Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Black Walnuts Or Black Warnuts

Black Walnut or Black Warnut

Last week Charles Fletcher left this comment:

Many years ago I remember the old timers calling walnuts “Warnets” Will you look this word up?
Charles Fletcher

I added Charles’s request to my to do list-and sorta forgot about it. But once B. Ruth left this comment:

Tipper, and Charles..I remember one of my grandmothers calling walnuts “warnets”…We always thought it funny, when I was a child. Until my Dad said, (it was his Mom), a lot of old folks called walnuts, “warnets”! She was getting up in her late eighties…so we thought it was just an old age thing, boy did we get called on the carpet! I love “black warnet cake” so I am sure I would love the “arsh” potatoes added. Eyerish got transposed to Rrish to Arsh…which seems just fine to this half Irish gal.. Thanks For great post…Tipper, PS, I happen to have a great piece of art that is called a Black Walnut (warnet) Cracker…handmade by one of your neighbors…Works like a charm and the base is beautiful wood. Thanks Ken for the great job you did in making our Walnut Cracker.

I knew I had to look up the word. When I pulled my Dictionary Of Smoky Mountain English off the shelf this is what I found:

walnut noun variant form warnit/warnut. 1867 Harris Sut Lovingood 115 Yu’s drunk, ur yure sham’d to tell hit, an’ so yu tries tu put us al asleep wif a mess ove durn’d nonsince, ’bout echo’s an’ grapes, an’ warnit trees; oh, yu be durn’d. 1936 LAMAS (Madison Co NC, Swain Co NC). c1940 Simms Coll. Walnuts are called “wernets” by the  mountain people. 1942 Hall Phonetics 32. c1945 Thomas Death Knell Many old people say warnuts for walnuts.

As far as I can remember, I’ve never heard anyone say warnut for walnut. The usage is probably almost gone-if it even survives at all-other than in memories of folks like Charles and B.Ruth.

The ‘r’ in warnut brings to mind other words I do still hear like warsh for wash; feller for fellow; yeller for yellow; and winder for window. The ‘r’ sounds is important to the Appalachian dialect.



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  • Reply
    January 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Our father had odd ways of saying some things; we called ’em “DADISMS”.
    For instance, “Osmoliosis” (as dad said it), was how plants worked. “Alunimum” was the foil you put over leftovers. “Geanatric” (the way dad said it) had two meanings, i.e. something for old folks and something without a brand name. If anyone corrected him, he ignored them.
    Our dad’s dad, our Grandfather, mispronounded words too, especially names. For instance, Ramada Inn was the “Ramadama”; the Amoco Oil gas station near his home was pronounced “AmOco” with a long “O” in the middle.
    Reminds me of our Grandmother who was from middle Europe. She pronounced her “W”s as “V” and vice versa. Once our mother asked her what she’d done that day, and she said, “I vaxed the floor and waccuumed the rugs.”
    When I worked in law offices, we did work for a nearby restaurant named “Wivi’s”. The owner was from middle Europe and pronounced it “Vivi”. As a result, many people in the town, including the attorney’s assistant pronounced it the same way. I corrected him, and he said that’s the way the owner pronounced it. Then I told him the story about our Grandmother, and he understood why Wivi pronounced her name the way she did, but that didn’t mean we should mispronounce it too, especially in a law office.
    Sometimes some things just get lost in translation. Makes me wonder if “warnuts” didn’t start the same way – with a mispronounciation or someone with a speech impediment, then just getting repeated and continued as others hear them pronounce it that way.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    January 16, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Uncle Arley called them warnuts, he’s the only person I’ve ever heard say it that way-I thought it was because he didn’t talk too much and lost a lot of his verbal skills in his later years. No telling what I missed! PS-I thought Aint Ider was my great aunt’s real name until I was grown! Come to think of it-it might have been.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    January 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Yes, I’ve heard the walnut called warnut. Butter nuts taste really good but they are oiler. The Indian basket makers use the walnut hull to dye the splints. My daughter boiled the hulls and splints together to make the dark brown for her baskets. Some use commercial dye, they turn a faded out color after a little time and get ugly. Mama said when she was small girl that the Indian women would gather these “warnuts” and beat the hulls into a liquid, take it to the creek on Blue Wing to the fishing hole and pore into the water and the fish came to the top of the water because they could not breath and they gathered them in their baskets and go home, clean them and make a fish stew.
    Tipper I had along comment yesterday and was ready to post it
    when the power went out.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard them called ‘warnuts’, either. But I can see how they might have been at one time. The old English way of speaking was so common in the Southern Mountains and bits of it are still evident. I love these type posts you do, Tipper. So few are keeping alive the old ways of doing and speaking.

  • Reply
    Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado'
    January 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Tipper, My Mother always called sausage, ‘sarsage’, and called wash cloth, ‘warsh rag’. After moving to California from Oklahoma, she went to a meat store and ordered some sausage from the butcher. He had no idea what she was trying to say. She got so angry with him. Finally, my daughter spoke up and told him she wanted sausage. She was still angry and had no idea why he was making such a big deal. She thought she was pronouncing it just like my daughter had.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    My Grandpa called them warnits and my cousin Groundhog found a way to clean them without getting it on his hands. He put them in an old Maytag washing machine. You know the ones with a drain hose and wringers. He used what he drained out of the hose for wood stain.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    January 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Most all our immediate kin was from Madison County…I am so glad you found the word “Warnet”..
    When Mom would ask for a package of Walnuts for Christmas baking and setch…Dad, would laugh and say, you mean “warnets”, which brought up a memory of our long passed grandmother…
    Thanks Tipper, and Charles for the memory…and Tipper for confirming the fact…LOL

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    January 16, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I never heard them called warnuts but have heard of warsh, yeller, Feller, arn..For iron..Love the music in the morning..thanks for your work .

