Appalachia Appalachian Dialect



Have you ever run into any bigwigs? Bigwigs are people who are in a position of influence…or at least they think they are. Bigwigs enjoy letting everyone around them know about that superior position too.

Bigwig is a phrase we use all the time-like:

  • Who’s those bigwigs down at the store? I hadn’t never seen them before but they were acting like they were running the show.
  • He grew up down the road but ever since he got that job he thinks he’s a bigwig and won’t hardly even throw his hand up.

I figured the term bigwig had something to do with England-back when it was customary for men of influence to wear wigs. But I didn’t know the real story behind the term, until I read the book Common Phrases and where they come from by John Mordock & Myron Korach.

According to the book, the term started with Louis XIV of France. In his early years Louis XIV had long hair and he wore it up, wig-style. Louis XIV liked to make a fashion statement with his attire and his subjects knew he did-so they started wearing ‘big-wigs’ too.

The style of bigwigs quickly spread to other prominent men in France. From France the fashion of bigwigs spread to influential men in England. Eventually the style spread all the way to America. The book Common Phrases and where they come from states during that time period there were 40 different styles of men’s wigs. Now that’s a lot of wigs to choose from.

As the style fell out of fashion, the only folks left wearing bigwigs were men who worked for the government, but using the term as a description for haughty people is still common today…at least where I live it is.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Stephen Wilson
    July 6, 2021 at 11:15 am

    “As the style fell out of fashion, the only folks left wearing bigwigs were men who worked for the government, but using the term as a description for haughty people is still common today…at least where I live it is . . . do it or doesn’t still ring true.” – – My two cents from this side of the mountain

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    June 3, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Janice Stought,
    Around here “he wouldn’t even throw his hand up” means “he wouldn’t even wave.” I have a southern Ohio heritage surprisingly similar to the one Tipper documents.

  • Reply
    Janice Stout
    June 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    I use this phrase myself. Executives at work are the bigwigs.

  • Reply
    June 13, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Well, Tipper, now here’s an unexpected Appalachian Vocabulary question for you: the expression “won’t hardly even throw his hand up” that you used in your example! Maybe that one didn’t travel as far as MA or Colorado? I’ve never heard anyone say it, and I’m only guessing at the meaning…is it like “won’t lift a finger to help”? I’d love to know what it means, and if all your more local readers are familiar with it. 🙂

  • Reply
    June 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Tom- its Chatter : ) Hope you and your family are having a great weekend!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Granny Norma
    June 6, 2014 at 1:27 am

    It all goes to show just how silly human beings can be. Here we say “Don’t get the big head.” or “Don’t get all puffed up.” b. Ruth’s comment on the chemo wig is funny. I always said if had to have chemotherapy, I’d get a big ole Dolly Parton wig. They say that laughter is the best medicine and that would certainly be good for a laugh!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Have met very few big wigs that impressed me in a good way. Most of them’s attitudes stunk!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    You do bring back memories, instead of Bigwig my Mom was called uppity. We were family of 7 kids, we were poor at times poor-poor! Why did neighbors call Mom uppity? Mom began her day with a wash up in the wash pan, taking out her pin curls, combing her hair and putting on lipstick. Then and only then did she open the back door and walk to the outhouse. Sometimes being a Bigwig or uppity is ok. Out of 4 daughters 3 took after mom,for me the wash pan is enough. But then mom always said I took after the farmers side of the family. So with a smile and LOL, Thanks for the memory. God Bless

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    A proverb for Suzi Phillips on horn tooting – He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.
    In Arizona we worked on several projects with Anglo, Native American and Hispanic folks. The Anglo would arrive for a meeting between 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after the scheduled time. The Native Americans came depending on where that meeting fell in their priorties that day. The Hispanics that felt they were less important came within the first 15-20 minutes after the time scheduled. Those Hispanics that thought they were important usually came an hour late. We coined the phrase ‘Anglo time” After about three meetings where decisions were made and the meeting was over when the ‘bigwigs’ arrived everyone began to arrive on time.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    You are so right about those who don’t wear the big wigs any more, but those who are in the upper essence of business corporations, owners of businesses, etc. are truly bigwigs and they sure act like it most often.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I know lots of Bigwigs!! Is that Bigwig in the picture a Chitter or a Chatter? LOL

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 5, 2014 at 10:14 am

    I have made a life long study of how a change in position or a promotion effects a persons behavior. From being picked to be captain of a grammar school softball team to being made president of a corporation. It seems to effect everyone to some degree. Most times it is humorous. I call it “going to their head” or “getting the big head”. Sometime they come back to earth, most times not. Now I wonder where my phrases came from and what the connection to your Bigwigs.
    Big Wheels are another definition of Bigwigs. The only difference is that the Big Dogs pee on Big Wheels.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    June 5, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Here to. Origin is so interesting!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 5, 2014 at 10:03 am

