Appalachian Dialect

Have You Ever Heard Bait Used To Describe Food?

Biggest bait of food

A few weeks ago Blind Pig Reader, Mel Hawkins sent me the email below:

I grew up hearing (& using sometimes) the terms stout, bait, & wormy. As in: “Lordy mercy Lee Roy shore did eat a big bait of them soup beans, didn’t he?–He better not git too close to the farrplace tonight…!” And: “…’at Herman shore has growed up to be big & stout, ain’t he? Why, I remember when he’s jist a wormy little ol’ young’un, not no bigger than a minute….”

Have y’ns ever heard these words? Or used them? I wonder where “bait” usage derived from….could it be an old timey way of saying “bite”…?


My answer to Mel’s question:

  • I’ve heard bait used to describe a large amount of food my whole life. I still hear the word used in that manner frequently-Pap and The Deer Hunter both use it. As for the origin of the word-the Online Etymology Dictionary has this reference: “food put on a hook or trap to lure prey,” c.1300, from Old Norse beita “food,” related to Old Norse beit “pasture,” Old English bat “food,” literally “to cause to bite” (see bait (v.)). Figurative sense “anything used as a lure” is from c.1400.” My Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English documents the word bait being used to mean a large amount of food as early as 1859 in western NC. I’m thinking you’re (Mel) right and the usage of the word bait being derived from the word bite.
  • Same goes for the word stout heard it all my life. Anyone with a large body is referred to as stout by Granny.
  • I was so skinny when I was little someone was always telling me I must be ‘wormy’ in a teasing manner. We tease the girls in the same way. And I remember a few horror stories about kids who really were wormy-YIKES!

Now that I’ve given Mel my answer-I hope you’ll leave him a comment and give him yours.


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  • Reply
    Helen Gardner
    May 24, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Stout and wormy, I’ve heard and used both of those. Bait I’ve only used in reference to what you use for fishing. I love hearing the stories about words.

  • Reply
    Wanda Robertson
    May 24, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    My daddy used to say he wanted a “bait” of catfish. It wasn’t a regular meal, but a feast of just catfish, slaw, and cornbread. He always said he needed a bait of poke sallet in the spring to stay healthy.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    May 20, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I have heard and still use them all. Let me share a funny story. A few years back when I lived in Seattle,someone on the radio was telling about an interview they did with a country star. They asked him what he wanted to do when he was off tour. He said he wanted to eat a bait of his Mama’s cooking. The DJ asked for anyone to call in if they know what a bait was? Was it fish, what was it? I called the station,told them in my best drawl,”you know, it is when someone eats a mess of something.” Of course I was laughing when I translated both of the terms. The DJ did not find it near as funny as I did!!

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    May 20, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I heard all of them growing up and still hear them now and then. “Stout” almost always referred to a big, powerful man. “Wormy” almost always referred to a slight boy and was likely born in the day when tape worms were common.
    “Bait” has an interesting history. According to the Dictionary of Regional English, it once meant a small meal, such as a light lunch, or a small serving. But perhaps initially as a sarcastic reference to a large meal or serving as a “bait”, that became the more common meaning.
    A common meaning in the 19th Century that continued well into the 20th was feeding a horse. An example from an 1887 novel: “…they stopped to bait their teams and eat their lunch.”
    Ads for farm workers promised lodging, meals, and bait and board for the worker’s horse.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 20, 2014 at 8:55 am

    I have used “stout” many times in my comments. My Grandmother would call my brothers “stout” especially after they put on some muscle and started playing baseball. Me…awwwww, she called me “fleshy”! Yep, I was fleshy when I was young, but not so much as now! It’s because every time we went there she made us stay and eat that big bait of food. Not one kind of ‘taters, but two. Not only blackeyed peas, but grren peas too. Chicken, gravy biscuts and ham just in case some member of the family weren’t in the mood for chicken…he went on and on that way…and really she made you eat and if you finally sat down and picked at your food, you better look out, she would be puttin’ it in a cooler of sorts for you to tote home!…
    Our dog was “wormy” so we treated it and give it all that leftover food from Grannies….lol…just kiddin’
    Love this post…
    A lot of English nursery rhymes have the “stout” word in them..Little Johnny Stout for example…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    May 20, 2014 at 1:29 am

