Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Being Backwards



adjective Reserved, shy, bashful.
1862 (in 1999 Davis Civil War Letters) 49 if that should be the result after a thorough acquaintance, I shall not be backward in making it known to you. 1969 GSMNP-38:95 they’d tell you right at once what they believed. They wasn’t a bit backward about talking. 1991 Beverley Old Mt Idiom 146 Eat all you want. Don’t be backward none. 1999 Montgomery File A lot of mountain people are kind of backward, but I don’t care to talk to nobody (40-year-old woman, Del Rio TN).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I’ve always been a bit backward especially when I was young. Many times folks would try to talk to me when I was a child and if Pap or Granny weren’t handy to hide behind I’d often just look at them and never say a word.

The other day Granny and I were talking about a family we were friends with over in Moccasin Creek. I told Granny a story about them I’d never told her before.

The oldest son became song leader at the small Baptist church they attended and he begged Granny to come see him lead the choir. I don’t remember why, but only Granny and I went to church one Sunday to see him.

The church was so small that the Sunday School classes were mostly just divided up among the pews. The children were sent to the far right corner in the front and although I would have rather stayed with Granny and the other women I was cajoled into going along with the younger son of the family.

The Sunday school teacher said we were going to pray and she wanted each of us to name something to pray about. All around the circle of kids different items were offered up for prayer. Everything from sick family members to people in financial need was mentioned. Until my turn came around.

The teacher encouraged me to say something, but I only looked at her. She kept trying to pry something out of me until finally the younger son of the family told her “Don’t worry none, she don’t talk to nobody.”


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  • Reply
    October 20, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I was so backwards (shy) as a kid. I never talked to no one.still am some. But when i got married my husband got me out alot of the shyness. He family is a talker. Especially he dad. Guess cause he’s a preacher. Love this post Tipper. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Jane W Bolden
    October 17, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    I still say that certain people are backwards. Another way to say they are closedminded.

  • Reply
    Harry Stout age 91
    October 16, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    been awhile scince I have heard over yonder or yander and quare I guess it is not correct to call what we used to call some people. just call me country hick red neck or hillbilly and I will ans.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 16, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Really liked reading the comments today. Proves I’m not alone. Someone wrote or said once something to the effect of, “If you can sit with someone for thirty minutes without either of you speaking you two can be lifelong friends.” I’m pretty sure I could do that with several of the commenters today.

    Any of you all ever hear “talk the ears off a brass monkey”?

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 16, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    I was terribly “backward” as a child. We had a lot of family problems and were as poor as Job’s turkey so when I had to go to school with the prissy little girls in their stand out slips, I was not welcomed. My answer was to withdraw. However, I have been completely cured and talk a lot–even to people in check-out lines.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 16, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I stammered as a child and was very self-conscious about it and seldom said anything unless absolutely necessary. My sixth-grade teacher worked with me and gave me speaking exercises. I eventually got over the stammering and have been unable to shut up since.

    Speaking of someone who talks too much, I once wrote in a sailor’s performance evaluation, “Petty Officer Frickert is extremely loquacious. He has enough mouth for two sets of teeth.”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 16, 2018 at 11:10 am

    When you and Pap came to see me the first time, we talked just like friends. Immediately, I felt comfortable around youn”ze. When I’m at one of your Concerts, I wait patiently to get to talk to Paul, Chitter and Chatter, they treat me like Family too. I appreciate that! …Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 16, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Maybe being backwards skips generations. Pap could be delightfully loquacious, or at least that was the case when I was privileged to be around him, and goodness knows the monikers Chitter and Chatter are richly merited.

    There is, of course, another element in the situation. I’ve never been one to be much at a loss for words, and at various times Daddy commented to the effect that I “could talk the ears off a Georgia mule” or had “a tongue that wagged at both ends.” There was some accuracy in that but I would hasten to add the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Daddy was a great conversationalist and storyteller.

    Your mention of the word also took my mind to a post from a week or two ago on the song “Paradise.” The opening line mentions “There’s a backwards old town that’s often forgotten.” One’s first impression would be of a remote town or one that was fading from former glory, but I could see a town being perfectly comfortable in a certain degree of shyness, resistance to outside ways, or dedication to tradition.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I took an animal personality test, in other words what kind of animal best describes you, I came out porcupine, which means none sociable, don’t mind being left alone, I took it several times kept getting same results not that I was looking for any, I like it.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Only time I heard the word “backward” was when I was down south at my grandparents. lol I was too shy to ask what it meant and concluded that it meant not normal. I was and still am a listener – not really a talker. One on one, I am fine but I don’t like to speak in public unless it might be a testimony on my faith – then I have no problem. Never heard of flappyjawed either but sure heard “yonder” or “over yonder” many times from my grandparents. Makes my heart happy when I read those words. My husband and I just celebrated our 50th Anniversary and was over yonder in TN; specifically, in the Smokey Mountains.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 9:32 am

