Appalachian Dialect


By words from appalachia
by-word noun A favorite expression of an individual, esp a mild oath or exclamation used to avoid profanity. Examples collected by Joseph Hall in 1937 include aye the gosh, by gosh, dad burn it, dad gone it, laws a massy, laws a mercy, Lord have mercy, Lordy yes, mercy, my country alive, why law yes, and yes Lord. 1937 Hall Coll. Emerts Cove TN By-words [are] slang, like “hell!”, “Damee” [=damn ye]; not cussin’, takin’ the Lord’s name in vain. (Nora Bell Vance) 1939 Hall Notebook 9:41 Saunook NC One of his by-words is “I grannies.” (Bill Moore) 1940 Haun Hawk’s Done 76 And it’s a funny thing-his byword was, “God, He knows.”

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


A few other ones that come to mind:

  • by ned
  • by gum
  • ding dang it
  • by the Lord
  • hell in the morning
  • confound it
  • dadjimit
  • dog gone

When Pap was growing up, a man that lived over in the next holler used “si hell” as his by-word. Another elder from Pap’s childhood, was fond of saying “now I hell”.



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  • Reply
    Twyla Holloway
    November 23, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Oh cuss it!! any word we didn’t have to break into swearing with .. these are good for driving too !!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 26, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    know them all, especially Miss Cindy’s “what did you do now, Suzie” as I heard it often 🙂 We have a restaurant near here with the name “Loyd Have Mercy”,

  • Reply
    Betty Newman
    July 26, 2016 at 10:55 am

    I read over the comments and have heard most of them growing up. My mother, it seems, had a “saying” for every occasion. I have been writing down her sayings as I’d think of them. Sometimes she’d say “bless his heart, and durn his hide”. But one that I simply could never figure out went like this – if someone was bound and determined to do something she’d say, “He’d do it if it hair-lipped hanna”! Now – who Hannah was, and why or how she’d be “hair-lipped” because of it was always a source of wonderment to me as a child! Great post for “jump-starting” dialogue! Thanks. Brought back many memories.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    May 11, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I still use the dads, dad gum it, dad burn it, dad nab it, dad jim it, dad blast it. More often than not, “Well for Pete’s sake,” or “Well I’ll be darned.” My great uncle’s favorite is “gol-dern it.” My mom and aunt say, “Oh law.” And there’s “hot damn” and “tarnation” and “Shut your mouth.”

  • Reply
    Doris Noland Parton
    May 11, 2016 at 11:15 am

    “Lordy me!” and not nice, but probably one of the most frequent ones, is/was, “Sh..! Also a lot of people (not my family), used “God.” Some people started every sentence with it. I know a lovely lady online who does that. I heard it in her conversations in a video!

  • Reply
    May 11, 2016 at 11:06 am

    When she was little, Erin came up with “Oh my bonkers!” Jillian’s college friends in Michigan sometimes say “What the nuts!” And we enjoy a movie called The Fantastic Mr. Fox where the characters sometimes say “What the cuss!”

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    November 29, 2015 at 12:30 am

    My Grandpa used to say, “What in Sam Hell”, until my Granny made him stop when I repeated it. lol
    My Granny would say, “Oh Murder!” (Kind of think it was just as bad as Sam Hell…lol)
    My Great Grandma Maude used, “Lord help my time”
    My Granny’s sweet neighbor would say, “Well, I’ll Swan”
    I’ve also heard people say, “You don’t say?” ~ “Ye Gads” ~ “By Golly” ~ “By Hook or By Crook” ~ “Son of a Biscuit Eater”
    When someone warms my heart, I say, “Oh, My Heart!”
    It seems I remember hearing the 3 Stooges say, “Heavens to Mergatroy” or I thought it was mergatroid. lol
    Holy Macaroni

  • Reply
    November 28, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Nobody mention the all time favorite…Golly Bum! or Golly Pete or even Good Golly Miss Molly.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    November 28, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Tipper, lol, I use some of these words and I don’t remember hearing them from my mother or father. I thought I might have heard them in old Roy Rogers’ movies with Gabby Hayes using some of them. One thing I know, if I had said a cuss word in growing up I sure would have had a mouth washing and a rear adjustment. lol
    dad burn it
    dag nab it
    dad gum it
    holy cow
    heavens to mergatroy ( maybe that came from some Flash Gordon movie) lol
    Well, I’ll be
    Lordy Mercy

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 27, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I got this saying through the years from a friend…and say it with exclamation “hell-o-bill”!
    Also use “hang-it-dang-it”…..
    I’ve heard and used a lot of the commenters by-words….When I was younger I would say “shucks” or “shuckins”!
    Loved this post today Tipper,
    What brought this post to your mind, did someone scorch the gravy yesterday”
    Have a great weekend!
    PS….My hat and scarf arrived today….fits perfectly over my thick head of hair…love it! Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Robert Wasmer
    November 27, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    My wife’s grandfather used to say “by gol” as his go to word.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    My granny used …..Rat Tails 🙂

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I ’bout forgot my mother’s by word if you can call it that….psssssssst!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 27, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    An old man who worked for my Dad would say, “Hellllooooo slickers !” And somebody in the car when it was run up on the bank said, “DOD ZIGGETTY DOWSE!” I expect these by-words were coined by individuals, probably in a stressful moment, and they came out with all kinds of colorful innovations. Back in the day, I expect also one could be turned out of church for public swearing. Wish people could still be ashamed of themselves for saying any and everything without regard for the company….

