Appalachian Dialect

Here While Back

a Chinquapin

Here while back, Ed Ammons sent me the following email.

“I just remember a phrase I hadn’t heard in forever “here while back”. It means the same as “some time ago”. Or “I can’t remember the date but that’s not important to what I want to say”. Do you or have you ever used the phrase or have heard it?”

I got the biggest smile on my face when I read Ed’s email. I love it when someone points out something unique about language to me. Especially when the usage is beyond common, but I’ve never thought about it being different.

I say and hear ‘here while back’ all the time. Let me know if you’re familiar with the usage.


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  • Reply
    Morgan J Bearden
    March 12, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    My father (born in South Pittsburg, Tennessee in 1914 – dropped out of school in 8th grade), used to say “here while back” in everyday conversation.

    For some reason the phrase come into my mind recently. I consulted my “Dictionary of American Regional English” and didn’t find, I went to the Internet and found this site!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 18, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    Heard most all these . Where abouts is a good one and filly dilly or fiddlesticks.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 18, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    I have heard all these old saying reading all the comments just muffled in my mind but instance recall them. I am going sprang them on some Texan but come to think I have never heard one of these saying where I the two years living in Texas. I am going to start off by saying here while back I read a post of old saying from the mountain web site have you heard any of these ?

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    January 17, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Here while back, I heard my Aunt say “pert near” means “near ’bouts”. LOL

  • Reply
    January 17, 2020 at 11:49 am

    I’ve not used it regularly…however, “back in the day” comes to the forefront of my noodle…

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    Ken Roper: I thought my grandmother invented “Flitterdick!” I’ve never heard anyone outside our family use it. Such a hoot!

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 9:53 pm

    Ain’t it something all the phrases we use and learned from our folk. I have heard it and use it. And (Lands Sakes Alive). , Lordy Be and so on. There’s so many.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Like others, I’ve used “here awhile back” forever, and have heard the phrase used by different generations in both the midwest and the south. Never really gave it much thought until today! Like, “That doesn’t add up to a hill o’ beans.” Heard that phrase so much I figured it was standard across the country, until someone from the west coast looked at me like I had three heads. To my way of thinking, it’s vital that we hang on to all the colorful and descriptive sayings that have passed down over time; they’re a part of our history.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Now that phrase we use around here still 🙂

  • Reply
    Patricia Small
    January 15, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    One phase I remember my aunts saying was “Well, I hope me never”. A funny memory cause I can hear the accent they used!

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    I think I said here awhile back here while back !
    If y’all really want to stir the pot read Mr. Webster’s definition of while and awhile. I’m just glad I know what it means because we say it all the time as the song says (where I come from).

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    I grew up in northwestern South Carolina (Pickens County). Using ‘here while back’ and ‘a while back’ were common expressions. I think I still use them occasionally even though I now live in Midwest USA. I’ve often wondered how ‘I swan’ became a term. I swan’ was my dad’s version of semi-swearing or expression of surprise, amazement, or sometimes frustration. My dad was born in 1917. I believe I remember my school teacher grandmother using these terms too. (She was born in late 1800’s). When I moved to Ohio, and worked as an RN, my language sometimes was cause for further explanation.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    I’ve heard “Here awhile back” or ‘”a while back” (almost always including the “a”) but also “a ways back” (which could be location or time such as ‘”a ways back down the road” or “a ways back when you were a young’un. . . .”) ( I agree with the reader who said adding “here” implies a more recent occurrence._ These phrases are common and current for me whether in South Texas, Central Texas, or Kansas. Phrases mentioned in the comments such as “pon my honor” (said “upon my honor”in these parts) and “I swan” are also current and common with my kith and kin.
    Does anyone know the origin of “I swan”? I’ve always imagined it to be the shortened version of “I swear on my granny’s grave -or whatever relative who would most impress the listener with the sincerity of one’s “swearing” – with “swear on” being blurred to “sw’on” which a southern accent drew out and softened the “o” to “ah” yielding “swan” and the rest of the phrase simply being omitted. It could be the “nicening” of a swear in the way we might say “H – E – double fiddlesticks” or even just “fiddlesticks” instead of the more “crude” “Oh, Hell”.
    Language is fascinating – and as appealing as some of our reasoning may be – it may have “nothing to do with the price of cotton”.

