Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Writers

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

On my last Appalachian Vocabulary Test Blind Pig Reader Ron Stephens asked if I might share the various sources I use as reference material for my writings.

The reference book I use most often for vocabulary tests and other dialect posts is the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Michael Montgomery is the author of the dictionary. You can jump over to the book’s website and read Montgomery’s bonafides here. He’s a pretty impressive man when it comes to language and dialect.

The dictionary website also has transcripts, articles, words, and a complete bibliography of the sources used for compiling the reference book. The website is really a fascinating place to poke around. The actually dictionary is magical! Well at least it is to me.

Miss Cindy gifted me with the book back when I first started the Blind Pig and The Acorn and the book has become a vital part of the blog. Unfortunately the dictionary is expensive.

If the University of Tennessee Press ever offers another printing of the book, I’m sure the price will come down. A few years ago I heard rumors of the dictionary being re-printed but nothing ever came of those rumors. Several months ago I heard the rumors again, but I still haven’t heard any firm plans or dates for the re-print of the dictionary.

I’m also very fond of the Foxfire Books and magazine. Both are affordable, and the great folks at Foxfire are still publishing magazines and books.

A few other sources that I use for reference are:

  • Appalachian Values by Loyal Jones
  • John Parris – Roaming the Mountains, Mountain Bred, These Storied Mountains, My Mountain – My People, and Mountain Cooking
  • Smoky Mountain Voices a Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech by Harold F. Farwell, Jr. and J. Karl Nicholas
  • Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia by Anthony Cavender
  • Mountain Born by Jean Boone Benfield
  • More than Moonshine Appalachian Recipes and Recollections by Sidney Saylor Farr
  • It’s Not My Mountain Anymore by Barbara Taylor Woodall
  • Southern Mountain Speech by Cratis D. Williams
  • Frank C. Brown’s Collections of North Carolina Folklore
  • Cherokee County Historical Society Books
  • Dorie Woman of the Mountains written by Florence Cope Bush
  • Pap, Granny, and a few other folks
  • Comments from Blind Pig Readers (The comments you leave on this blog are not only pleasing and entertaining, they are full of wisdom and knowledge about Appalachia.)


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  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 27, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Tipper. We are so blessed to have your site I so enjoy all the different comments. You should comply all comments and topics is a book. (Wisdom of merit from the Mountains)

  • Reply
    January 28, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Hi Tipper! For Ron Stephens on Appalachia themed books – try Sharyn McCrumb’s offerings. She writes some books based on our mountain history, and she is a local author.
    Tipper, our nice warm days are coming to an abrupt end tonight (Sat). The weather’s done turned off

