Appalachian Dialect

Don’t Bow Up

Chitter about to bow up

bow up verb phrase
1 Same as bow out.
1956 Hall Coll. Big Bend NC Aunt Martha Packett brought Oliver into the world. He was crooked as a fish hook. He was so bowed up in this back. (Letha Hicks)
2 To shape up, improve one’s behavior.
1939 Farr Tenn Mt Regions 89 Mose will have to bow up if he improves his job.
3 To turn mean, refuse to work.
1994 Weals Coll. He just bowed up and jowered at me. (Reported from Pete Monroe, c1948) 1995 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell); = to get angry, as “He bows up when he catches kids in his watermelon patch” (Shields).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

The only way I’ve heard the phrase bow out used is in regard to someone removing themselves from a situation.

Bow up is beyond common in my area of Appalachia, although I’ve never heard it used as indicated in number 2 in the dictionary entry.

The way I’ve most often heard the phrase used, is to mean someone came to an abrupt stop in front of you, example: “If he hadn’t of bowed up in the middle of the road I wouldn’t have never hit him!”

I’ve also heard bow up used as indicated in number 3 of the dictionary entry. Example: “Once they made her mad she just bowed up and wouldn’t talk for the rest of the time we were there.”

I think most everyone is familiar with the usage Letha Hicks described in the entry: being bowed up, meaning to be physically in pain or suffering from bone and muscle issues.

Is bow up a phrase you’re familiar with? How about bow out?


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  • Reply
    Sandra Castle
    September 3, 2021 at 10:27 am

    All my life I was bow legged until I had both my knees replaced. Then like a miracle I was no longer bow legged..

  • Reply
    Betsy Wilson
    September 2, 2021 at 3:40 am

    We “fuzzed up” as well as “bowed up”when displeased or angry.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    August 31, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    I have “bowed before”. When you don’t want to do something you bow up. It could mean you are being hard headed or you are just tired of something or someone and you bow up.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    I forgot about bow out as in to bend. “That sack of taters was so heavy it caused my legs to bow out.” Or “don’t put so much on the truck that the sideboards bow out.” It’s a use of “bow out” but still isn’t the same as “bow up”.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    When my brother got the cancer that took his life he said,” When you get cancer you have no choice but to bow up and take it.” That phrase always make me think of him.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    To me “bow out” is like conceding to your opponent. You bow /bau/ to him and leave. Essentially it means to bend at the waist as a gesture that you are inferior to another “superior” individual.
    The word bow in “bow up” is pronounced /bō/. It has several other meanings such as the pointy end of a boat or the device that shoots an arrow. Katie uses a bow to play her fiddle. God displays a spectacular sight after a storm called a rain bow. I hope you see your rainbow soon.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      August 31, 2021 at 8:47 pm

      Thanks. It all depends on whether the O is long or short? Bow out with a short O is your first example and the second example about the rain bow is with a long O? I guess, in grammar the best way to describe it is the bow with the short O is a verb and the bow with the long O is a noun? Will you all please bow your heads in prayer. She placed a red bow in her hair.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    August 31, 2021 at 11:20 am

    Animals often “bowed” up when they didn’t want to have a saddle slapped upon their backs. And a mule could bow up for no apparent good reason at all. I’ve also heard many a tale of horses holding their breath to make for a looser fitting saddle, one which might be easier to throw later.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 31, 2021 at 10:22 am

    I have never heard “bow out” used that way, but the others are extremely common.

    • Reply
      Wayne Hackworth
      August 31, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      Cept bowed out is pronounced different. Cows will bow up on you too

  • Reply
    August 31, 2021 at 10:18 am

    I’ve heard no. 2 used that way but more familiar with no. 3.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2021 at 10:09 am

    That’s so interesting, Tipper! This is a very common phrase where I grew up in south Georgia but it’s used to mean something like getting ready to fight. As in – “Don’t you say that again or I’ll bow up at you!” Or — “All I did was say hidee (howdy) and he bowed up at me!!”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2021 at 9:19 am

    “If you bow up on me I’ll stripe them legs for you.” That phrase was often directed at me when I was a small child and often ignored. I well remember the consequences!
    Bow up. The same as stub up.

  • Reply
    Kevin Knight
    August 31, 2021 at 8:58 am

    In West Virginia as a young boy I heard the expression “fuzzed up like a skeerd cat.” If bow up was used, it usually referred to an object. ” Humped up ” was another term used for animals and people.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 31, 2021 at 8:27 am

    You did it again. Both “bow up” and “bow out” are very familiar to me. I know bow up just as you do, (a) become unco-operative (same as “sull up”) or (b) come to a sudden stop but in that case usually said as “bow up and stop”. “Bow out” (not ‘bow’ as in incline one’s body from the waist) is departure from a straight line or flat plane.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 31, 2021 at 8:01 am

    “Don’t bow up at me like that! I am liable to clean your plows”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 31, 2021 at 7:41 am

    Im not familiar with the use #2 but the rest I know well. I’ve been known to bow up a time or two when things didn’t go my way!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    August 31, 2021 at 7:30 am

    Yes, bow up is a very common expression around here. Usually, it refers to someone stopping suddenly or refusing to cooperate.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    August 31, 2021 at 6:58 am

    This is kind of off the subject at hand, but the statement in NO. 1 “He was crooked as a fish hook.” caught my attention because I remember an expanded version of that old statement which was, “He was as crooked as a barrel of fish hooks”! In other words, you could not trade nickels with him without getting “burned”.

    • Reply
      Ron Banks
      August 31, 2021 at 9:38 am

      I’ve been known to bow up when asked to do something that I didn’t feel was right by digging my heels in and standing my ground.
      I have also come close to hitting a car when they bowed up in front of me.

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