Appalachian Dialect

Is Your Nose Clean?

Folklore about noses

“Tipper where did all those old sayings come about? England or Ireland or from the American natives, the Indians? I think some were hatched by the Appalachian mountain people on their very own. Folklore to make people laugh has been around for a long time. When someone knocks at your door, holler come in if your nose is clean.”

~Mary Lou McKillip February 2015




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  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    May 11, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Keep your nose clean? I still use this one occasionally, but for our family here in East Tennessee it means “stay out of trouble.”

  • Reply
    Bob Kalbaugh
    April 12, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Come on in if your nose is clean is an expression that my Gram would often use when neighbor friends would come over to visit. She said it related to nosey neighbors who like to spread their dirty gossip. In other words, keep your nose clean and don’t be sniffin’ around in other folks’ business. The irony of course is that she and her friends didn’t seem to mind a bit of gossip!

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    October 10, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I remember hearing that saying when I was growing up in the North. Up there it rather loosely meant – if you were honest and weren’t trying to hide something is the best way I can explain it.
    Does it mean the same thing in Appalachia, or something different?
    God bless.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    My Dad grew up in Arkansas and Oklahoma and his folks had a sawmill. He knew so much about trees and lumber. He could look at a load of lumber and tell you how many boards one could get from those logs. He actually became an estimator/cost engineer at Cape Kennedy. We needed a big pine tree cut down in our yard and he could look at it and tell us where he would nick & chop it and exactly where it would fall. I thought it was surely gonna fall on the house, but it really fell exactly where he said!
    Loved the Cherokee saying about the rainbow. When I see one it is like a hug from God.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Those are two beautiful girls! I
    love Chatter’s smile and the one
    behind is probably talking a mile
    a minute.
    Ethelene’s comment reminded me of
    my all time favorite group…the
    Seekers, from Australia. Judith
    Durham, the lead singer, talks
    about “times, they are a changing”. Nice post…Ken

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    October 9, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Things that come to mind: “Now the Fat’s in the fire,” “Don’t wear your welcome out,” “Keep your skilet t good & greasy”He has no backbone,” “Hold your head up, be somebody,” He is so refined” “Don’t get above your raisin. Thanks, Chuck

  • Reply
    Beth Taylor
    October 9, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    My great grandmother always said her mom would send them to the barn to clean the stalls when her and her brother were in trouble and she says keep your nose clean from the Muck in the stalls while you’re in there meaning don’t get into anymore trouble

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 9, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    We were told, “keep your nose clean”–stay out of trouble.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 9, 2015 at 11:59 am

    My mother often said “come on in if your nose is clean” or “it’s open, come on in” if she knew who was at the door. She went to the door if she didn’t. 99% of the time we knew somebody was coming and who it was long before they got there. The dogs would tell us.
    My uncle Wayne was a master carpenter. It’s all he did, almost all his life. I worked for him for a long time but never heard him say “measure twice and cut once.” On the rare occasion he cut something too wrong, he would lay it to the side and say, “It’ll fit somewhere.” and it would.
    Even more rarely, when Wayne couldn’t seem to get a project to come together no matter how hard he tried he would say “it’s good enough for a town this size” or “well, I can’t see it from my house.” But, he always came back to it until it was perfect.
    Uncle Wayne built a house up near the Lost Bridge. He used recycled doors, cut in half, from an old hotel in Florida as wainscoting throughout the house. He should have called it Waynescoting.
    When Uncle Wayne got too old to be clamoring around on rooftops he bought a sawmill and started sawing lumber. He was in his 80’s then.
    PS: Our dogs couldn’t tell us who was coming just that it was somebody. Sometimes, if it was a stranger, the dogs wouldn’t let them out of their vehicle till one of us came to rescue them. Have you ever heard the old saying “dogs are better than door locks?” Me neither!

  • Reply
    October 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

    That is such a silly saying, but it sure was spoken many times when I was growing up. I still say it to my family and friends. I wonder if the old saying meant that if your nose is running you must be sick, so you are not welcome to come in.

  • Reply
    Pamela Moore
    October 9, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I’ve heard “keep your nose clean” to mean stay out of trouble.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 9, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Idioms have been around since there was language. There are German, Irish, Scot, England and just wise old idioms I’ve heard through the years. Of course, the Appalachian made up ones are my very favorite, and I’m not sure all were made up just passed down and morphed to the mountain use. It’s a good way to learn the language and pass on a piece of wise advice without a lot of teachin’! One tends to remember idioms. For instance a spend thrift child or one like me asking for money for gum or candy at the grocery store, (didn’t do it often mind you)…My Mom would say…”A penny saved is a penny earned”!
    If I had known this sayin’ back then I would have answered.
    “Shucks Mom, a piece of
    bubble gum in the hand is worth more than two on the shelf! Ha
    I think that fits…ha
    Love this post today!
    Thanks to all,
    I come from a carpenter Dad as well, and “measure twice and cut once” was his motto…Also, I have seen him check boards holding them up to his eye saying…”A warped board will never lay straight!”
    I have also heard him say about a mischievous child…I think he/she is warped!

  • Reply
    October 9, 2015 at 8:53 am

    That’s another unique one! I will have to remember that one and use it when my neighbor comes to visit. I have to admit, I think it is a ‘hoot!’ I can have fun with it. No disrespect meant. Thanks! Love the girls’ picture!

  • Reply
    Steve in tn
    October 9, 2015 at 8:51 am

    These old sayings say a lot about our heritage and the wisdom that is found in surprising places. More please.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 9, 2015 at 8:13 am

    “The welcome mat is always out,” is another from those days of being safe when your doors were left unlocked and people were welcomed into your home.
    Sad to think that “Times have changed,” or “Times–they are a-changing!” And they have changed and are changing. But many of the old tried-and-true ways are still practiced by folks who were “brought up” on them.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 9, 2015 at 7:33 am

    I always thought the clean nose referred to not being in any kind of trouble. If the police are looking for someone you don’t want to let that person in because the police ( or whoever s angry at the person) would follow.
    There is a logic to some of these sayings if you think about it. Don’t let the cold air (pneumonia hole) in.
    To make something from a board you have to have some intelligence.
    There is logical thinking behind many of our sayings.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 9, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Don’t remember hearing come in if your nose is clean. I do remember hearing keep your nose clean as in stay out of trouble. Which would fit with the come in if you aren’t trouble. Like it. Love the be smarter than the board.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2015 at 6:29 am

    PinnacleCreek-thank you for the comment!  We still mull it over around here and I still hear measure twice and cut once too : ) Never heard the one about being smarter than the board but I like it! 

  • Reply
    October 9, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Mountain people have always had such a genuine sense of humor. So much wisdom and humor is packed into our everyday lives. I had never heard that particular saying.
    I think back to the safe times when my Dad would bellow out, “Come on in.” This would be in response to a knock without any particular idea of who was knocking. Many times when we children left the door ajar on a cold Winter day, he would remind us to, “shut that Pneumonia hole.”
    Many of these expressions may have just been hatched by him, and they were continued because they were funny. I have, however, seen many words and expressions in your posts that I had previously thought were just family expressions.
    As a carpenter Dad would remind us to, “measure twice and cut once.” I was never certain about the origin of another one, and I thought it was possibly his original. We would contemplate how to solve a problem related to some earth shaking event, and were told “mull it over.” If we thought we could not solve then he would help us solve and say, “You have to be smarter than the board.” Our family still tackles problems in the down to earth way taught by a carpenter Dad.

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