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Well, I swear pine-blank!
    They Lord!
    Law, you don’t mean it!
    Shoot fire (and save matches!)
    My foot!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 27, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    The only problem with By-words is when someone uses Dad Burn-it I have a habit of responding with “Yes” since I am a Dad and my last name is Burnett which many pronounce Burn-it. In fact I had a Great-Great Uncle James Washington Burnett who was the Post Master of the Almond, NC post office whose nick-name was Dad Burn-it.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    November 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    During my thirty years in the Navy, instead of “by words” we used the real thing.

  • Reply
    By Hokies
    November 27, 2015 at 11:57 am

    There was one man where I grew that punctuated every sentence with By Hokies. I mean every sentence, by hokies. He was so bad to do it that all the kids called him By Hokies, by hokies.
    and how bout:
    By grannie
    by heck
    dad gummit
    land sakes
    Not exact by words but I like:
    Lands sakes alive in the morning!
    How in the tarnation?

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    November 27, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Two more that I have always heard: Dag nab it! and Saints, preserve us!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I’ll be John Brown, I have heard some of those mild expletives. Sugar , shucks, and rats also come to mind. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can think of any others right offhand.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    November 27, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Miss Cindy listed my granddad’s go to — Dad burn it!!! I also remember “what in tarnation” often followed by what did you now, Suzie. “nuff said..

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 27, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Tipper–Here are some additions I’ve heard from mountain folks over the years:
    Dad blast it
    Oh, fiddlesticks
    Holy moley (or holy camoley)
    Well I’ll be hornswoggled
    Oh, piddle
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 27, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Aye Lord
    Aye law
    Dad gummit
    Bless Pete
    Well flitter
    Sh#% fire and save matches
    Those are some of the ones I remember and some I use as well. Great topic!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 10:57 am

    My mother had one I’ve never heard another person say, ever! but she said it often: “Ye Gods!” I’d love to know where it came from and if anyone else uses it. Maybe I’ll ask on my blog, too…you never know!

  • Reply
    Betty Louise Saxon Hopkins
    November 27, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I don’t remember ever hearing anything that even resembled a “cuss” word from my grandmother, but she’d sit and listen intently to titillating stories from family members, and her response was always “Ah, pshaw” or “”Well, I’ll do say.” She never allowed herself to get caught up in the drama and you’d never hear her diss anyone. She was just always there to love and listen to us. All of her grandchildren loved her dearly, and she made each of us feel that we were her favorite. :O)

  • Reply
    Rosamary Christiansen
    November 27, 2015 at 10:18 am

    The by words in my childhood home would make a Kentucky muleskinner sound like a gospel singer.
    My aunt Nellie had an expression I found sweet and repeatable.
    “Mercy goodness!”
    As for all the rest, when I get angry or upset, I keep the lid on my can of cusswords.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 27, 2015 at 10:17 am

    When mama pinched her fingers or toes she’d say “Jim take it” to keep from cussin’. But me and the other brothers, well we just let ‘er fly.
    One time our Pastor and his wife was eating Sunday dinner with us and after the preacher told one of his stories, he asked me to tell one. Well, I got all excited telling something and I musta cussed cause daddy reached over the table and peeled my head. Nobody seemed to talk after that! …Ken

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    November 27, 2015 at 10:11 am

    A Granny of one of my friends used to say “heavens to mergatroy” (I don’t even know if that’s how you spell it). That always struck me funny because I’ve never heard anybody but her say that. 🙂

  • Reply
    Carl Mullins
    November 27, 2015 at 10:07 am


  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    November 27, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Lordy mercy, dad gum it, and my aunt’s favorite when absolutely frustrated, “The Devil!!!”.

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    November 27, 2015 at 9:26 am

    A common Australian one is “Strewth” God’s truth

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Ah, yes, those by words help us not to use words that are not accepted in the midst of people. I like to use a word – squigimush, when necessary. I probably invented it over the years, but when exasperation hits me once in a while, that’s the word. Dagnamit is another favorite.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Never any real cussin’ around the house growing up. I also learned to not say a word I did not know the meaning of after having to wash my mouth out with soap and water. However there was the occasional doggone it, dad blame it, fer gosh sakes, and “ah flitter.” If we let a few obvious substitutions slip in, we were quickly corrected, but without the horrible cleansing of the mouth. Thanks for the interesting reminders!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

    holy cow
    glory be
    dag nab it
    well flip
    dad burn it
    el i be

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 7:41 am

    I hear my wife saying, “Oh Dear.” a lot and she’s not talking to me. Maybe that’s her by-word.

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