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 28, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Ron – Mr. Ammons was my Daddy. My name’s Ed.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 27, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Mr. Ammons, my disappointment about the Catawba rhododendron was not in relation to the Catawba River area. Rather it was the error in the botany. Catawba rhododendron does not have white blooms as the book said. Its blooms are purple. It is ‘great laurel’ or ‘great rhododendron’, the much more common one, that blooms white. I know it is straining at gnats, sort of, but I really prize authenticity.
    I enjoyed reading the comments today because, like myself, I can see that you all also appreciate just being valued for yourself just as you are. I think that probably is the best possible compliment we can give someone. Now if only I can live up to it myself in how I treat others.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Although I’m in the same county of Cherokee with you at the Southwestern end and me at the Northern end, we’re only about 30 miles apart. I love all the dialect of Appalachia you provide. I grew up knowing most of the Moonshiners of yesteryear.
    They were good folks who wanted to be left alone, so they could provide a way of life for their folks. At least they were good to me, and they never bothered anybody, unless you crossed over into their rights. And we all are familiar with guns and know how to use them. I’ll hush before I say how I really feel. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Don’t cut yourself short Tipper. You are a native speaker. It is an innate ability you possess. You understand not only the words themselves but the context in with they are spoken. And, you can enunciate Appalachian words and phrases as they are actually voiced. The latter is perhaps the most important. Most English speakers can read and say the words but only natives can arrange and sentence them into the genuine Southern Appalachian language. For the most part you use your “sources” as backup for what you already know.
    If I may:
    The Beverly Hillbillies are an example of the bastardization of the Southern Appalachian dialect.
    to Tamela – I am surprised at the number of readers who are not blood related to Tipper. If fact I find none among the regular commenters. Miss Cindy is her mother in law but even that is not “blood” related.
    to Ron Stephens – Could you elaborate a little on your disappointment with the Catawba rhododendron book.
    I live only half a mile from the Catawba River. The river itself is often linked to the piedmont of North and South Carolina but actually arises in western McDowell County in some of the most rugged mountains (just a few miles south of Mt. Mitchell) in the Appalachian chain. It is joined at Lake James by the Linville River which begins in Avery County and churns along the Linville Gorge through Burke County.
    The Catawba, in carving its bed through the southern slopes of the Appalachians, has actually cut of an orphan portion in southern Burke and northern Rutherford Counties known as the South Mountains.
    Most people traveling east on I-40 assume that once they descend Old Fort Mountain, they are out of the mountains and into the piedmont. This is hardly the case. They are following a riverbed which is flanked by an escarpment that continues through McDowell, Burke, northwestern Catawba, southern Caldwell and southwestern Alexander Counties.
    Having read “Our Southern Highlanders” more than once, I must conclude that it is not an accurate representation of “our” southern highlanders. Even the title is offensive, as if our ancestors were property. Or a rare species to be protected. Mr. Kephart, blinded by alcohol, may have recorded what he saw (Edgar Allen Poe did also.) He may have been well intentioned but he missed the mark. And he did a disservice to our forebearers and to us. In the minds of many we are now frozen in a place and time he created.
    I don’t know what brought all this on but since it was something in today’s post, I’ma gonna blame it on you.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 27, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Through the years I have acquired basically all the books you have listed as well as the one Jim mentions in his comment written by Joseph Dabney. One of my favorites I might add. Of course Jim and his wife have some dandy cookbooks too! The Dictionary of Smokey Mountain English, has been one that I just can’t seem to bend my billfold in the open direction as to get it in front of my eyes!
    Last time I went on the hunt in one of my favorite rare book websites it was up to near $400.00 dollars and only one dealer had one!
    A few years ago I called University Press and inquired about the book. Could I order one? Nope, not, nada…ha The very pleasant man I talked to did say they may, possibly in the near future, re issue the book, but of course it would be pricy. However, lower than the current rare book price. I keep looking for the book on this website, hoping that some book dealer will luck up on one and decide to get rid of it rather than hold it for years, paying rent for it’s storage to get top dollar. ha
    As always supply and demand regulates the prices, I suppose!
    I just love reading about a term of use or finding a word that my mind has lost somewhere but that my grandparents used as well as my ancestors. Coming from German, Irish and Scot creates some distinct choices of definitions if words and dialects. I have found this to be true even among my own relatives. ha
    Love this post Tipper and thank you for all you do and your research!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Thank you for detailing your resources- very enlightening! What a rich tapestry you bring to us so that we are woven into the beauty together.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 27, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Tipper–I cannot resist, in good conscience, pointing out to reader George Pettie that Horace Kephart’s “Our Southern Highlanders” is chock full of stereotyping of mountain folks in the worst sort of ways. His perjoratives in describing us (we are called “brannch-water people” in dismissive fashion, although that’s actually a badge of honor I would wear with great pride) are breathtaking, and all one has to do is read his description of cemeteries, or his suggestion that Christmas isn’t really celebrated in the mountains, to realize that he was sensationalizing for metropolitan, Northern audiences rather than presenting anything approaching an accurate portrayal of mountain people and their ways.
    Sadly, he is widely viewed as an authority; in truth he was an outlander interested in sensationalism to sell books more than in detailed accuracy (although his linguistic studies are of note).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    January 27, 2017 at 10:01 am

    George-thank you for the comment! Yes-Southern Highlands is a great resource for dialect and a few other things. I’m not too crazy about some of the derogatory comments he made about the folks who lived in the southern highlands of Appalachia but the the book is a valuable resource for dialect. 

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    January 27, 2017 at 9:54 am

    In the 18th Century, Indian hunting grounds beyond the eastern seaboard’s high, granite Appalachian Mountain spine were so remote, and passable gaps and river valleys were so few, that many thought the pioneers who settled there would form a separate nation. A study by the University of Tennessee has found Tricorner Knob, 6,120 feet up 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, in a forest of fir and spruce at the intersection of the Appalachian and Balsam Mountain Trails on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the most isolated spot in eastern North America. Modern visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains call this rugged region “America’s last frontier.”