    We just call them “a_ _ h _ _ _ s”!
    I got no use for those uppy-duppy type

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Know the term well, as you described but did not know its history – Thanks!
    P.S. we’ve had electrical outages which played havoc with the computer so just read yesterday’s post about grapes – – our wild grapes are known as “mustang grapes” – – I’ve always wondered if that was a misunderstanding of the word “muscadine” but haven’t researched the possibility. Our wild grapes turn purple, are slightly smaller than a marble, and will certainly make you pucker if eaten fresh off the vine!! However, they make the most marvelous grape jelly or grape syrup and, although I have yet to try these, I’m told that the green ones make scrumptious pies and the mash left over from making jelly/syrup makes a great cobbler.
    The thing that puzzles me is, our grapes may actually be two kinds of grapes since, although all the grapes look and work in recipes alike, there are two different leaved plants creating the vines: one has a relatively simple “3 – 5 pointed” leave, the other has a very ornately edged leaf.

  • Reply
    Joyce Heishman
    June 5, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I figure people like that are miserable and unhappy. Not much happiness in their lives. It is hard work to push people around. No one seems to really like them very much.
    I am so glad I am in the group of the “little man”. Happiness runs out my ears. You have a great day Tipper.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 5, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I just had to laugh when Jim mentioned “Ode to a Louse” by Robert Burns. I think it was high school sophmore year that a very sweet, smart, little ole teacher introduced it to our English class. She was always trying to keep poetry fun as there were some rowdy boys that gave her fits early on and some non-interested girls…so this type of poetry worked for this class, with a twist on the seriousness of learning poems.
    For weeks after, I would be sitting behind someone (at church) and would watch their hair and back so to speak!
    Most of the “big wigs” sat in front…however some of the “big shots” sat in the middle or back. Go figure ’cause they were late to church at times!
    I never knew how those French wore those big-wigs, even with a louse or lice crawling..ewwww!After chemotherapy I was blessed to be a wig-wearer! Hot and itchy! I hated it and went “bald-naked” alot of the time here at home. Only wearing one for the folks that had to view my head in public! After I finally got back about an half-inch of hair, I quit wearing it altogether..what a relief!
    My mind goes silly when I imagine some of the politicians (big-wigs) in my hometown sporting a French style wig..just think about it. Even the curls like our fore-fathers wore back in the day would be a hoot!
    Tipper, this post just makes me want to scribble in pencil over some magazine photos, adding wigs and lacy, French collars to those big-wigs! Did anybody ever do that as a kid?
    Thanks Tipper, loved this post!
    PS..Maybe you’re not a big-wig, or a big-shot but you are certainly getting famous…You’re not going to run for political office are you?

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I have met a few bigwigs in my life. None of them ever impressed me while wearing their fancy attire that was probably bought on credit.
    The folks who still throw their hand up are my kind of people.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 5, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Heard the term all my life. Those folks didn’t have to worry about ceiling fans! Today, a bigwig would probably get de-wigged if he walked under a ceiling fan…

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 5, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Here too, I had not heard the official explanation of where the phrase comes from, but would have guessed.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 5, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Tipper–As someone who spent a goodly part of his adult life probing into British history and sharing those probings with students, I thought I’d add one bit of trivia to your bigwig discussion.
    The reason most mean of means wore wigs was simple. They did so to avoid the worst ravages of head lice, which were endemic. By shaving their heads or keeping their hair cut quite close, they were able to deal with lice pretty well, and the wigs covered their scalped heads when in public.
    I’m not sure what the ladies did, but I would note that “Ode to a Louse” by famed Scottish poet Robert Burns carries the subtitle “On Seeing one on a lady’s bonnet, at church.” I reckon female vanity demanded luxurious locks and with that a goodly domicile for creepy crawlers.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 7:49 am

    We commonly used the term “big shot”, and many got above their raising when they left the coalfields for prosperous cities. Now Facebook is full of those who hear the calling from the mountains. They want to come home. It is really the simple things that make us happy.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 5, 2014 at 7:29 am

    It has been a wonderful week here in the deep, deep mountains of WV. We haven’t met a single bigwig-these folks just aren’t into tooting their own horns. So refreshing! Back home tomorrow and, well now, that’s a different story…

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 5, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Yep, when I worked over at the state hospital every now and then the bigwigs from Raleigh would come visit. Lots of folks would try to draw their attention. Not me, I had no truck with bigwigs. I stayed out of sight as much as possible.

  • Leave a Reply