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Re: Ed Ammons question about white walnuts or butternuts: there are still some of them around, but they’ve been drastically affected by butternut canker. Tipper may remember seeing a scar from one on Indian Creek a couple-three years ago. I didn’t know what it was at the time myself, but do now. It starts small, but gradually spreads into a sort of elliptical shape (long axis is vertical).
    As Ed says, even healthy white walnuts aren’t as productive of fruit as black walnuts. You do tend to see them around old home places, but not nearly so often as black walnuts.
    Unfortunately, there is now a canker disease attacking black walnuts, including right here in western NC. I find this incredibly depressing:

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    I believe it takes less jaw muscle effort to say “arsh” instead of Irish, “arn” instead if iron, “Aree” instead of Ira.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Very interesting! I usually purchase a shelled baggie of these nuts each year from a landowner. Shelling these nuts is a challenge. I love baking with them. Thanks for the information ‘warnets.’

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I don’t remember any of my folks
    calling walnuts “warnets”, but
    perhaps some of my friends said
    it that way…they just toudn’t
    tawk pyane.
    Ed mentioned “white walnuts” in
    his comments. I have ate my fill
    of those many times. We had 3 or 4
    above the house when I was a kid.
    They were much easier to crack
    and were shaped more like a pecan.
    I sawed up and burned the last
    of them Butternut trees a few
    years ago…Ken

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    January 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I’ve never heard “warnets”, but I have heard lots of other “a” words changed to “r”–even Adlanter for Atlanta. WHY we do that might make a good story?

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    January 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

    There were a couple of “Black Warnet” trees in the yard at my maternal grandmother’s house. I was in grade school before I ever heard the word “Walnut”. I thought the teacher didn’t know how to say the word correctly.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 16, 2013 at 10:14 am

    I forgot to mention earlier. That old flat iron is pronounced “arn” not the now accepted “eye”ron. Like darn without the d.
    Have you done yore arnin yit?

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    January 16, 2013 at 9:37 am

    My maternal grandmother’s name was Ida. When I was a little girl, some of the older people called her Ider. I’ve noticed over the years a few English people doing the same with names. My mother was known for her cakes. The last years of her “cooking life”, she’d make a walnut cake at Christmas. It was so good! Don’t know where she got the recipe. It wasn’t her mother’s because she didn’t use recipes.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I don’t think I ever heard them called anything but warnets until I was grown. When a big snow storm kept us in the house for days, Mom would let us crack warnets on the rock hearth around the old coal burning stove. We ate them right there while sitting on the floor and never saved any for baking.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

    my granddad always had a drink of “warter” when he was thirsty!!!

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Never heard them called warnuts. It does sound more like folks are saying wallnuts instead of walnuts in my part of the country.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I never heard black walnuts called wernets or warnets down in Choestoe where I grew up. But I surely remembering gathering the black walnuts when they fell, and having to remove that green covering (my, how that stained our hands black!). We then let the walnuts dry out awhile before cracking them and getting the walnut kernels out. Like Ed noted, it was very, very hard to get a whole kernel out. We sometimes sold walnuts–or bartered them at Grandpa’s country store. He would take bushels of black walnuts to Gainesville to trade for the goods to bring back to his store. I guess the “city folks” around Gainesville needed them for their Christmas goodies cooking! Even today, black walnut cake is one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    Jeanette Dunaway
    January 16, 2013 at 8:28 am

    I still hear folks say piller for pillow.
    My now 92 year old mother was always heard saying, “be sure to wrench that out good.” (rinse) She also used to say, “shower down on it.” That was before the term “put the pedal to the metal.” She was known to have a heavy foot.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 16, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Tipper, I had a friend who refurbished old guns. He used those black walnut hulls to make the stain he used to color the stocks of those old guns. They were beautiful. I’m sure he told me how he made it but I no longer remember.
    No longer remembering things is what happens when you live a long time. LOL!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 16, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I’ve heard warnet used. I’m trying to remember who said it,I’m thinking it was the Deer Hunters grandmother Lura. She had a number of colorful expressions and word usages. Interestingly enough she grew up in Swain County NC in a town called Judson. Judson isn’t there any more, well it’s there but it was covered by water when Fontana Dam was built.
    My grandaddy loved anything made with walnuts in it. He would sit squatted on his knees for hours in their cellar cracking the black walnuts. My grandmother would make him black walnut cookies and sometimes cake.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    January 16, 2013 at 7:43 am

    A lot of people around here still ‘warsh and rench’.
    I have never heard ‘warnets’ though.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 16, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Yes, I heard them called black warnets, but what about white warnets? Up the branch a ways above our old house was an old house site that had a white walnut tree. I don’t remember a lot about it but I do know that the walnuts were more egg shaped than round like the black warnet. They had a thick hull like the black ones but the shell of the nut was thinner and easier to crack. There never was a lot of nuts on the tree and lots of those we found wouldn’t have goodies inside. The goodies we did get tasted like the black ones.
    I used to crack walnuts with a claw hammer on a flat iron turned upside down between my knees. I would work for hours at a time trying to get a goodie out whole and occasionally I would.
    By the way that old iron is the same one Daddy used to make Mommy’s silver quarter ring.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 16, 2013 at 7:28 am

    I’ve never heard them called that, but I sure do like ’em!

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