer than hen’s teeth a saying you’re familiar with?

Tipper

 

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    Tipper
    March 5, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Jerry-Sorry you’re not getting the daily emails! The issue is with Google’s Feedburner email service. I had the folks who manage my blog look into the issue, but since they have nothing to do with Google their capabilities are limited. And Google is so big they don’t even answer you back when you email them or ask about an issue on one of their forums.
    Typepad looked over my blog on their service and I even sent them my password so they could look at my feedburner account they can’t find anything wrong. However, they did tell me Feedburner stopped some of the services that support blog feeds. So that is probably whats causing the few people who haven’t been getting the blind pig the issue.
    Feedburner is a free email service. There are paid email services I could use that would make sure all the bugs were worked out, but the only way I could afford them would be to charge people to subscribe and I don’t want to do that : )
    The folks who manage my blog did say readers who weren’t receiving the email could make sure to add my email address to their address book or contacts list. That might possibly fix it for some readers.The email to add is [email protected]
    If this is like most things with google it will suddenly fix itself. At least I hope it does! And remember you can always come straight to the blog by typing in http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com the new post will always be at the top of the page.
    Again-I’m so sorry for this!!

  • Reply
    Jerry Finley
    March 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Hey Tipper,
    I have missed the Blind Pig for about a couple of weeks now. What happened? Did my subscription “run out”. I read this EVERY morning and am having a hard time getting my day started without it. Did I do something wrong? Please help me get back in the family. I sure hope it has not been discontinued.
    Thanks for your help ——and THANKS for Blind Pig!!!

  • Reply
    Denise Duckett Mauck
    February 25, 2016 at 3:18 am

    Tipper, I use this one often and it befuddles my city friends in South Carolina> I can’t count the times I’ve had to stop and explain it.
    I love this column and I’m always sending words and expressions to my friend in California to use on her friends. She was partly raised in the North Georgia mountains and later in North Augusta, South Carolina. They are always amazed! Thank you!!

  • Reply
    Leilani Worrell
    February 23, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    I worked as an agriculture inspector for USDA stationed at international airports; we got flights in from central America, and the people who lived there often brought food which we had to confiscate because of the possibility of transmission of disease from other countries. Quite often, the passengers brought chicken or pork; the chicken was admissible if cooked, but pork was never allowed. One time, another inspector could not tell if a foil-wrapped package was chicken or not and he asked me to take a look. When I unwrapped it and saw a full set of teeth, I told him “It’s not chicken!” It turned out to be garrobo, which is the local word in central America for iguana (yes, the lizard). They cooked the lizard, doubled it over on itself, and wrapped it in foil. It was admissible because it was not a species of concern to USDA for disease.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    “As scarce as hen’s teeth” was a common saying in Choestoe, North Georgia, where I grew up. I especially enjoyed reading Ed Ammons’ response today and his excellent account of how raising chickens has changed since we were young. Sad to think about all these changes in a way, because many of them (alas!) are not for the better. We usually used “as scarce as hen’s teeth” to speak of our penury, or oftentimes the hardships we had concerning money. We had to “save up” a long time to have enough money to pay the taxes on our property and to have enough money to buy winter shoes and clothes.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Hens don’t have teeth because they chew with their gizzard. How alien is that? Free range chickens eat little rocks which grind up their food inside their gizzard. Kinda like Chitter’s rock tumbler. We used to house our chickens but they were on the ground, in sawdust and we threw out crushed oyster shells for them to find. They seemed to like it better if they got to scratch around to find them for themselves. The oyster shells also provided calcium to build stronger shells.
    I think they still feed oyster shells but grind it up finer and mix it in their laying mash. They don’t need their gizzards any more but most chickens are raised in cages and don’t get to scratch anyway. Most hens don’t get near a rooster so most eggs are not fertile. It’s no wonder chicken and eggs don’t taste like they used to.
    Case Farms has a processing plant nearby here in Morganton. Sometimes I get behind one of their tractor-trailers bringing them in to slaughter. The turbulent winds produced by the truck traveling at 70 mph rips the feathers off the chickens and if you are behind them it looks like snow. We won’t even talk about the dripping and horrid smell if you get stuck behind a “gut wagon” leaving there. Not only are hen’s teeth scarce, hens that get to live normal lives like yours are almost as rare.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Tipper,
    Naomi Sego has cancelled the singing at Little Brasstown Baptist Church this Sunday due to illness. If you’d like to hear one of her songs that really pull at your heartstrings, type in “The Sego Brothers and Naomi” …Sorry I Never Knew You. I always liked that one…Ken

