Appalachia Appalachian Dialect



brogan noun
A variant pronunciation with stress on both syllables [‘bro’gaen].
1942 Hall Phonetics 57. 1967 DARE (Gatlinburg TN).
B (also brogan shoe) A coarse, heavy leather shoe tied with thongs, often homemade.
1937 Hall Coll. Emerts Cove TN brogans = heavy work shoes, strong enough to cut the mud. (Will Shults) 1939 Hall Coll. Saunoook NC Those brogans are weighing you down. (Bill Moore) 1943 Hannum Mt People 142 There were no rights and lefts to those homemade brogans, square cut from tanned hid…Gradually they wore to shape. 1956 Hall Coll. Roaring Fork TN Back then when we didn’t make our shoes, my dad would buy us one pair a year and it was a brogan shoe, called ’em brogans, of course, heavy leather, and if we wore the shoe out, we went barefooted. (James Huskey) 1969 Hall Coll. Gatlinburg TN we’d have just one pair of brogan shoes a year. We’d sell chestnuts or fur to buy them. (Lewis Reagan) 1991 Haynes Haywood Home 37 Brogan shoes were for winter wear, but in summer, everyone wore home-made leather moccasin-like shoes for everyday wear. Brogan shoes were made on a straight last so that both shoes were alike. There was no left or right shoe, and it didn’t make any difference which shoe was put on which foot. 1997 Nelson Country Folklore 36 She measured my foot with a stick and said she was going to get me some brogan shoes, shoes that would last.
[diminutive form of Irish Gaelic brog “shoe”; DARE esp common in South, South Midland’

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Over the years the word brogan has changed to mean heavy work boots, at least in my area of Appalachia it has. Pap told me when he was a boy the word was used in the same way described in the dictionary, but even he used the word to describe boots in my lifetime.

According to this site the history of the word brogan can be traced back to brog which is the Irish Gaelic word for shoe (like the dictionary indicates). Another website, wiseGEEK, says brogans were a popular type of working class boot in the 17 and 1800s and that many soldiers of the Civil War wore brogans as part of their standard uniform.

The word brogan, in relation to work boots, is still fairly common in Cherokee County NC.


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  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    January 13, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    I remember hearing my Mom speak of brogan shoes.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 12, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Ken, I had a pair of brogans that I rubbed with bear grease. When I ran out of bear grease I had to use bacon grease. That made them smell so good I could resist and I ate them!

  • Reply
    a.w. griff
    January 12, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    There was a cobbler not far from home that half soled our shoes. This was before the days of P C and he did a fair job of shoe repair. Everbody knew him as Blind George.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 12, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Someone already said that a synonym for brogans was clod hoppers. I never had any footwear that really qualified as genuine brogans, which to my way of thinking would mean they were made on a straight last, but the first several pairs of boots I had as a boy were “hand-me-downs” of a different sort; namely, Army surplus. They weren’t anywhere approaching waterproof or even water resistant, but with enough saddle soap and plenty of elbow grease you could make them soft and comfortable (and the perfect way to break in a “new” old pair was to wear them in a shower or wade with them. They would mold to your feet.

    Those surplus boots, when equipped with felt soles attached to them by a local shoe repairman named Monroe Blankenship, also made first-rate equipment for wading while fishing for trout.

    Being a boy with a big imagination, I always fancied I had a pair that had seen hazardous duty somewhere on the Western Front in World War II or in the miseries of the Korean War. I suspect the truth was far more mundane.


  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Streaming memories:
    Mom’s Dad made shoes for her whole growing up family which included an uncle and a grandmother and grandfather as well as 4 kids and her Mom. Wish I had his lasts.
    Dad commenting that the Red wing boots they bought from the peddler in Texas were almost as good as the brogans they wore in Kansas.
    Dad sitting by the heater in the winter or on the back steps in summer oiling his boots.
    Taking Dad’s and Grandpa’s work boots to town to be soled or half-soled. Did the same with the irrigation boots.
    Great-grandmothers button boots she wore to church – oiled and rubbed every Saturday.
    Brogans (or footwear called brogans -probably not the real thing – had left and right fits) were popular in the 60s – had a bit of a resurgence in the 80s as I recall.
    Like Ron Stephens said, taking a “brogan” stroll down memory lane.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    We had Brogans too. In the wintertime if the boots got stiff and all, we’d rub Hog Fat on ’em to soften ’em up. Such memories of a time when things were simpler and costs were a whole lot less.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 12, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Haven’t heard it since childhood. Around here they’re now called work boots by most everyone. In the 50’s-60’s where we lived it was something that would be made fun of if a person had to wear them to school.

    My husband does get his boots repaired sometimes until they’re too damaged. It’s pretty expensive to get it done. We’ve only got one shoe repair shop now.

    I remember having a pair of “saddle oxfords” that I hated and when the soles gave out they were “half soled” and I had to keep wearing them.

    We grew up very poor and I remember my older brother using pig rings to hold the soles on his brogans.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    January 12, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Mama often spoke of wearing brogans , but I didn’t know both shoes were identical. She often used the term when talking about our outside work or play shoes.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 12, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Let’s not forget shoe tacks. I wore my brogans until the insole wore out and these little tiny nails would poke into my feet. It was very hard getting something up into the toe area to turn the sharp point over. Sometimes a cardboard insole would suffice for a while but if you got it wet it would turn to mush.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 12, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Brogans are sometimes called clodhoppers and $#!+kickers in my corner of Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 12, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I am a second son. I never got new brogans or any other clothes for that matter. My older brother broke everything in for me. Now wasn’t that nice of him? I stopped getting his hand me downs any more along about when I was in the 8th grade. I took a growing spurt and passed him up.
    I have a pair of Red Wings that I bought about 35 years ago. I only wear them occasionally, when I have to work in mud and snow. I have a pair of Wolverines with steel toe caps that I had to have for work. I only had to carry a calculator, a pencil and a clipboard but OSHA said I had to wear them. “Oh my gosh, what have you done to your foot?” “I dropped my pencil on it. The steel toed boot saved it though. I can only imagine what it would look live if I had been wearing street shoes!”

