Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes Folklore

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Limp As A Dishrag

My life in appalachia as limber as a dishrag

In Appalachia it’s common to hear someone describe themselves or others as being limber as a dishrag or limp as a dishrag. The saying could mean anything from being weak due to sickness or being limber from hitting the bottle a little too much.

Another saying that comes to mind regarding dishrags: if you drop the dishrag it means someone is coming. And some folks even say if you drop the dishrag your sweetheart will appear. Then again, if you sleep with a dishrag under your pillow you might just get married in the next year. Or if you’re suffering from warts and you’re really sneaky you can steal your neighbors dirty dishrag and bury it somewhere and your warts will disappear.

Most folks have no clue the lowly dishrag holds such great importance in Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    Lisa M
    March 14, 2021 at 11:26 am

    My husband’s grandmother would say “patting the dishrag” for waiting impatiently, as in “we better go pick her up, she’ll be patting the dishrag”. Has anyone else ever heard this one?

  • Reply
    March 26, 2019 at 10:55 am

    My grandma also said limp as a dishrag, and if you dropped the dishrag it meant somebody was coming who was dirtier than you are. She had lots of sayings. If a red bird crossed your path you were going to get a new red dress, and if your ear itched, somebody was talking about you. If you had a sudden shiver it meant a goose walked over your grave site, and if your palm itched it meant you were going to get some money. The one I can’t figure out though, is when she heard something that surprised or upset her, she’d say, “Well, I swan,” or, “I’ll swan.” Someone thought it might be a version of “I swear,” but my grandma would never say anything close to that. Someone else thought maybe it was a version of “I’ll swoon.” Did anyone else’s grandma ever swan? Grandma lived her whole life in Missouri but her family was Scots Irish and came here from Tennessee and North Carolina. My husband said his grandmother also “swanned” and her family was originally from Scotland and lived in Tennessee before moving to Arkansas.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 6, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    My aunt once asked my grandmother “Mama, what is your name?” She answered that even though everyone called her Jenny her name was Tabitha Jane. My aunt pondered this a few seconds and said “hmmmpff, I’d just soon be called Dishrag!”

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    January 13, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I still say dishrag and washrag. The other day, my 6 year old greatnephew looked at me like I was crazy.I asked him if he thought he had washed his face good enough. He said “yes. I said,”hand me that washrag and I will show you what you missed”. The poor kid just kept looking at me until I asked for the wash cloth!!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 12, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    and Mary Lou….Ooooooh my goodness or badness…whatever!
    How long did it take for the poor ole hound dog to die? If there is more than one dog present, they usually “gulp” their food so fast, as to keep the other dogs from grabbing it!…Not all your fault! It was the dogs time to go!
    Sometimes my “Shih-tzu’ glups food when he is thinking our old cat is around!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    January 12, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I sometimes say I feel like a wrung-out dish rag. Hadn’t heard about sleeping with one under my pillow to bring on a marriage…will have to think about that 😉
    I knit cotton dishrags that last for years and years. I don’t know how many years, because I haven’t completely worn one out yet!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 12, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Tipper, this old lady with a mischief grin on her face and still remorse about her and sister had with a dishrag. She and her sister when small was washing the dishes in a dish pan and her Dad had hound dogs. She said they would wait at the back door for food being fed out. She went to the back door to trow the dishwater out and forgot to take out the dishrag. When she opened the door and dashed the water the old hound gobbled the dishrag before she could retrieve it. They were afraid to tell their Dad and of course the dog died. She went to her grave regretting their action and never telling their Dad what happened to his hound dog.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 12, 2014 at 12:40 am

    and Wanda…those old wooden three piece dish rag & towel hangers (holders) do exist. Keep your mind and eye out..Check out the flea markets, estate sales and antique shops, especially the section that carries vintage kitchen stuff! Before long your eye will see them everywhere! I have two and have used them in my kitchen for years. I never did understand why they would quit making such a useful product. Mounted on the cabinet beside the sink, I can just swivel mine out. Hang the rags on two of the dowels to dry, etc. Most come in white/red but one of mine is the old green/cream white color. I could paint it but hate to. My kitchen is blue and white. The third bottom bar (dowel) holds vintage crocheted pot holders, hanging from their loop, (not useful) but cute!
    Good luck hunting,
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    January 11, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I remember back when we were growing up, a dishrag might be used for cleaning just about anything, from the “company” china, to a child’s face, to a spill on the floor – only being hand-washed in the sudsy kitchen sink water in between.
    Nowadays seems we often toss them in the laundry if they even think about being dirty. Maybe that’s why we seemed so much tougher in the old days where the five second rule applied to any food dropped on the floor. I remember our maternal Grandmother often saying, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” Guess it’s true or else I haven’t eaten that much yet, cause I’m still here. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    I grew up with dish rag and wash rag, as well. Still say dish rag but have switched to wash cloth without even realizing it till I read this post! Have always heard the saying limp as a dish rag, too. (Oklahoma)

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I’m limp as a dishrag. Been up on the
    mountain all evening fixin’ my water
    system. Still had Ice and lots of it.
    All’s well now. Got to get ready for
    them Pressley Girls Show…Ken