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    February 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks, Tipper, for keeping these old sayings alive. I hear them rarely nowadays, but love to keep them stored in my heart and mind.
    I fear one day our young will have some type of flat language which contains mostly unimaginative words slung together. There is so very much they are missing, and I insist on boring my grandchildren with survivor skills. I get a chuckle when I see a young cashiers attempt to determine whether I am purchasing collards or turnips. Just recently one held up my onion sets and yelled over to the office, “What are these things?” They are so cute, but I am sad for what they are missing. Occasionally I find one that is very interested in my seeds and bulbs–I try to give them a quick inservice.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    February 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    heard them all – brings back lots of memories. One difference was I always heard the reference to bantam roosters as being “banty roosters”.

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    February 23, 2016 at 11:53 am

    “Mad as an old wet Hen!” My Mother Smokey Mountain woman, Lona Helen Cordell Howell

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    February 23, 2016 at 11:51 am

    “Do Chickens have Lips?” I first heard this in Los Angeles Ca. Folk wisdom is happening all around us, all the time. Listen

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    February 23, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Yes I have heard it all my life and sometimes use it myself .

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 23, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Tipper,
    I’ve heard that expression in the past, but I don’t say it at all. We had lots of chickens when I was growing up, and several were Bantys. The Roosters would run you back inside the house, but if you came back out with a slingshot, they’d scaddattle. I guess they remembered what had happened to a lot of their kin…Ken

  • Reply
    Luann
    February 23, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Yes, I know & use this one, too!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 23, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I’ve heard it all my life. How about perky as a strutting rooster or feisty as a rutting buck?

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    February 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    I too have heard that phrase all my life, most of which has been spent in Kansas, though less and less in recent years. I suspect that it was a lot more common when just about everybody had chickens and could relate to it better.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    February 23, 2016 at 10:18 am

    So when do hen’s have teeth? – in the shell – the “shell tooth” or “egg tooth” which they use to get out of their shell – – it hangs around for a short while after they hatch but by the time you can tell whether you’re looking at a rooster or a hen, it’s usually gone.
    By the way, one collection of Stephen Jay Gould’s essays is called Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes. He was a paleontologist and naturalist who wrote wonderful articles for the Natural History Magazine. I’ll bet several of your readers are familiar with his writings.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    February 23, 2016 at 10:06 am

    There is one time in their life that they have a tooth – – think a moment . . . .
    Tell Charles I’m also familiar with a similar phrase ” puffed up like a banty rooster” – meaning someone who was upset about something and possibly itchin’ for a fight or ready for a face off – the term certainly applied when some of my students started “frontin'” each other – ; or “strutting like a banty rooster/peacock” (used interchangeably) – meaning someone who was feeling high and mighty and letting everyone know it!.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Tipper,
    I’ve heard this colloquialism forever, even typed It one time I believe in one of my comments…
    Along with “finer than frog hair and gooder ‘n snuff!”
    My Dad used to say of a fellow he knew that, “He was a bubble off plumb” but, he could “cut a rug” and was “limber as a dishrag!”
    Mom would answer with, “Yep, and ugly as homemade sin’!”
    When I see my peckerwoods at the feeder knocking the peanuts around, I always think of “tougher than woodpecker lips!” ha
    I know and have heard and still hear many colloquialisms. When I would hear a new one I would try to write it down somewhere…I had a professor that read a paper I wrote and “red marked” all of the colloquialisms in the essay….Panic set in when he read it to the class, as they all laughed….I got an A+…..He said he had never seen so many of these phrases in one paper…He said it was like listening to his Granny speak that lived in the mountains…..ha Don’t know if that was good or bad for I was a young start!
    Thanks Tipper……enjoyed this post!

