Appalachian Dialect

Coves and Hollers

holler in the woods

A few months back Garland sent me the following comment:

I have seen you use the word cove from time to time. What is the Appalachian connotation? The sailor in me sees a cove as a small sheltered bay. According to Google it also has some architectural meanings. I could find nothing relating to mountains or landscape. Perhaps you could explain in your next vocabulary.

Thank You

Garland

—-

As I read Garland’s question I immediately thought “Well a cove is just a wide holler.” But the more I thought about it the more I wondered.

Since The Deer Hunter grew up in the Dutch Cove of Canton, NC and now lives in Wilson Holler I asked him what he thought a cove was. He pretty much said the same thing I thought: a cove is a wider more expansive holler.

I asked a few other folks and they agreed with our thoughts on the matter, although as one pointed out there isn’t much information to back up our premise.

Don Casada, who has intimate knowledge of the hollers and coves of the Smoky Mountains had this to say to say on the subject:

“My first thought was to agree with you, but as I’ve given it some more consideration, I’d have to say I’ve heard the two words applied more or less interchangeably. Right off the bat, I can’t think of any place officially named as XXXX Holler or Hollow on the NC side, but I did remember there being a Churn Hollow over in Tennessee (on Sams Creek, a feeder of the Middle Prong of the Little River). I opened up my Garmin software’s map and found several places named Hollow on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, but the only official place name with Hollow in it on the NC side I can think of is Pretty Hollow over in Cataloochee. I won’t say I did a thorough search.

There are multiple places on both the NC and TN side which include Cove in the name. They cover a broad range – from Cades Cove and Big Cove (on Raven Fork), both of which include some nice bottomland. But then there’s Horse Cove on Noland Creek, Cable Cove (where the shuttle boats for the decorations leave from), both of which are much more confined with relatively little ground anywhere close to flat. Those are all officially named places. But just on Peachtree Creek (the first creek you cross after getting into the Park as you head towards Noland Creek), there are three places which Delia Watkins had names for that are not on a map (other than mine):

– Dogwood Holler
– Miley Holler
– The Henry Cove (she always used “The” in conjunction with that name)

As I think about walking through those unofficially named places and also look at their layout on a topo map, I can’t come up with anything which distinguishes between cove and holler.

Bottom line – I’m not much help.

—-

I disagree with Don. I think he was a great help in shedding light on the usage of the word cove in Appalachia.

Here’s the entries for hollow and cove from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English.

cove noun A sheltered, often enclosed valley having a relatively level floor, arable land, and a single drainage outlet. Also used in place names, as in Cades Cove (TN) and Cataloochee Cove (NC).

1943 Peattie Indian Days 41 A valley usually means a big valley, a small one is a hollow or a cove.

hollow noun A gap between ridges; a small, sheltered valley that may or may not have a watercourse. Also used in informal place names, as in Hell’s Holler (NC) and Piedy Holler (TN)

1939 Hall Coll. Saunook NC He run me over a ridge and down the holler and over a ridge and down another holler to the river. (Herbert Stephenson)

—-

To answer Garland’s question, I believe a Cove is generally accepted to be a larger holler in most of Appalachia, or at least in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia. Although as Don pointed out, the words are also often used interchangeably.

I found Don’s mention of Delia Watkins always adding ‘The’ to the Henry Cove especially interesting. There are many named hollers up the creek but like Delia we always add ‘The’ to The Roberson Cove.

Tipper

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Ronnie Seals
    November 18, 2019 at 10:50 am

    My parents were born and raised in Cabin Holler, part of the larger Mingo Holler as I understand it, on the Tennessee Kentucky border. Whenever I was in the south, it was either Middlesboro of Harlan Co. I remember many Hollers, but don’t recall and Coves, except Cades Cove in the Smokies. After talking to people from W. Va, it seems like there’s a difference in the definition of “Holler.” While I’ve always heard the term. “Up the Holler,” meaning a narrow valley up in the mountains, many of my W.Va. friends say “Down the Holler,” and mean, I this, a narrow valley in the bottomland.