    It seems to me shy was used mostly with anybody with a quiet nature who tended to stay in the background at any gathering. Pretty little girls were sometimes shy.I recall backward being used if the person was “painfully” shy. I had a cousin who would never step up to get his picture taken, and stood off to himself in any gathering. Pictures over the years would contain all younger cousins except him. Whatever it means you have certainly stepped forward to become a talented and helpful individual, Tipper. Maybe, the good Lord was letting you listen and learn so you could later be a blessing to many, Tipper.

    Off the subject, but i just recently got in a conversation where my uncle used the word yonder, and somebody replied it was “over yonder a ways.” I thought of you, Tipper, and wondered if that was an expression used in your part of the woods. I had not heard in many years.

    • Reply
      October 16, 2018 at 10:41 am

      PinnacleCreek-I still hear yonder quite often in my neck of the woods 🙂

      • Reply
        Papaw Ammons
        October 16, 2018 at 11:44 am

        I use the word “yonder” all the time. It saves you the time of trying to explain a place that has no name or that you have forgotten. The USAF uses it in its official song “Off we go into the wild blue yonder.” I hear “yander” too occasionally but prefer not to use it.

  • Reply
    Barbara N Gantt
    October 16, 2018 at 9:07 am

    My youngest son, now 30, was always backwards. If someone sat beside him in church, he would move. I would ask why he moved, he would say I dont want to sit near no strangers. It didnt matter if he knew the person.
    When he got married, his wife wanted to invite people over. He told her he was fine with just her, didnt need any new friends. He is a supervisor at work, talks all the time but once he is out, he is done. I would say, a little backwards.

  • Reply
    Papaw Ammons
    October 16, 2018 at 9:06 am

    You know a lot of people seem to think they have to say something about any subject brought up for discussion. Any time a question is asked they feel the need to respond even if they know nothing about it. Flappyjawed is the technical name for them. Backwards people are the opposite. You can tell they know the answer but it has to be pried out of them. Backwards people are often perceived as being intelligent. Flappyjawed people inevitably run their yaps until they make themselves look foolish.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 9:04 am

    My sister was holding my brother’s child at a funeral years ago when someone in the crowd tried to talk to the little one. He turned his head and buried it in my sister’s shoulder. My sister said, “He’s just real backward.” That statement has bothered my brother for years. He had never heard it said that way and thought my sister was implying that his kid was quare or not normal.
    You and my nephew are perfect examples of how a backward child can grow up to stand in front of crowds and talk to anybody.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Around these parts, someone is referred to as “backwards” if they are old-fashioned or don’t do things in a sensible way like someone who hasn’t yet learned the proper way.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 16, 2018 at 8:44 am

    I have been called backwards from the time I was a child, I hid behind my mothers skirt I still can’t talk in front of a group of people

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Yup. How did I ever teach high school for 31 years? But if I have something to explain, you can’t shut me up. After being retired, it still amazes me.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 16, 2018 at 8:22 am

    Mother always said it was a blessing to be able to sit and be quiet for a few minutes every day. I think today there are some folks who should use a glue stick instead of a chapstick. I love my quiet times.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 16, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Yep, I’ve always had a streak of backward. In a crowd I’m likely to be over on the edge. Life has thrust me into crowds of several varieties and I can do it but at heart it is still not me. When I was a boy and I were walking beside the road I would run hide in the woods when I heard a car coming. To this day I can’t be a glad-hander or a back-slapper.

    By the way, that phrase “I don’t care to talk to nobody” makes me smile. I understand it just fine but I can see a lot of people scratching their head figuring out that it means, “I don’t mind talking to anybody.” We described those folks as “never met a stranger”.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Oh, that is such a sweet, funny story! And, to think the Lord always had in mind for you to grow up and play music in front of live audiences and write for an online community! His plans always amaze me. I think writing is one of the most powerful forms of speaking, to be honest. My dear Mom once told me, “Cheryl, you don’t have to be seen to be heard.” Her words encouraged me like nothing else when I first started blogging. So, even though you are backwards, you are greatly impacting this world in a positive, uplifting way! Have a beautiful day, my friend!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 16, 2018 at 5:53 am

    She don’t talk a whole lot now but when she does speak it’s because she really has something to say!

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