  • Reply
    Alice
    February 23, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Have heard this all my life. Growing up in rural NC , a lot of things were scarce as hens teeth. The baby chick does have an egg tooth to help him get out of the shell. It falls off by the time he is a few weeks old.

  • Reply
    Jack
    February 23, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Still hear that expression on occasion. Also, am often running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 23, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Tipper–In my experience and in my personal conversational approaches that piece of mountain talk is as common as pig tracks, finer than snuff, and older than the hills.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Cynthia Schoonover
    February 23, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I’ve heard “scarce as hen’s teeth” all my life and I am nowhere close to Appalachia. Maybe it’s an old Southern saying.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    February 23, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I have heard that my whole life and it is one of my favorite sayings!

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 23, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Echoing the others, the once common expression seems to have lapsed into yesteryear.

  • Reply
    roger fingar
    February 23, 2016 at 8:36 am

    It seems like scarcity and abundance have always had colorful, ” _____ as a _______” expressions throughout our American culture. I can’t help but think that the regional pockets that value storytelling cultivate the most picturesque ones, and maybe enshrine them as things homogenize (as per Mary).
    The expression “fine as frog’s hair” has always been a favorite of mine.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 23, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I too have heard this expression all my life and still hear and use it on a regular basis. Like Barbara Gantt stated, growing up at Needmore many times it referred to money where “Spending Money” wasn’t easy to come by. Looking back we still had everything we really needed even though we produced many of the articles ourselves. This was especially true of the food we consumed. Most folks followed the Biblical Command and truly lived by the “Sweat of their Brow”.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 23, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I grew up hearing it in Southeastern Ohio. I still hear it among my older relatives and I use it sometimes myself. Funny, though, over the summer my brother, who is a principal, was trying to hire teachers. He told me “trying to find an honest applicant is like looking for hen’s teeth.” I guess the meaning holds true.

  • Reply
    SuzyJ
    February 23, 2016 at 8:21 am

    I grew up outside Cleveland, OH and I heard it all the time. I now live in GA and I haven’t heard it at all. Perhaps I’m around younger people who use more modern expressions? It is very sad that we are losing so many colorful phrases.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    February 23, 2016 at 8:19 am

    My Oklahoma mama and Louisiana daddy both used it, and I akways have, too — still do — but, alas, folks around here (New Mexico) who use interesting expressions like that are as scarce as hen’s teeth!

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    February 23, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Have heard very little in East Tennessee! Heard a lot of poor as Job’s turkey!
    Carol Rosenbalm

  • Reply
    Glynn Harris
    February 23, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Yep….way down here in Louisiana the phrase is still used…

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    February 23, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Speaking of chickens did you ever hear?
    Feisty as a bantam rooster.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 23, 2016 at 7:52 am

    I have heard this phrase all of my life and still hear it or use it occasionally.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 23, 2016 at 7:48 am

    Not heard in a long time–I’m sad to see the old talk leaving the language,

  • Reply
    Tracey Green
    February 23, 2016 at 7:41 am

    There is a 1950s South Catolina Supreme Court case, quoted from time to time, holding that a reversal based on a trial judge’s refusal to grant a continuance is as “rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 23, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Tip, I’ve heard that one all my life but like Mary I don’t hear it so much now days.

  • Reply
    Carol
    February 23, 2016 at 7:11 am

    I have heard that all of my life…..and I am no spring chicken!!!!!!!

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    February 23, 2016 at 7:07 am

    I heard that phrase a lot growing up in NC. Usually , the person was referring to money. never heard it after moving to Vermont. Barbara

  • Reply
    Carol Killian
    February 23, 2016 at 7:00 am

    Yes, I have heard and used the phrase. We live in middle TN.
    Carol Killian

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    February 23, 2016 at 4:59 am

    Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks I heard that phrase, fifty odd years later, I have to admit hearing it in conversation is ‘scarce as hen’s teeth’.
    Time passes, things change, sometimes to our benefit and sometimes we lose treasures as homogenization takes away some of our speech patterns and regional dialects.

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