Appalachian Dialect

Gawm – Gom – Gorm

girls with muddy hands

C verb (also gaum up) To smear, make sticky, muddy, dirty, or greasy; to disarrange, make untidy (also used facetiously, as in Oliver 1996 citation).
1895 Edson and Farchild Tenn Mts 371 gawmed up = covered with litter. 1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 392 If the house be in disorder it is said to be all gormed or gaumed up. 1921 Campbell Sthn Highlanders 145 [I]f we recall provincial English, we understand the mother who apologizes for the smeared condition of the baby’s face when she says it is “all gormed up.” c1945 Haun Hawk’s Done 289 The porch is done gormed up. 1960 Copper Jularker Bussed The drunkard gommed up (ruined) his family’s life. 1962 Dykeman Tall Woman 66 “Eh law,” Aunt Tildy would conclude, “everything is gaumed up, all over this country.” 1967 DARE gaum up = to get something sticky or smeared up (Gatlinburg TN). 1969 GSMNP – 27:16 She didn’t want him to get his new shirt gaumed up with blood. 1974 Fink Bits Mt Speech 11 gaum, gum = to smear. 1996-97 Montgmoery Coll. Don’t gom the place with those muddy boots (Ellis); = to cook, “I’ll go in the kitchen and gaum up a little bit of supper” (Oliver).
[OED gaum v 2a 1796→, cf coom n⁴ ; EDD gaum v3; DARE “to smear” formerly widespread, now chiefly Appalachians, “to disarrange” chiefly South Midland, esp Kentucky]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I’ve never heard the gorm variation, but as you can see from the photo I have an intimate knowledge of girls who like to gom.

Using the word gom to describe a mess is still common in my area of Appalachia today.


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  • Reply
    October 2, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    Western Ky, here. Mom’s favorite saying was “All you kids do is smear and gom up ever’thing”. When I became a mother, raising 2 boys, I heard that same sentence come out of my mouth.

  • Reply
    Yecedrah Beth Higman
    June 8, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    My Momma always said “mess and gom”. She also told us not to put our gommy hands on her clean table cloths!!!

  • Reply
    June 8, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    My Mama and my Meemaw (N. Ala.) would say “all she done was mess and gum”; it was always those two words together. An in-law of our Arkansas family said “gaum.” The mental pictures are colorful!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    Never heard gommed as a mess have heard sticky or a dirty as gummed up. Always learning something.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    June 7, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Gom was common in my home growing up. Mom said many times that all us kids did was mess and gom. After reading the intro I guess it came from the old country. My wife has never heard the word and thinks it’s strange.
    We just returned from the beach and my truck is all gommed up with sand.
    I can still hear my daddy say, “eh law, what a gom!” Thanks for making me remember this.
    I’m going to start using it again!!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    A friend of mine, who moved to my hometown about 30 years ago, still laughs about the first few months she spent here having no clue what people meant when she asked what they had been doing. “Oh just gomming around”. I told her before long she would be saying it too, but she said Never! The ironic thing about all of it? She moved from a town that is only an hour away.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    June 7, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Tipper I have heard these saying. If the lawn mower wouldn’t crank it was gummed up. Never thought much about the word. My grandmother was Dutch of Dutch origin as a matter fact Grandfather called her Dutch. She used the word philfhy for dirty. I know I not spelling it right.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 9:12 am

    There is just no other way to describe kids who make a mess. Gomming most often takes place in the kitchen.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 7, 2019 at 8:57 am

    I spell it gom but pronounce it like the innocent little lamb’s baa with an initial g and an m at the end-gaam. Perhaps it should be spelled gomb, like bomb, because of the similarity of the aftermath.
    I have heard it pronounced gaum /g-awe-m/ like but not nearly as often.
    Never heard gorm.

  • Reply
    Emily in Austin, TX
    June 7, 2019 at 8:56 am

    I hear “gormed [or gommed] up” and “messing and gorming,’ but never in reference to preparing food.
    Love these old words. Thank you, Tipper and readers.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 7, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Yep, I know that one well. As best I recall, we didn’t use ‘gommed’ for ‘gummed’ but instead used it to mean ‘dirty’ or ‘disarranged’ or – most often – both. In our family we had a joking phrase, a quote from a relative, “You kids get out of the kitchen and quit your gomming.”

    Hope we don’t lose ‘gom’ to homogenized English.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 8:08 am

    My aunt would always say of someone doing a poor job “they’re just messing and goming.”

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 7, 2019 at 8:04 am

    I’ve heard and use gom or gaum but have never heard the words with the r in them.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    June 7, 2019 at 8:02 am

    I have used gomed up since I was a kid here in East Tennessee. It seems to always be in relationship to a mess and followed by the word “up.”

  • Reply
    carol harrison
    June 7, 2019 at 8:00 am

    We always say “gummed up the works”

  • Reply
    aw griff
    June 7, 2019 at 7:47 am

    My Wife and I both say gom or gomed up a lot. I think gom is still common in E.KY. with the older generation. My Wife told me her students had made a mess and she told them they made a gom. She had to explain what a gom was.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 7:25 am

    When I hear that most is when referring to eating. For instance, “Those children always get in there goming and messing after I get the dishes washed up.” I rarely hear it anymore, but my daughter says it sometimes because her husband does. I am always amazed at the endless words and expressions once used so often. Now, so many of them have fallen by the wayside. My sister enjoys when I pass on a word to her that I have recently read on this blog. Your blog does more than just enlighten your readers, as it has become a good source of conversation.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2019 at 7:23 am

    In my WV family, “Don’t put your gommy hands on the good furniture!!” It was always GOMMY.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 7, 2019 at 7:20 am

    The Deer Hunter’s grandmother Lure used the word gom a lot. That was the first time I ever heard it. Anything that was mixed up or messed up was a gom to Lura. It was so strange to me it took a while to really understand it. It is a fine descriptive word for anything that is messed up or out of order.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    June 7, 2019 at 7:18 am

    What a gawm!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 7, 2019 at 6:50 am

    I have heard and use gummed up for lots of things.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    June 7, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Gomed or gumed is what I hear and I say gumed

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