  • Reply
    RK VanOrsdal
    November 18, 2019 at 10:44 am

    I live in Whippowill Hollow. We tell people its big enough for us not to see our neighbours but close enough we can holler if we need help.

  • Reply
    Grandma Cate
    November 18, 2019 at 8:08 am

    I’ve always understood coves to be bigger than hollers & having a creek or river. You could have a dry holler except during heavy storms. Just for fun, anyone remember an old tune called “Sourwood Mountain”?
    “I got a gal at the head of the holler….
    She won’t come and I won’t foller…”

  • Reply
    Quinn Piper
    November 16, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    Tipper, this is such an interesting topic. When I first started reading I thought well, comparing a cove to a holler wouldn’t clear things up much for me, because neither term is part of the landscape vocabulary I grew up with in New England, where a “cove” is a shoreline feature. I got familiar with “holler” from songs, but I never knew about how “cove” compares. Interesting! Sometimes words get gradually lost as land use changes, I think – like “water meadows” which I sometimes find on old New England maps. Do you have water meadows in your neck of the woods?

    • Reply
      Tipper
      November 17, 2019 at 6:46 am

      Quinn-No I’ve never heard of a water meadow! What is it?

  • Reply
    Earl Cagle
    November 14, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Cove/Holler, The first brings to mind the beautiful creation referred to as Cades Cove. The latter reminds me of Miss Loretta’s home place, Butcher Holler. I recall my Dad saying as we followed four black and tan hounds in the darkness,”let’s go up this holler, we might get a strike on that little branch”. And soon enough they would open and we had a chase underway. Miss those old days and the man that wanted to ‘go up the holler’.

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    November 14, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Tipper. Do you know the song “Rye Cove?” Tells the story of a school somewhere in the mountains that was buried by a mudslide and a bunch of children died.
    I also noticed that someone used the word “run.” It is commonly used in the middle Atlantic region but I don’t know the origin.

    Thanks!!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      November 14, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      Hank-I don’t know the song-but I’ll look it up 🙂

  • Reply
    InTheWoods
    November 13, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    Nice writeup, Tipper. When I’m away, how I long for the mountains, ridges, valleys, coves, hills, and hollers. No matter what we call which, they’re all soothing to the soul.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 13, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Tipper,
    That should have been Daniel Boone Wright instead of Holloway. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 13, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Tipper,
    You and Matt and the Girls have been in Trim Cove. That’s Home to me. Old Man Trim lived there several years before I was born in ’48. Charlie Soolesby lived there after that, but Daddy bought the place from Daniel Boone Holloway. They were standing between the highway and Railroad and Daddy asked Daniel how many acres are there? Ole Daniel kicked the ground and said, “I’ll write it up as 35 acres, more or less. Daddy was like Trump, he jumped at the problem. Back then, money was hard to get hold of, but for $1500 dollars, his offer couldn’t be refused. Daddy had sold our place on Tucker Branch for $2500 to a Lenox fellow from Indiana and he told him he could have the old house. (with all that Chestnut wood.) Daddy and Alex Nelson tore down the old house and built where I was raised, in Trim Cove.

    Years later, after Daddy died, we had it surveyed. The land went plum to the Government Land and we had 52 acres. With Mountains on all sides, a Tornado would ware itself out to get in there.
    It was about 500 feet or more from Mountain to Mountain, when we used to farm above the house and much farther the way the branches run. …Ken

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    November 13, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Tipper always enjoy your post and reader comment . They put your brain to thinking about coves and hollers(hollow)

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    November 13, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Tipper I enjoyed reading your post got this old mountain gal to thinking course we always grew up hearing cove and holler and most hollow thank all you reader comments

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 13, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Come to think of it where I grew up there were no named hollers. Everything was a creek or branch. Painter Branch, Wiggins Creek or Brush Creek etc. Sometimes in spoken language the word creek was dropped and you had Rattlesnake, Licklog or Loudermilk. Of course we had hollers but they had no names.
    I can think of only two coves in our area. Hurricane Cove was just across the ridge to the north of our homestead and Poplar Cove over in the Maple Springs/Stiles Gap area. If there are more I can’t remember them.

