I Beg Your Pardon

a boy riding his bike in the garden

A couple of weeks ago when I was teaching at John C. Campbell Folk School I took my class on a field trip to visit Farmer Tim, one of my neighbors.

As we walked along his big garden he told us about the various seeds that had been handed down through the generations of his family and pointed out what plants were doing good, what plants were still coming on, and what plants were just about done with for the year.

One of my students asked Tim a question that he didn’t hear and he said “I beg your pardon?”

I’ve probably heard Tim say the phrase before, but somehow it stood out to me that day in his lush garden. Tim has an accent that’s thicker than mine and uses a lot of the old words and phrases that are found in the rich colorful Appalachian language.

After we left Tim’s place we went to Brasstown to the Wednesday tailgate market and talked with another friend of mine Carolyn.

The exact same thing happened with Carolyn: someone asked her a question she didn’t hear and she replied “I beg your pardon.” (Here’s a video interview I did with Carolyn and her husband David.)

Carolyn was born and raised in the Hayesville section of Clay County and has lived in Brasstown for many years. She also uses a lot of the old phrases and words from our Appalachian language.

My ears once again perked up when I heard Carolyn say the same phrase Tim had used.

Several days later I was looking for something in Jean Boone Benefield’s book “Mountain Born – A Recollection of Life and Language in Western North Carolina.”

In the back of the book there’s a section called “Civilities” and there was the phrase that had pricked my mind:

I beg your pardon ~ It seems hardly worth an entry, but in the past this whole phrase was used, not just a curt “pardon,” or “sorry,” as one hears nowadays.

I’d love to tell Ms. Benefield that the phrase “I beg your pardon” is still alive and well in Brasstown.


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  • Reply
    Don Byers
    July 16, 2021 at 7:35 am

    I still use this expression sometimes….means same thing as “Say whut?”

    • Reply
      Guerry McConnell
      August 4, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      I still use “beg pardon’, or ‘pardon’ a lot. Usually when I say “I beg your pardon”, it is with an attitude, when I am questioning the truth of a statement. (i.e. I caught the biggest small mouth bass ever caught in Cherokee Lake!
      “I beg your pardon! I caught bigger!”)

  • Reply
    July 15, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    I grew up hearing the phrase also, and miss it! I still say pardon me in grocery store, or pardon? if I’m unsure of what was said. But I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it spoken to me. And when I use it, I’m more apt to get a questioned look in response, or my least favorite response of all time, “No problem” after Ive said Thank You, or whatever. I grew up hearing “Much obliged” in the context of a “Thank You” and “You are most welcome!” I love your blog Tipper and applaud you for tuning your ear to the the finer points of language arts. The worst thing Granny ever uttered was to whisper that something was “common”, a concept, to her, that could explain about any number of serious missteps. Eww Law, it’s changed. And I need a translator most days! I miss all these the courtesies- gentlemen making extra effort to open doors for ladies, tipping their hats, and the practice of waving to strangers while driving. We don’t see those things so often now, but they still makes us smile.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    Common civility and common sense are no longer common. If they were common a large majority of us would practice them. What we once had was common and is now UN-common sense and UN-common civility.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    July 15, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    I use “I beg your pardon” when I don’t clearly understand what someone said. I guess I could say “could you repeat that please” but I beg your pardon sounds more like what someone from Flat Creek would say.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    I use it all the time, especially when I taught school, and some of my students could be rude.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    I have used that phrase but more apt to say pardon me. The young people say my bad.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    July 15, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    I do say “pardon?” all the time. I am going to start to be more conscientious about saying the whole phrase from now on. “ I beg your pardon” does sound so much more polite. And I want to do my part in keeping the old ways and old sayings alive for the next generation. Well, I just got tested on my claim that I will be saying the whole phrase instead of just “pardon” from hereon. Someone just came in the room and asked me a question as I was engrossed in writing this comment – and what did I say?? You guessed it!! I already failed before even a few minutes had passed! So I will rephrase my promise to myself – I will retrain myself to say the whole phrase from now on. It may take a little bit of time to make it a habit, but it is my desire to be successful. I honestly do think the old sayings are more heartfelt when spoken. When you politely ask someone to repeat something you missed, it shows you are interested in a caring way of the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing.

