Appalachian Dialect

Have You Ever Turned a Somerset?

person turning a flip

somerset noun A somersault. Also called tumbleset.
1849 Lanman Alleghany Mts 50-51 Vandever had obtained a fair hold of the buck’s antlers, when the twain performed a somerset into the pool below. 1934-37 LAMSAS Appal (Madison Co NC, Swain Co NC). 1956 Hall Coll (Hurricane Creek NC) We rolled and turned somersets till we got to the bottom of the hill. 1967-68 DARE Survey (Brasstown NC, Maryville TN). 1969 GSMNP 46:3 If they start to turn the yoke on you…just let your leads turn a somerset if you can. 1997 Montgomery Coll (consultants from the Smoky Mountains agree that somerset was traditionally a more common term than somersault).
[Web3 somerset n alteration of somersault by influence of Somerset, the county in England; DARE somerset n chiefly South, South Midland]

—Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English

When I was growing up I loved to turn somersets! I could entertain myself for hours out in the yard pretending I was a real life gymnast running and tumbling across the grass as fast as I could go.

I also loved to put one bent leg over the bar and do a series of flips on the monkey bars at school. In those days Martins Creek School had a set of three bars connected together. There was a small one, a large one I couldn’t reach without climbing on the first one, and a middle one I could jump and grab. I loved to use the middle one for my daring flips. I say daring because I can’t imagine trying it today, but if memory serves me right most all of us girls did them.

I was never brave enough to hang from my knees and swing back and forth until I could finally turn a somerset and land on my feet like some of the others.

The upper playground had a set of those old metal swings. A couple of the boys would swing as high as they could and then turn a somerset out landing on their feet while the rest of us looked at them in awe and jealously for not being able to do it ourselves.

I can just hear Pap telling a big story about someone turning a somerset when they didn’t intend to 🙂

Last night’s video: Giving Pep Talks in Appalachia – Work Related Sayings to Encourage you!


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  • Reply
    April 22, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    I used to shin up an old swing set that had no swings on it, and hang upside upside down in the park. But the only time I got close to somersaulting was while riding a bike down the hill on my street and I lost control because it picked up momentum and hit the curb and flew up and over the handlebars into a picker bush

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    April 21, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    We called them somersaults and it has been many decades since I have tried one! Don’t really see one in my future either! Lol
    Fun memories for sure though!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 21, 2022 at 5:59 pm

    Wish that I could turn a somerset today!!

  • Reply
    Jane W Bolden
    April 21, 2022 at 4:15 pm

    My mother could “skin a cat” on the bar on my swing set. I would ask her to do it for my friends.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    In addition to tumbling in gym class, the coaches had us do somersaults during warm up and exercise sessions. We even did the running, diving over crouched teammates ending in a somersault. He also had us try cartwheels but few of us could do them. I think we carried too much body weight in our torsos and legs.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 21, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    I never was no good at doing summersets or any of that bendy, stretchy, balancy stuff. My only claim to fame was standing up stiff, falling forward and catching myself with my hands just as my nose touched the floor. That was 60 years ago!
    My daughter Missy, on the other hand, could do some amazing stuff when she was little. She used to lock her ankles behind her head and walk around on her hands. One time I watched her walk down the hall with her hands and feet on both walls and her cousin Cricket walking under her. She looked like a spider. She could do front and back flips on the trampoline. Not just one at a time but 1½, 2, 2½ and 3 times in one jump.
    Missy took gymnastics in school and did really well. I remember watching her at practice one time. She sat down on the floor with her legs in out a V, stretched out her arms in front of her and laid her body flat on the floor. That was amazing in itself but then the coach sat down on her back while he talked to the rest of the class.
    When Missy was a little bitty thing she would climb up on my back while I was sitting on the couch. I would reach back and grab her by the back of her neck and flip her over into the floor. We would do that over and over until I was wore out. She always planted her feet and never had to take a step.

  • Reply
    Liz Hart
    April 21, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    I loved doing somersets, jumping rope with two girls turning two ropes,. Also great fun was squeezing into a tire and letting my sisters roll me down the hill. Usually ended up in a ditch. Sadly my sisters are gone now.

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    April 21, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    I never could do a somersault and never did master the monkey bars but like some more said I could climb trees and loved every chance I got to do so.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 11:43 am

    My parents called flips somersets or tumblesets, but at school they were called somersault or forward roll. I’ve really enjoyed reading about them here. I was successful at none, but could do a pretty mean cartwheel.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 11:23 am

    I did many somersaults when I was a kid. My aunt told me my mother was the most agile among her siblings. She could turn somersets, stand on her head, and do the tumbling. I remember when I was about 9 and my mother was showing my cousin and I how to do a somersault. My cousin was in awe, she said a Mom and she can do a somersault and stand on her head. My cousin could stand on her head but I could not.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    April 21, 2022 at 11:15 am

    Although some of the kids said “somerset,” most of us said “somersault,” but a somersault to us meant sitting on the ground and rolling forward. What you show in your picture we called “cartwheels.” I could do somersaults, but never ever succeeded in doing a cartwheel (although I tried). My best friend broke her wrist doing cartwheels! As for monkey bars,
    I loved them but couldn’t do much at all.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 11:04 am

    Oh my, you. have reminded me of what some call “the olden days.” Not many toys, so we did lots of strange things to pass the long Summer days. We tried “somersets”, but I never mastered that skill. I had a pair of homemade stilts I loved to walk on. Grapevines were an extra good find in the woods. I could do the backbend, but quit that immediately when I landed on my head doing a backbend on my twin bed. My hard head was fine, but there was some crunching in my neck. Fortunately, I never had any problems later. I still shudder to think about how my young aunt and I would do an exercise in the chicken house once the chickens were let out. We would flip over the dirty roosting bars and do something she called ‘skinning a cat.” Ner’ a thought about the sanitation of the bars, and I am certain Grandpa put them up for lightweight chickens instead of flipping silly little girls. She and I still go on excursions together and laugh about our childhood antics. I had several aunts and uncles around my age, and that was certainly he greatest blessing as a child.

