Appalachian Dialect

Do What?

man and woman hiking in the mountains

The nice lady who shares my office has only lived in Appalachia for about three years. She enjoys reading the Blind Pig and The Acorn, especially the language posts.

If I say something she thinks is unusual she’ll point it out to me. She also tells me which words she loves to hear me say like the word school. I told you she was a nice lady.

The Appalachian Language is so common to me that sometimes I miss the unusual points of the language so I’m thankful she takes the time to tell me what I say is unfamiliar to her.

The other day she sent me a link to this page: Do What?

I’ve heard and said the phrase ‘do what’ my entire life.

The phrase is said when you don’t quite hear what someone is saying or you don’t quite understand what they are saying.

If you jump over to the link my friend shared, you’ll see it means other things to other people, and that it is common beyond Appalachia.

My friend said the usage of ‘do what’ was one of the first things she noticed about the Appalachian language.

One day a friend she made after arriving in the area said “Do what?” to her. She said “I was left thinking what? What do you mean? Do you want me to do something for you?”

I’m curious do people say “Do what?” where you live?


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  • Reply
    Janis M. Zeglen
    August 25, 2019 at 6:23 am

    In my neck of the woods, the Piedmont of South Carolina, our phrase was “Say what?”

  • Reply
    Matthew Jones
    August 21, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    I personally love the phrase “do what”. It is one that I have used since I was a teenager, and it’s wonderfulness is that it can be used in a variety of ways. For one, it can be used to display disbelief in something. For example, someone could say ‘I ate 100 tacos last night with my friends!’ My response: “Do what?!”

    Another example is the aforementioned representation of mishearing someone. I often use Do What in this way, and it was the way that Dad and my Papaw did as well.

    Finally, it is a phrase I have used in place of “You did what?” with my kids. For example, my kids would say “I just sprayed the cat with the hose!” Me, “DO WHAT?!”

    The Appalachian dialect is multifaceted and has so much nuance.

  • Reply
    August 20, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    I think that I picked this up from my MawMaw (maternal grandmother). She was from western Tennessee

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 18, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    a sign I saw yesterday, “I don’t have an accent, Ya’ll do.”

  • Reply
    August 17, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    I think I would sufficate if I couldn’t use it.

  • Reply
    Gina Smith
    August 16, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    My father said “do what” when he didn’t clearly hear a question or statement. I picked it up from him and it makes me think of him whenever I hear it. He was from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  • Reply
    Charlotte B
    August 16, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Tipper, I grew up in southeastern Virginia. One of my high-school teachers, an African-American lady, used “Say what?” frequently because she didn’t hear very well. But she was an excellent teacher. I adopted the phrase and have used it ever since.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 16, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Yes it is common here, but I most often hear “come again?” if you don’t understand something.

  • Reply
    Shirley Burns
    August 16, 2019 at 11:57 am

    We say that a lot in Mississippi ,too; usually in reply to a really ridiculous or silly comment ( like the weather person saying a cold front is coming.)

  • Reply
    Darrell Keith Cook
    August 16, 2019 at 11:51 am

    Hi Tipper, First, I enjoyed your family music performance at Vogel last year. I have not seen anything about your upcoming performances. I enjoyed hearing the twins. I, myself, am a twin. About your article of speech- our time, our speech our culture is of Scott, Irish and English ancestry is totally unique. I realize our area has changed much by “newcomers”. My family, and probably yours also has been here for centuries. The mountains acted as a buffer, they kept out influences from the lower, more populated areas. I do not know this for fact- people of 40 years ago in Appalachia spoke closer to Chaucer, to “Old English” than any other people in the world. This includes people of England. We use words in Appalachia that have long disappeared from England. I enjoy your blog. Thanks.