  • Reply
    Jim Keller
    November 13, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Tipper,
    Odd that you are blogging about the term “holler”. I was talking to a friend yesterday and she mentioned when she move back here in TN from Houston the children was curious as to why the natives say holler instead of hollow. Her explanation was in the pre telephone days people would communicate from 1 side of the hollow to their neighbor on the other side by hollering.
    Most of the hollers here are named after the families that live there.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    November 13, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Tipper, thank you and the readers for the information. Being from the Piedmont (Winston-Salen), I had never heard the word cove used to describe geological features. Having spent the better part of my life in the Navy, I always thought the word only applied to coastal features. Although, almost every Navy town has a bar named The Cove.

  • Reply
    Dee
    November 13, 2019 at 10:29 am

    My grandparents lived up Goose Holler in N.E. MS., and it lay between two hill sides. I was told it was called Goose Holler because the people in that location raised a lot of geese and used the feathers for feather pillows. Seems like I always knew what a holler was and because my husband had a passion for fishing, I knew a water cove. But we have driven through beautiful Cades Cove many times so we understood that term too.

    Words are fascinating. Don said, “Right off the bat” in one of his sentences. Goodness gracious, I haven’t heard those words for a long, long time. I know what they mean, but I never did understand, he is “smart as a whip.” Now how smart can a whip be? It always warms my heart when I see or hear people use words I have used or heard in my growing up years of over 70.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 13, 2019 at 10:12 am

    I have always thought of a cove being a larger holler, we live in a holler that was owned by Lafayette ‘Fate’ Watson, I had always heard it called Watson Holler so when the county established it’s 911 system I was asked to name our physical location. In an effort to make it more correct I replied that I lived on Watson Hollow Road and that is the official name of ‘Fate’s Hollow’ recognized by the US Postal Service and identified as such on newer maps. If it had been larger it would have been Watson Cove. I know this doesn’t do anything to answer Garland’s question but some things are defined by location and tradition which may vary accordingly.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 13, 2019 at 10:05 am

    The first thing I thought of when I read your piece a cove was an “elongated bowl”. So, I go to Google to see if there might be a better word to describe it. All Google wanted to do was sell me toilets. Seems there are round toilets and elongated ones and that’s all Google knows about.
    Anyhow, that’s my best description of a cove. An elongated bowl shaped valley with a narrow entrance which is where water also exits otherwise you have a lake. A cove is often thought of as hidden or secluded because it’s entrance can go unnoticed.
    Speaking of putting “The” at the beginning of a cove’s name Billy Graham’s place at Montreat is simple called “The Cove.”

  • Reply
    Lynda Jones
    November 13, 2019 at 9:55 am

    I lived in a Holler in Marion County TN called Egypt Holler. The tale of the name was told by relatives now passed on. In a time when there was a great drought people would come up to the Holler to get food it was the only place around that they could get anything to grow. On the hill sides their were rocks laid to made it possible to grow vegetables on the hill sides. That is how Egypt Holler got its name.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    November 13, 2019 at 9:25 am

    A cove is so large you can’t holler across it. A little humor. Maybe too much.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    November 13, 2019 at 9:04 am

    Great question from Garland. The entire time I was reading what Don had to say my mind kept seeing the scenic expanse of Cade’s Cove. Then Tipper mentioned it. It is difficult to say those two words without remembering how beautiful it was as we drove through there seeing a Mama and two cubs. But, for once I will try to stick to the subject 🙂 We folks from Appalachia just kind of adopted words that seemed to better fit what se were describing. For instance I have driven up many hollers and lived in one. The wonderful Cade’s Cove needed its own term, as it is breathtaking. A wonderful wide expanse sheltered from the surrounding areas. Depending on where you live, in my world growing up when anybody mentioned a cove it seemed to indicate a sheltered area. Another word I never ever hear since reaching adulthood was the word point for the top of a hillside. We had a nearby rather steep hillside over from our home, and everybody just referred to it as “over on the point.” I have no clue if that was something the old timers originally named it, or if the word has been lost to time when referring to a steep hillside. This has made me think deeper than I am able and ponder things best left to the experts!