  • Reply
    wanda devers
    April 21, 2022 at 10:49 am

    I have done somersets and cartwheels too as a child. In high school we had a tumbling class that ended in a show in the gymnasium showing all the years activities. I was a pretty good tumbler but when the teacher put several students crouched down together in a row for us to run at, jump over, and end up with a somerset I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. I loved standing on my head and did it so much at home that it worried Mama!

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    April 21, 2022 at 10:41 am

    I never could do a somerset very well but that didn’t stop me from trying. I’d get bruised up but getting bruised was normal for me and my brothers.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 10:19 am

    In my younger years I turned somersets, but we called them somersault, I guess because that’s how our gym teacher taught us. It took me a lot longer to get my legs straight in the air than most my friends, but after continuous practice I finally got it right. Doubt I could turn one now no matter how much I tried….lol

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 8:54 am

    I was always told that a long-legged girl couldn’t do summersets (flips) as well as the shorter girls. This long-legged tomboy was never satisfied with the teacher’s explanation and kept on trying. The summersets, jump board landings, and grapevine falls are all responsible for my achy bones this morning.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 21, 2022 at 8:35 am

    Nope, we turned ‘somersaults’ (computer likes it with the “u” but I would spell it without one myself to get how we said it for sure.) That was back when we were flexible, bones and all and counted it not strange to be so. Reminds me of my one and only stab at skiing when I discovered you can get your foot behind your ear. But I didn’t know how it happened. (I wasn’t hurt which in its way is as big a mystery.)

    I remember the “monkey bars” very well. I used to hang upside down on them to but never tried no flips. I recall slipping off one day and falling on my face in the sand. And no, they didn’t put sand there. Our playground was all sand and under the sand was what it came from – sandrock. Not a sprig of grass, a mini-desert.

    I did used to turn cartwheels. Now just the thought of throwing myself at the ground with enough momentum to finish the turn …. Well, I won’t be doing it. But it is tempting. My mind likes to believe I am younger and more capable than is wise to agree with. (Grin)

    • Reply
      April 21, 2022 at 11:08 am

      Out of curiosity, I checked somersaults pronunciations with my wife and daughter-in-law to see if they said it like I do. They did, and both said somersaults, and both had also called them flips.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    April 21, 2022 at 8:24 am

    I remember somerset was a more common word than somersault in Northeast Tennessee, but some did use somersault. Many of the older residents still used some of the kings language and I expect those were the ones I heard using somersault. Can’t remember hearing tumbleset.
    somerset noun A somersault. Also called tumbleset.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2022 at 8:16 am

    I’m like MISS CINDY, I never did a successful somersault, but I would climb the highest trees I could get into. Back when I was growing up, girls did the somersets and boys didn’t. It was considered a girly thing, but I thought it was something special to see some of the girls that could do multiples.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    April 21, 2022 at 8:15 am

    We called them somersaults. I remember doing forward and backward somersaults, though the backward ones were much harder for me to do. I also liked playing on the monkey bars. Back in the day, us girls wore shorts underneath our skirts on the school playground for when we wanted to play on the bars.

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    April 21, 2022 at 8:10 am

    I did my share of “somersets” when I was young, so many years ago. I believe if I could hang upside down on a monkey bar today it would greatly help my back aches but I think it would be too dangerous for me to try at this point in my life LOL

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 21, 2022 at 12:59 pm

      You can get an inversion table that you strap your feet into. It lets you hang at multiple angles including completely upside down. You balance it so that you can raise and lower yourself by raising and lowering your arms.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    April 21, 2022 at 7:59 am

    I’ve turned a many Somerset in my life! When I was a child, I did all kinds of gymnastics moves. I watched a girl playing the other day doing Somersets turned into round-offs. She really made me smile watching her energy and thinking back on my own girlhood bouncing about the yard. It was good seeing a kid outdoors which doesn’t happen like years ago. Tipper, did you ever think kids outside playing would be rare??? It’s a jacked up world, y’all, with inactive and sorry people EVERYWHERE!!! I can still somersets and I’m flexible. The doctor said to keep going and was impressed… lol. Use it or lose it I’ve always heard.

  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    April 21, 2022 at 7:02 am

    I so look forward to your blogs such as this one about somersets…they are fun to do in my younger days. Learning what you are teaching, in my case some are old time memories and some are new, I search on You Tube for any and all. Katie and Corie are true gems and learning about rocks and how some jewelry is made was awesome. Your family is so gifted in so many ways and I am sure you and the Deer Hunter are very proud and rightly so. Have a Blessed day and looking forward to finding new blogs that I have yet to discover.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 21, 2022 at 6:10 am

    I don’t think I ever successfully did a summerset. I just didn’t have the coordination for it. I could, however, climb any tree around, and did so often.

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