Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Appalachian Vocabulary Test 115

the pressley girls appalachian night

Playing at the Hinton Center in Hayesville NC – Summer 2018

It’s time for this month’s Appalachian Vocabulary Test.

I’m sharing a few videos to let you hear the words and phrases. To start the videos click on them.

A post shared by Tipper (@blindpigandacorn) on

1. Sashay: to glide, strut. “Just sashay yourself right down there to the front and speak up. You’ve got as much right to be here as anybody.”

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2. Sawmill gravy: gravy made from cornmeal instead of flour. “Sit down and eat with us. It ain’t much but sawmill gravy, fried taters, and cornbread, but you’re welcome to it.”

3. School house: the actual building school is held in. “They said the school house burnt down last night. Have you heard anything about it?”

A post shared by Tipper (@blindpigandacorn) on

4. Set in: to begin. “It set in to rain about the time I got in the house. I’m sure glad I got all the taters dug before it started.”

A post shared by Tipper (@blindpigandacorn) on

5. Set up with: to set up all night with the deceased. “I’ve never set up with the dead, but I know Granny has.”

I’m familiar with all of this month’s words/phrases and hear them on a regular basis in my area of Appalachia. Along with school house, we often say church house as though it takes both words to describe the building. You can hear the usage in the video Trevis did about sawmill gravy.

Please leave a comment and let me know how you did on the test.


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  • Reply
    Beth Durham
    September 19, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    All of these are familiar on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.
    Regarding “Church House”, don’t you suppose that we differentiate the building from the body of believers because churches didn’t always have buildings to meet in?
    Church would be held in a Brush Arbor or just under the trees. Getting a building for a church house was a pretty big deal.
    I continue to be amazed by the words and phrases I take for granted as just regular English when in fact they are part of our dialect! I recently used the term “poor” for someone having too much of something – like “shoe-poor” for having way too many shoes. A friend stopped me and asked what that was, she said she would have thought that meant you didn’t have any shoes; but she ain’t from around here. Is that phrase common to you?

    • Reply
      September 26, 2018 at 8:53 am

      Beth thank you for the comment! I hope you are doing well. Like you I’m amazed by our language and I think you’re probably right about the church house. And YES I know exactly what you mean when you say shoe poor! Just the other day I heard someone say that man is boat poor-of course meaning his boat cost more than his house LOL!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 1, 2018 at 10:35 am

    I think we called regular gravy “sawmill” gravy at times. Never heard of cornmeal gravy. For some fun on a sad subject–watch the Ray Stevens ‘Settin Up With the Dead”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 31, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Heard all of these and use them somewhat…The only time I remember my kin folks setting up with the dead…I guess it was what some call a “wake”…was when my granddaddy died in the fifties and the body was brought to the house…It was very sad…relatives/neighbors coming and going and off to the kitchen for food and coffee….Also, it was very scary for a little girl that had to stay in the bedroom upstairs over the room where my granddaddy was layin’….I set up alright…I was skeered to death…When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed he got up out of that casket and walked around the house and got back in it before everyone was called to breakfast….I’m so glad they don’t do that anymore…
    Thanks Tipper, loved this test…

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    Familiar with all of them. “Set up’ applied to a vigil with a corpse is well out of fashion now but I can remember when the old folks would talk about it. There is another use for ‘set up’. I have often heard it used to derogatorily describe an outlandish arrangement of items or an overly complicated procedure. “Lordy, what a set up he had just to get hay up to the loft. That man ain’t got a lick of sense.” And there’s another bit for the vocabulary, lick. It can be a miniscule quantity, “He never done a lick of work that I could see.” A blow, “Howard hit him a lick up the side of the head and he dropped like a stone.” And there ain’t no tongue involved a’ tall in any of them licks.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    My mother in law makes cornmeal gravy for my daughter and niece. They love that stuff. I never like it. Thanks Tipper!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    All are familiar. I lived in a time where they brought the loved ones home and did an all night vigil. This seemed a very natural thing, and extended family from far and wide came to pay their respects. Children were also up, and sometimes just fell asleep wherever. I recall it gave us all time to adjust to the loss. The utmost respect, as plenty of time to stand over the loved one and tell of the many good acts they did on this earth. So many old expressions I don’t hear anymore, and one is the one mentioned by AW Griff. “lay a corpse.” That has been replaced with much more pleasant terms we now use. By the time I was in my teens the viewings were no longer done in the home. I went to so many funerals growing up that nobody would believe it nowadays. Back then we had large families and whole communities of friends, so lots of funerals ad lots of births. I also never hear women speak about starting housekeeping, and this used to be a frequent expression before women got into the work field.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Christensen Bennett
    August 31, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Even though I was born in California most of these phrases are ones our family uses too. I wonder if it is because my mom lived in the South growing up (Alabama, Florida, South Carolina) and may have brought these with her? Maybe they extended beyond Appalachia? I didn’t know about sawmill gravy, or set up with or set in (we might say “set to” occasionally).