  • Reply
    harry adams
    January 12, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I wish you could still buy a pair of brogans. They were almost indestructible coarse shoe and the would uppers would last through resoling several times. Todays high dollar work boots are glued together. I have lost at least three pair of boots after only a short time. In the work I did, one pair didn’t last one day on the job as I was on a hot furnace and the glue melted. And that was a $150 pair of boots purchased in Canada because I had to have Canadian boots ( green patch) for the job.

    I remember the shoe shop as well. the smell of the new leather was fantastic.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 12, 2018 at 11:38 am

    I’m with Ron. Coming up, a brogan was an ankle boot with either a moccasin toe or the double leather toe cap. I had forgotten that word until I read the blog. I still prefer that kind of boot.

    This blog reminds me of things I’d forgotten. Love this place. Even virtual Appalachia is better than real Off!

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    January 12, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I remember seeing a cobbler’s’ last in my grandfather’ s garage. He made their shoes, my dad said …six boys & one daughter! Wow!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 12, 2018 at 10:38 am

    I know the word well. I remember having a chuka style shoe when I was a kid and grandpa called them my brogans. I associate them them with a plain half boot with a double leather toe. They were not fashionable but functionable. Grandpa always wore his brogans. You could have them resoled or half soled and get a lot of use if you kept them oiled and soft. I haven’t heard the word used in a long time.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 12, 2018 at 10:20 am

    I read somewhere once, long ago, that in Colonial times shoes of all kinds were not made with a left and a right. Comfort was a major reason Americans switched to moccasins, not only soft leather but made for the individual with a left and right. And besides that they were easily repaired or a new pair made on-the-go such as by troops on the march or folks moving west.

    Incidentally, when the brogans wore out we used the leather to make the pouches on our ‘flipguns’.

  • Reply
    a.w. griff
    January 12, 2018 at 9:43 am

    I think I hear that used more in a fun way anymore. My family just always called them coarse shoes.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Bro-gans were only worn by men as far as I can remember. The image of a crusty pair of old boots comes to mind when I think of what they look like. I still refer to all kind of shoes as brogans, mostly in a joking manner.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Yes, I have heard this all my life. During my “hippie” years, I used to wear Sear’s “Diehard” brogans with long Levi skirts. Quite chic, I thought then! Ha!

  • Reply
    Susan Landis
    January 12, 2018 at 8:20 am

    Yet, another example of a word I’ve used and heard all my life, never knowing that it was a regional word.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    January 12, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Growing up in Charlotte, brogans were the shoes we got every year for school in the 1950’s., and because my brother was two years older, I always got the hand-me-down pair that he had grown out of. They were high top, but not boots, and always dark brown. I remember in those days, shoes got “half-soled” when the soles wore out. and I used to love that special smell at the shoe repair place when we went in to pick up our “new” pair. Why do I remember the brand, “Cat’s Paw” for those new soles???

  • Reply
    Bob and Inez Jones
    January 12, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Good Morning Tipper-I am wondering if brogans are what I grew up here in N.B. This type of boot made out of tanned leather was called Shoepacks They were quite tall with the leather laces. As with brogans-no left or right foot and after wearing they conformed to the shape of your foot. We had some in children’s size. They would get sort of hard over the winter and I can remember Daddy either oiling them or rubbing them with something to soften them up before wearing them in the cold months. As a child , I loved those! They were the best on ice!! My Dad had lasts of different sizes which I still have. They may have been a “household ” item back then as probably they did a lot of home repairs on footwear in those days. Great memories!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 12, 2018 at 7:50 am

    That’s what my brother and I wore growing up. Or anyway we called them brogans. They were store-bought, made of a single layer of split leather, smooth outside and rough inside. Lacing was half eyelet and half hook. The color was liver brown and there was only the one. I don’t recall for sure but I expect the sole was leather also.

    Serviceable they were. Fashionable they were not. But then out in the woods where we mostly were who cared? Maybe they were a big reason we wanted to go barefoot as soon as possible and for as long as possible.

    Another walk down memory lane – in brogans.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 7:36 am

    My mother would use the term sometimes to my sister and I, but more in relation to getting our feet off her or off the furniture — I guess when we had shoes on (but not work boots. Familiar, but not common to me.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 12, 2018 at 7:29 am

    Heard that one all my life, Tip. It described heavy shoes or boots made to hold up even with harsh wear. I would be interested in seeing a pair of the earlier ones. The ones that did not have a left and a right shoe but molded to fit your feet. They would have been all sown with no glue, I think. I wonder what they looked like.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 12, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Growing up at Needmore, NC I wore Brogans all year except when it was warm enough to go barefoot. I usually got a new pair of Red Camel Brogans at the start of the school year to wear to school and church and wore my older pair to work in the field and barn yard often having them resoled as the leather tops if kept cleaned and oiled with Mink Oil would out last the sole. These were a Chuka height whole leather shoe sold at the basement level (as were other work clothes) of the Belk’s store in Bryson City. The tops were usually very stiff when new but became supple if kept oiled and worn every day.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2018 at 7:08 am

    I can remember my Dad using the word to describe a pair of shoes or boots , but I don’t hear him use it anymore,or from anyone else.

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