    Donna : )

  • Reply
    July 15, 2021 at 10:35 am

    I still use those words but you do not hear them where I live now. They say excuse me.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 15, 2021 at 10:33 am

    I used to hear “I beg your pardon” all the time. I say “excuse me” or “pardon me”. It’s a common trait in Appalachia (and probably many other rural areas) to shift the blame, in an unclear situation, to yourself. Like when you are in an aisle in a grocery store. Someone is just standing there staring at the shelf and you need to get by them. I say “pardon me” or “excuse me” when rightfully it should be “well, excuse you!” or “pardon you!”. Or “can’t you go read somewhere else, this ain’t no libery!”

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    July 15, 2021 at 9:30 am

    That phrase is an old song title too. I forget the performer.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 15, 2021 at 10:19 am

      “Rose Garden”
      Lynn Anderson and George Jones

    • Reply
      July 16, 2021 at 6:05 am

      …I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (Lynn Anderson). Old song? Why it seems like just yesterday, sigh

  • Reply
    Wanda Ellen Starcher
    July 15, 2021 at 9:02 am

    I’ve more often heard it the way Mrs. Price referred to it, as a statement of disbelief or confusion. It is a sad state of affairs that our society is losing those values.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    July 15, 2021 at 8:54 am

    I think I beg your pardon is a wonderful and eloquent way to apologize. It’s still used in my neck of the woods. I tried to watch the video, but of course after 2 minutes, YOU Tube ran a 5 minute commercial and then asked if I wanted to REPORT or NARC on the video… don’t ask why FREE you tube censors AND commercializes. I say they’re a money making enterprise and not much else. Have a good day all and if the truth offends, I do beg your pardon, but truth hurts…

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    July 15, 2021 at 8:43 am

    Besides the full phrase, “I beg your pardon,” I’ve heard and used two shortened versions: “Beg pardon?” and just “Pardon?”
    The four-word phrase can have at least two meanings: “Please excuse my mistake” and, as Tipper described, “Please repeat.” I love language. The Germans say “Bitte?” (pronounced BIT’tuh) for both “Please repeat” and “Thank you.” No extra charge for that.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 15, 2021 at 8:36 am

    I hope not but maybe the reason we notice civility more now is that there is less of it? We live, it seems, in an increasingly uncivil society. The incivility shows up in many different ways. One thing that results though is that what was once called ‘common courtesy’ stands out as a light in a dark place.

    I’m glad the book chapter was called “Civilities”. A little pondering on that word goes a long ways, from the school ‘civics’ we once had to the (un)civil discourse. Too many people too full of themselves is what I think much of the problem is.

    Off my soapbox now.

    Tipper, is “whickerbill” a word in your neck of the woods?

    • Reply
      July 19, 2021 at 2:58 pm

      Ron-I am not familiar with the word whickerbill but it sure is a good one!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    July 15, 2021 at 7:49 am

    Sadly, civilities are all too often lacking in today’s society.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 15, 2021 at 7:31 am

    Yes, I’ve heard Tim use that expression, it’s one of those I can say I’ve heard all my life. To tell you the truth I don’t even notice when someone says it because it is just common talk.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    July 15, 2021 at 6:54 am

    We use it the ways mentioned. We also use it when we have heard someone perfectly well but cannot believe our ears that they could have said what they said. It’s kind of like “Bless your heart.” The way you say it can give it a whole lot of different meanings.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 15, 2021 at 6:32 am

    I haven’t heard thst phrase is a long long time. I remember my mother teling us to say for many reasons. When we coughed or sneezed, when we needed to get past someone, and of coursr when we didn’t hear them. Not the abrupt what? We get today. Excuse me I still hear.

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    July 15, 2021 at 6:09 am

    I was raised in Oklahoma and now live in Colorado. I was taught in grammar school to use that phrase. I still use it today at 70 years old.

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