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 31, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    I love the Blind Pig and the Appalachian Word test. And in the comment section, Ed has it right about Red Eyed Gravy, but I pour it over eggs. Mama always put the gravy in a small bowl, which made it easier to get the colored part out with a big spoon to sprinkle over the eggs. Love that stuff.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 12:26 pm


    I’ve heard them all and have used all of them at one time or another. Although we don’t live in Appalachia, and our families haven’t since coming to Texas after the Civil War, we still have about the same customs, speech, and sayings as those we left behind in Appalachia. It is so funny to me that these things have lived on through the generations almost exactly like the things you describe in your blog. It floors me sometimes to read about some of the customs that we have and how they are also part and parcel to those you are describing in Appalachia.

    My grandmother ran a boarding house for a logging company back at the turn of the century. My daddy spoke about sawmill gravy and taught me how to make it. I just thought it came from his mama since she cooked for so many sawmill employees and that perhaps was the name she called it.

    Also, didn’t get to post on the jump-rope songs, and other childhood silly songs due to me canning peas and relish this past week. I have heard almost all of them and sung most of them myself while jump-roping or during play when I was a kid.

    We really have enjoyed all the posts.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 31, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Familiar with them all.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 11:52 am

    Aunt Murrell made me Sawmill Gravy a few times. When I asked her why she called it sawmill gravy instead of cornmeal gravy she said that when she was little and the family ran short on cornmeal, her mother would mix it half and half with sawdust.
    I was 5 for 5 on the words but why wouldn’t I be. I am a Southerner, an Appalachian, and A ‘Merican.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    August 31, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Knew them all… Did you ever hear the phrase, “Tight rump Rileys” ? My mother used to say it all the time to refer to boy’s and men’s pants when they would wear them to high on their waist and cause legs to be 6″ above their shoes. It was kinda like a full time “wedgie”.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

      We called boys who worn their jeans like that High Pockets. And if their pants didn’t go down to their shoetops they were High Water Britches.

      • Reply
        b. Ruth
        August 31, 2018 at 9:42 pm

        Ed…those high water britches were usually a brotherly hand me down…still wearable by the younger, but gettin’ way too short…LOL I remember high pockets too…some boys just hitched up there pants and fastened that belt so tight…so’s they wouldn’t fall down…mostly those were handmedowns from a brother that was much larger so the new owner had to hitch them up tight with a belt or suspenders…….I had rather see hitched up britches/highpockets, than what I seen the other day…the belt to this guys pants was below his buttocks so he had to walk with his legs spread apart to keep his pants from falling off….ugggghhh Thank goodness this trend is starting to fade a bit…He was pretty ugly…so maybe he thought wearing his britches that way made him look cuter and draw attention…..????? One time I heard an elderly gentlemen (i’m old too) tell a guy with falling down britches…”Hey son, pull up your pants!” ‘fore I call the law on you for indecent exposure!….Old folks tell it like it is sometimes…

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    August 31, 2018 at 10:06 am

    These are are common to any day use for me except sawmill gravy. Of course it is commonly used here but I always call my gravy brown gravy or as the case may be sausage gravy. Thanks Tipper.

  • Reply
    Dana Wall
    August 31, 2018 at 9:36 am

    “Sawmill gravy” was new to me. I also don’t recall hearing church HOUSE, but school house, yes. All the others were, and maybe still are, words I remember hearing and using growing up in Iowa decades ago. I wonder how widespread they were in the 1930s and 40s, and where all they still exist outside your area of the country. It it fun to remember.