  • Reply
    Mary
    November 13, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Well, I don’t reckon it has to be formally named to be a holler does it?

    We always said Grandmother lives “back in the holler” past the church house. Then neighbors of ours lived up the hill then turn right to head “back in the holler.”

    I have had to try to explain it to flat-landers too—the first time was when I was in college; some asked how it is spelled and that gave me a pause as I was thinking “ h o l l e r” or is it “h o l l o w”—-??

    I just figured everyone took for granted what a holler was.

    Love your blog; this one made me pause and think on it.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 13, 2019 at 8:51 am

    I have had occasion to attempt to identify “cove” as an ecological unit with defined physical characteristics. In that effort, the use of the word in geographic place names was considered. The upshot was that the use is not consistent with any single definition of physical features. There are some typical characteristics, most of which were mentioned in your post. But the scale of use varies widely; for example Cades Cove with thousands of acres compared with Buzzard Cove in Pinhook Branch near you Tipper with only a few hundred acres. As has been written here already in other terms, coves generally have in profile a U-shape while “hollers” are typically V-shape. Coves also typically have bold ridges on three sides, rising at least hundreds of feet above the valley floor but may also rise thousands of feet, again as in Cades Cove. Among foresters, the word cove is reserved for valley heads on north or east-facing slopes. Theses areas are shaded, moist and ‘rich’ with ‘cove hardwood’ such as yellow poplar, buckeye, northern red oak, basswood, etc and can occur at less than obe hundred acres.

    At a guess, I would say the use of “the” with a cove name is usually with the surname of the family that lives or first lived there. Along that line, where I grew up in the Cumberland Plateau the word cove was not used. We said ‘holler’ instead. And many of them had a family name; Steele Holler, Jones Holler, Coffey Holler, etc.

    Sorry to run on so folks, just have a keen interest in this subject.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    November 13, 2019 at 8:42 am

    The only place I call a cove is the areas on the lakes that extends to the side from the main body of water. The coves are generally shallow and offer plenty dead trees and stickups that makes for great fishing.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 13, 2019 at 8:29 am

    I’m not sure where I first heard of hollers and coves but my understanding was that a holler and cove were pretty much the same except the holler was smaller and and named such because it was small enough to be in hollering distance within it.
    You know that before phones and certainly cell phones, hollering was a legitimate way of communicating.
    One more thing, while we’re on this topic. I always thought the word was hollar not holler.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    November 13, 2019 at 6:55 am

    That is fascinating! I grew up in a holler named for the creek that ran through it, Spud Run. Based on the definition of “cove,” however, Spud Run could be a cove because it is level, arable, has a water course, and is pretty big. I remember taking the kids to Matewan WVa and being amazed how narrow those hollers were.

    Like I’ve said before, I don’t think we can ever underestimate the value of place in such matters. We talk, live, and express the landscape from where we are (in time and place).

    The diversity of our region, in all ways, is amazing.

    • Reply
      PinnacleCreek
      November 13, 2019 at 9:09 am

      Ed, I always thought many hollers in WV more narrow than other mountainous areas, especially in McDowell and Mingo county. Your last sentence is so true.

      • Reply
        Ed Karshner
        November 13, 2019 at 10:29 am

        I thought I was well versed in holler life until Matewan. It was an incredible experience to drive into Matewan and see all those communities snuggled into those narrow openings.

        I loved it.

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