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    January 27, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart?

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 27, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Tipper, I’m still thinking about the word “take” and all its many uses. What about “takes the cake?” Whenever something unusual or surprising would happen, my mother would stay that “takes the cake.” It is astonishing how different we use the English language in Appalachia!

  • Reply
    Ann lingerfelt
    January 27, 2017 at 8:57 am

    One saying in Blairsville Ga is. Backanow. Meaning before now I mowed the lawn backanow and didn’t see that Hugh hole. I talked to her backanow and she didn’t name it. Meaning she said nothing about it. Another one is donean he has donean. Done it. ” donean has donean did donean will” donean”hope this adds to or helps

  • Reply
    January 27, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Reader’s comments are not only enlightening, but also entertaining. Although I have surmised that several of your readers are blood relatives, more than a few seem to be mountain born and bred while the rest of us have a generous appreciation of the country influence of mountain folks. Wouldn’t it be fun if we could all get together for a big “preunion” ? That first time a group of folks gather to share common interests would be a sight (and ear) to behold!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 27, 2017 at 8:22 am

    There is a lot behind the scenes on the Blind Pig, Tip. You put a lot of time, energy and money into our daily Appalachian education, and lets don’t forget love….you add a lot of that!
    Thank you for all you do educate us and preserve our history!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 27, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Thanks for sharing these Tipper. Now I’ll have some sources to hunt down. I am always searching for authentic books set in Appalachia and they are not so easy to find. There are lots of books with some kind of weak connection to the southern mountains but then they turn out to be just California mis-located to the Blue Ridge with Starbucks and wineries.
    When I can find a for-real Appalachian book, written by someone who knows what they are talking about and who values the people and the land, it is a visit ‘back home’. That is what I look for.
    I am probably too critical. For example, the other day I read the sample of a book that talked about the white blossoms of Catawba rhododendron. Sure it was a small thing but I was so dissappointed.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 27, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Tipper–For the sake of fairness, I’d like to offer an addendum to your coverage of what is truly an invaluable book, the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English.” While Michael Montgomery brought it to published fruition, much (perhaps most) of the credit for its contents belongs to Joseph Hall. He did much of the legwork in collecting the information and interviewing people during a series of visits to the Smokies in the 1930s and 1940s. He taped scores of people, capturing forever their accents, manner of speech, and knowledge of local ways. I’ve listened to some of the material (the original tapes are at East Tennessee State University) but would like to hear much more of it. Access and listening to the tapes, which were still in the process of being painstakingly copied to more slightly modern technology the last time I visited, is not the easiest or most convenient in the world (I had the requisite academic credentials but I’m not sure the material is readily available to the general public).
    Three other extremely useful sources (Miss Cindy, if Tipper doesn’t have it the books they would make a fine gift for her next birthday) are the University of Tennessee’s on-line Database of the Smokies, a significant work spearheaded by two fine students of the Smokies at the UT Library, Anne Bridges and Ken Wise (“Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains”), and what I think is the finest cookbook on mountain foods, Joseph Dabney’s Smokehouse Ham, Spoonbread, and Scuppernong Wine”). The bibliography is exceptionally comprehensive for all material published down to 1934, the date of the Park’s founding and the book’s cutoff point, while the cookbook contains hundreds of little stories along with recipes.
    I’m sitting in a room where probably somewhere between 1500 and 2000 books, pamphlets, post cards, vintage photos, and ephemera, all dealing with the Smokies and their immediate vicinity, are stored, an accumulation which basically stretches over a lifetime of collecting. The literature of the region is rich indeed and in your own special way, with a bit of daily input from readers, you are adding to in in an information age that threatens to outpace technological troglodytes like me.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 27, 2017 at 8:00 am

    You had me at bonafides. I love that word!
    Although I have been Appalachian all my life, I have only started to consider us and our region academically in the last three years. I was actually encouraged to do so by a Navajo friend who met an Appalachian story teller at a festival and thought I should write about my experiences.
    Anyway, your resources have been a great help to me. Recently, I just put the available Frank C Brown books on a flash. Those are great books.
    And, reading the comments is my second favorite part of the blog!

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