    For some reason, “sashay” made me remember hearing Mom use it in a derogatory manner to describe someone, usually a woman, who strutted around a gathering, usually to describe her entrance.

    I am fairly new to this site. Have you posted slang “expletive” words and phrases? My grandmother, for example, would exclaim, “Oh, my land!” when surprised or doubtful. Neither she, nor any relative, used the Lord’s name in vain. She also varied the exclamation with “Land sakes,” and “Land sakes alive!” Sometimes, “gracious sakes.” My grandfather was the inventive one, however. I could go on.

    • Reply
      September 2, 2018 at 11:10 am

      Dana-I’ve shared a few terms over the years, but never done a post dedicated to slang expletive words. I guess I need to 🙂 Thank you for the nudge!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 9:04 am

    I’ve heard them all and used a few myself. I think of them as Southern expressions rather than Appalachian.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 8:54 am

    They are all familiar to me. Sawmeal gravy brought back some good memories. I’m not sure I thought the gravy poured over fried taters was a good meal back them, but I would choose it over the fanciest dinner right now.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 31, 2018 at 8:29 am

    I’ll say 4 and 3/4 because I know the term ‘sawmill gravy’ but didn’t know it was made with corn meal. On another note, Mom made something we called ‘bean gravy’ which was leftover pinto beans mashed and mixed with cornmeal. Then there is ‘red eye gravy’ which, again, I don’t know the recipe for.

    Regarding ‘set’ there is also “set to” meaning a fight. It can range widely in just how fierce it is from words to weapons and the hearer interprets based on their knowledge of those involved.

    That adding “house” to school and church is so common to my mind. It would sure be interesting to know why that was ever felt to be necessary. It implies having both school and church outside of a building and I expect in colonial times and frontier times school, church and even court were held in the open air. Court washeld at “law grounds” and that name is sometimes found on maps still.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2018 at 11:35 am

      Recipe for Red-Eye Gravy

      Brown some ham in a skillet. Remove to a plate.
      Pour enough coffee in the skillet to release the brown stuff that stuck.
      Stir a little to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, or not.
      Pour over mash taters or whatever.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 31, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I have an aunt that fixes sawmill gravy almost everday. Love that meal gravy.
    Our church occasionally sets up with the dead. One thing I haven’t seen in many years is bringing the body to the home for viewing.
    An expression I seldom hear anymore when referring to the dead is: he or she lay a corpse.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 31, 2018 at 8:07 am

    Tipper–I’m intimately familiar with all of them. I’m not sure whether it actually shows up on road signs, but the road leading from downtown Bryson City up to the school complex where I went to school all 12 years of my public education is universally known locally as School House Hill.

    As for sawmill gravy, its origin is pretty obvious–a bunch of cornmeal and milk with a bit of grease for flavoring would go a long way in feeding workers on a lumber job. However, I’m not sure that sawmill gravy applies exclusively to gravy made with cornmeal. Daddy and Grandpa Joe also used the description for white gravy made with milk.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 7:56 am

    All except sawmill gravy in my part of Appalachia.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 7:53 am

    Have not heard Sashay in a long time.

  • Reply
    Darrell Cook
    August 31, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Do you have a recipe for saw-mill gravy?

    • Reply
      September 2, 2018 at 11:08 am

      Darrell-YES and I’ll try to share it soon 🙂

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 31, 2018 at 7:48 am

    All but Sawmill gravy heard of it, but this is the first time I heard it was made from corn meal. I would like a recipe for that

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Know them all but learned about sawmill gravy from Blind Pig. Use all except that one.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    August 31, 2018 at 7:11 am

    I’ve heard and used all but sawmill gravy. Sashay is one we use so much I didn’t realize that was an Appalachian word. As a matter of fact, when my daughter Alex gets sassy we call her “Sa-shay,” that’s her ornery alter-ego!.

  • Reply
    Cindy Pressley
    August 31, 2018 at 7:08 am

    Tip, I know all the word uses and have heard them all my life. It’s funny that I don’t think of them as Appalachian expressions, the just seem like common usage to me. I guess it is common usage, here!

  • Reply
    Julie Moreno
    August 31, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Heard and use them all.

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