    I’ve never heard “bait” used that way, but I’ve heard “stout” and “wormy” used that way although saying a thin person was “wormy” generally meant one thought they had a tapeworm that was was getting all the nourishment from their food, and I’ve even heard stories of people willingly eating tapeworms to lose weight, but I’ve never half believed those, cause well…yuck!!!
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    May 19, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    I haven’t heard bait, but stout and wormy get a lot of use around here. Stout, however, usually means big and strong, not fat.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I am very familiar with stout or heavy set. On rare occasion the large bait of food was used. Not familiar with expression wormy. Many frail children back in the day were treated for worms. No proof, but I had heard a couple of nightmare stories about a medicine for worms where you could not drink water with it. Supposedly, a couple of children did drink and resulted in death. Sad to say many similar stories were told to me down through the years.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    May 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

    I have heard and used all three words here in central Kentucky all my life.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2014 at 8:46 am

    I have heard my family say bait when describing a large amount of food, but we would mostly say mess in Mel’s example. Stout was always used to describe a big, strong person, tree, limb, clothesline, fence and etc. If we started looking wormy, Mom had a cure for that. As a kid, I was always skinny (skin and bone) as she would say. I don’t remember what cure-all she gave us, but I never want to taste it again! I can’t remember if it was Fletcher’s something, Syrup of Black Drauth(?), Castor Oil or terpentine that was the dreaded concoction.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Have heard all of them and still use the word “stout” exactly as mentioned.
    “Wormy” referred to someone super skinny and kind of puny looking who stayed that way because they had worms. (If they were wiggly, it was probably pin worms; but the really puny looking ones were assumed to have some kind of tapeworm or pork worm.) It was usually used as an quiet insult because having worms meant the family didn’t take care of the child or the person didn’t take care of themselves.
    We’ve used (and, the more I think about it, I still occasionally use) the word “spate” to mean a large quantity (usually eaten rapidly); but I’ve heard “bait” used when the women had food on the table and the menfolk were dilly-dallying outside as in “Guess the bait on the table isn’t good enough to get the men into eat!” -Or- a fresh plate of cookies put out as “bait” to get the kids in from play.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Yes, stout was used in the city – referring to a big person instead of saying they were fat. Bait was used for enticing something to be caught, fish, critter, etc. Wormy was not a common word as I remember, but we did use the word tape worm when someone could eat and eat and not become rounder.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 19, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Like Tim, I’ve heard all three. The Deer Hunter’s grandmother Lura used bait to describe a large quantity of food and stout to describe someone strong. Lura was the Deer Hunter’s father’s mother. Lura had a number of colorful expressions, to say the least. She grew up in Judson, the town flooded to make the Fontana Dam.
    Lura once called me stout as a cow because I walked several miles one day just before the Deer Hunter was born. I wasn’t very big, she meant I was strong.
    Wormy I’ve heard all my life to describe someone who was scrawny.

  • Reply
    Brian Angell
    May 19, 2014 at 7:35 am

    I find your posts on Appalachian language and terms really interesting, as I find many of these are sued exactly the same way or in a related way still in England. For example on farms or in factories the term bait is still used especially in the north of England for a meal taken during the day. this could be mid morning or afternoon or at lunch. This usually refers to a packed meal or large snack eaten whilst at work. Stout is used the same way but wormy is new on for me.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2014 at 5:55 am

    I’ve heard and occasionally use all 3.. Bait is always used to describe a large consumption of food. Stout is considered someone who is strong, and wormy is used when someone’s appearance is skinny or weak looking.. We had an elderly lady ask one of our guys if that little wormy Johnson boy still worked with us.. That was before he got married he’s not so wormy now..

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