    • Reply
      August 16, 2019 at 3:58 pm

      Darrell-thank you for the comment!You can check out the girls website for performance listings here: We hope to see you again out in the audience 🙂

  • Reply
    Yecedrah Higman
    August 16, 2019 at 11:44 am

    I was borned and raised in Arkansas and I have heard and said this all my life!! I don’t expect to change at this stage of my life but it feels funny when I read where someone else thinks it a strange saying.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Haha, only if my husband doesn’t have his hearing aids in, with me in one room, he in another, we say that pretty often do what…… on the other hand if my sister today came and said to me, I’m gonna do so and so, and I think do what ????? as in why would you want to do that , and don’t ask me to join ya :)))))))…… like bungee jump for instance… 🙂

  • Reply
    Fran Dixon
    August 16, 2019 at 10:54 am

    This Kentucky woman has always been a do whater

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 16, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Do what, say what, say again are phrases I use now but I think I acquired them later in life.

    Ever heard “do what” turned around into “what do”? Or “how do”? “How do” sometimes becomes “howdy do”. Both are greetings. “What do” is a shortened form of “What have you been doing” while “How do” comes from “How do you do?” “How do you do” is a formal greeting whose wording which make little sense. “Howdy do” sounds better!

    When greeted with “How do you do” I have been known to respond with “How do I do what?” Depending on their temperament that’ll get me someone who never speaks to me again or a friend for life.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Yes. West Virginia has so many of the words and sayings used in your neck of the woods. “Do what” has held on through the years. I really enjoy because sometimes I have not heard them since I was a tiny child. Much of my extended family has scattered in the wind due to the job scarcity that plagued our state in the 60s and 70s. We have remained close, and many have moved back. The many from Ohio do not seem to have acquired any unusual expressions or words so common in WV. One thing they share is love for their home state often referred to as “home” or “our mountains.” In laws and those born outside the state are drawn to the closeness of a huge family with members who laugh easily and vow to return to their mountain home one day.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 9:02 am

    That is one of the saying that is so commonly used around here that it took you pointing it out to make me stop and think about it. No telling how many people I have confused when I said that. Most of my ‘do whats’ require an explanation mark instead of a question mark.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 16, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Very common phrase, generally I say it when someone proposes something I think is stupid or out of the realm of common sense.

    • Reply
      Jan in Oklahoma
      August 16, 2019 at 10:05 am

      In North Texas and Oklahoma, we use it the same as Bill Burnett—when someone says something incredulous/ridiculous.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 16, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Not that is a facer. I may say it (though rarely) and have heard it of course. But somehow it doesn’t seem authentically Appalachian to me. I take that to mean I did not hear it as a child but began hearing it as an adolescent or teenager. If that hunch is correct, that would mean it was brought in from elsewhere. But I cannot be sure.

    I could wish I had someone to let me know when I use homegrown speech. As I have posted multiple times, I can’t catch myself. But if I were made aware it would tell me a lot about how much and in what direction I have changed since youth.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 16, 2019 at 8:27 am

    All my life here in N. GA.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    August 16, 2019 at 8:06 am

    It’s commonly used here in East Tennessee

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 16, 2019 at 7:43 am

    Doesn’t everyone use that term??? That’s one of those things I am sure we all hear and use every day. Some use the term “say what” instead. I don’ think a day goes by when I don’t hear one of those.

    • Reply
      Mary Lou McKillip
      August 16, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Tipper growing up in the mountains never thought much about the poor saying I guess it was so common didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 16, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Common to my wife and I in E.KY. I thought it was one of those phrases everybody said. I believe I say it more the older I get. Hearing damaged from Army, steel mill, and age.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    August 16, 2019 at 7:17 am

    In SE Ohio that is a common response. I never really thought about it.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 16, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Tipper–For me and in my experience it’s more often “say what?” Incidentally, for your readers who are also great lovers of books, “say what?” figures in a classic scene in a book by the incomparable Ferrol Sams, “Run with the Horsemen.” For anyone who loves tales well told and doesn’t mind laughing until it hurts, the autobiographical musings of this Georgia doctor are highly recommended.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 16, 2019 at 7:08 am

    Do What, I’ve heard it all my life, I live here! I love our colorful language and odd expressions.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 16, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Say it all the time, Florida, but my family on both sides originated in NC about 5 generations back

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 6:33 am

    “Do what”? This Texan says it – all the time! I’m curious – where is your co-worker from?

    • Reply
      August 16, 2019 at 6:42 am

      Nan-she’s from California 🙂

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    August 16, 2019 at 6:14 am

    I say it all the time here in West Virginia.

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