  • Reply
    Jeanette Queen
    January 15, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Growing up in the mountains of NC, I have heard my family say that all the time, when they
    would be talking about something, and say it often myself as well. I think you grow up hearing
    sayings, and they just come naturally to you saying them, all your life. I love my family heritage,
    sayings, music……I am blessed.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 15, 2020 at 11:20 am

    Mama, when she was amazed or surprised, would say “Oh Fliterdick”.

    Matt and Tipper saw a picture of Mama and Daddy one time when they was over here. Matt didn’t say anything, but Tipper commented a lot, since I was just getting over the Flu. They both liked my little dog, Whisky. …Ken

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 11:01 am

    It is so common that it just it is a part of me and my world.☺

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 10:34 am

    This was almost daily usage at our house growing up. I can’t say I’ve ever used it though. Thanks for reminder.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 10:14 am

    “A while back” is when most things happened in my life, since I often can’t remember exactly when something happened!

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    January 15, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Tipper, of course both “here awhile back” and “awhile back “ are both common usage for me here in far east Tn. I said both several times to myself and I believe in my understanding and use , the addition of “here” lends a connotation of something more recent.That is only a personal thought.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 9:05 am

    A few of the comments has got me wondering if I add the a when I say the phrase. I have silently practiced saying it both ways in the last few minutes and I have decided it sounds ‘correct’ to leave the a out. All I know is that saying will be swirling around in my head all day.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 15, 2020 at 8:57 am

    I use here awhile back all the time. I don’t even notice these sayings. They just come natural.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    January 15, 2020 at 8:43 am

    I mulled it over and realize I say it fairly often.

  • Reply
    Yvette Ridenour
    January 15, 2020 at 8:41 am

    I grew up hearing my Granny say “Here while back” all the time. Her mother, my great-grandmother, used to say, “Well, I swan,” and “Pon my honor.” So many wonderful memories come back when I read your blog! Thanks for your wonderful work.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 8:37 am

    I say a while back all the time. I’m not from Appalachia, but I wonder if some of these expressions are common to the South in general.

    • Reply
      January 15, 2020 at 8:39 am

      Cynthia-I agree!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 15, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Oh yes, as I heard growing up “common as an old shoe”. Like others though, I think we nearly always had the “a” in. I daresay it is one of those things that when I hear it I do not really notice whether with or without the “a”. If I were to be asked right afterwards I doubt if I could say for sure. I find that phenomenon interesting all by itself. I’m not sure what it is saying but I’m pretty sure it is something worth knowing. Hope I’m making sense to you all.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 15, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Yep. Except I’ve always heard and said, “Here awhile back.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 15, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Of course I know that expression. I have heard it and still hear it and use it. I think it’s in our DNA, it’s so common!

    • Reply
      Rosamary Christiansen
      January 15, 2020 at 10:00 am

      I agree 100% that expressions are in our DNA. My folks were from West Virginia but I was born and raised in Reno,Nv. I still use their expressions and how words are pronounced. Reading Tipper’s Blind Pig and Acorn is always a welcome refresher course for me.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    January 15, 2020 at 8:10 am

    We didn’t use the “here”, but just said “awhile back”.

  • Reply
    Betty Jo Eason Benedict
    January 15, 2020 at 7:24 am

    It just rolls off the tip of my tongue soe easily I just never notice it!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 15, 2020 at 7:23 am

    I dont say “here while back” but have always just said “a while back” without the here in front of it.

  • Reply
    William P Dotson
    January 15, 2020 at 7:04 am

    I say it all the time.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 6:40 am

    An expression so familiar that I am assured it is remembered from my recent past. As I have lost several older family members in past few years, this may explain why I cannot remember when I stopped hearing that expression. Just another post that takes me back to a wonderful time when we spoke our own language. and lived our days in a simple unpretentious way. Something else I heard so much in the past is when one had sons they automatically substituted just the word son for their name. Rarely did they use their name when speaking to them. It was always like, “Son, go get me that Phillips.” I don’t remember when I last heard that.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    January 15, 2020 at 6:14 am

    Similar, Here a while back I heard since childhood. Noy without the a though

    • Reply
      January 15, 2020 at 8:27 am

      A phrase that comes from my youth is “well i’ll swanny”; kind of “I’m amazed” etc.

  • Reply
    Joe Chumlea
    January 15, 2020 at 6:10 am

    I have heard ,and used “here a while back ” as long as I can remember.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2020 at 5:16 am

    That phrase I guess is one of the top phrases used more than any around here, so much until you just don’t notice it.

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