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    January 11, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    It was “dishrag” out here on the edge of the Great Plains, too, and remains so, at least amongst us older folks. Heard “limp as a dishrag” all the time, but not the predictions connected with it.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Dropping the dishrag meant someone was coming with a hole in his britches. Mama had a device attached to the wall that had about three wooden dowel type arms that moved & it was to hang the dishrags (& drying rags) to dry. I’ve always wanted one but I guess they don’t exist anymore.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    and Ed….Could you have “cotched a bad cold” from writin’ about your days workin’ in the freezer?
    Sure hope it ain’t the “flu-in-za”!
    Please get well soon, take a “toddy” and get some rest! We have a lot of comments to write, on Tippers blog, during the coming year!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    January 11, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Oh I never thought of the dish rag being treated with respect ,well thank you Ethelene I will show respect and honor from now on ,I won’t use mine ,those dirty ole dishes will have to fine another way for getting done,I’ll display my dish rag
    I have heard everyone of the sayings ,and I heard when someone fainted they went limp as a dish rag.I still call them dish rags.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Good early afternoon!
    I went “limp as a dish rag” early this mornin’ when that big “thunder boomer” hit on our hill! It “skeered the b-jibbers” out of me! Did I ever mention I was “North Carolina skeered” of thunder storms inherited from Grannies that feared and seen rollin’ lightnin’, lightin’ balls, etc. etc.
    Well then, I up and run to the computer, TV, etc. pulling plugs all over, to help keep “the surge” from destroyin’ said products…For some reason, since we are last on the ‘lectric line, we can get some powerful surges…
    Back to this dishrag thang! Can you tell me when “dishrag” morphed into “dishcloth”! I still say dishrag…Also remember the dropped dishrag sayin’. I remember dishrags that were rags, leftover pieces of flour sacks, feed sacks etc. etc…Now those sacks are prized commodities…I just can’t part or cut up the ones I have found at flea markets or yard sale cloth bins thru the years…I just love to look at the patterns…
    This past Christmas my friend, Peg, gave me a lovely handmade “dish rag calender”. It only took me 5 hours to sew in my January doctor’s appointment!…just a’kiddin’ LOL
    Do you remember this, I bet your Mom does…I still have mine, I couldn’t bare to part with them to use…The saying was attached to the front of the “breeches dishrags” with a pin!
    Don’t get excited
    And don’t be misled.
    These ain’t to wear
    But fer dishes instead.
    So take off the bows
    And pull out the stitches,
    And you’ll have two dishrags Instead of the breeches.
    Handmade “dishrag breeches” put together with bows and stitches for a bridal shower gift! I always thought these were so cute!
    Well, good afternoon, wish I could be at the singin’. Two basketball games this afternoon, different grandkids, different schools and to top it off a grandchild birthday party…this evening…One day we’ll get there to see the Blind Pig gang!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 11, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I always heard and still say “wrung out as a dishrag” and “weak as dishwater.” That is exactly how I have been feeling the last few days.

  • Reply
    Chuck Dodds
    January 11, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I remember when I was young my mother would say “I need to wash my hair cause it’s dirtier than a dishrag.”

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I grew up hearing my Mom and Granny Mandy saying these all of the time!

  • Reply
    Marc Kruger
    January 11, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Tipper, this is interesting and new to me. When you mention dropping a dish rag and someone coming, my mother said this when she dropped a knife or fork onto the floor. In Jersey when I was a child, our area always said dish rag, wash rag, etc. while across the river it was dish cloth, wash cloth, etc.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I was told that when I dropped a dishrag, it meant company was coming who was dirtier than I was!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Okay, this was a new saying for me. I need to find a time today to use that saying and see what the reaction is. I think it will be fun! Happy Saturday!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 11, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I did not know about the “uses” for dishrags, but I can remember my mother saying limp as a dishrag all the time, usually after some type of bad news. While I am a 5th generation Floridian, both sides of my family came here from NC, I imagine this is why so many of the sayings are so familiar to me.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Loved this one; but do you know that outside of Appalachia the dishrag is referred to as a dish cloth???? In my family, we used a dishrag for doing the dishes and a washrag for taking a bath (that would be wash cloth…..)

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 11, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I always heard limp as a dishrag as describing someone that was weak from sickness. I’ve also heard that if you drop a dishrag someone is coming.
    My mother used to say that if you drop a dishrag someone is coming that is nastier than you are. My mother had a real thing about cleanliness in the kitchen so I don’t know if that was a real saying or if she just made it up.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 7:44 am

    The lowly dishrag. Everything has significance in Appalachian folklore. My sister reminded me one day that a dishrag was used when an older man removed her warts. I bleach mine so much they probably lose all their mystic powers.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull, PhD
    January 11, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Well Tipper, these details are all new to me! I guess we lived so far back in the Matheson Cove that these ‘facts’ were not a part of our raising!
    Let me share an exciting FACT with you! I have been invited back to the FOLK SCHOOL!With a little luck I will be there in April. Nothing would please me more than for you to ‘be in that number’ when I present to interested folks!
    I hope the rain is not falling so hard in your woods as it is now falling in my Tennessee OAK HILLS!
    Best, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 11, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Seeing as how the dishrag is the subject for how we feel and also the panacea for getting rid of some of the things that ail us, we really ought to treat it with respect, don’t you think? It is a rather important piece of kitchen (and household) property. Without it’s being plied for the purpose intended, we might sit down to soiled dishes meal after meal. And who wants to even think about that? All of this prior to the advent of automatic dishwashers, of course. I don’t know about you, but I still depend a great deal on my dishrag, even if that machine runs to clean and sterilize. So, hail to the lowly dishrag!

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