Appalachia Sayings from Appalachia

Mean As A Striped Snake

mean as a striped snake

The other day I ran into an old friend.  After catching up with each other a bit he said “Well where in the world have my girls been? I haven’t seen them around this year. They’re still mean as striped snakes ain’t they?”

I told him the girls stayed pretty busy these days so they were’t around as much. I also assured him they were still mean as striped snakes.

Truthfully, the girls aren’t mean at all. They are slightly mischievous and tough as a pine knot when it comes to taking care of each other or anyone they care about for that matter.

The phrase mean as a striped snake is one I’ve heard my whole life. In most instances the phrase is said in a teasing manner about a person who is mischievous but not truly evil spirited.



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  • Reply
    Aaron Scott
    January 4, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    I just happened to be looking for this phrase today, and I was led to your site.

    When my people–in southeast Tennessee–used that phrase, it was not meant humorously, but was perhaps meant to be a bit softer than what they could have said. For instance, “There she was, as mean as a striped snake to her children, trying to tell me how to raise mine!”

    That was not an actual quote, but it could have been something my grandmother might have said.

    It typically did not meant someone was evil, but that they were just well over the top in some of their behaviors.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 20, 2017 at 12:07 am

    Tipper, I was just thinking about how often I hear this word used by my family. If a person is really mean (like evil) they say “mean as a snake.” If they are talking about someone just a little mischievous then they are “mean as a striped snake” or “mean as a striped back snake.” I don’t know how the difference between the sayings ever developed, but I know when I hear them say one or the other – I know what they mean.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Those striped snakes must be ribbon snakes. Folks afraid of snakes will go frantic if they run into one but those of us who know better know they are good “folks” to have around. If the stripes go length-wise, is that a pretty good rule for a “friendly” snake? Guess I’ll “search” that. . .

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve never heard that. Maybe that’s because I grew up where there were rattlesnakes, copperheads,
    coral snakes, and water moccasins, so we didn’t joke about snakes. How is it pronounced? Is it
    stri’-pid? Or all one syllable?

  • Reply
    eva m. wike
    August 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    YOUR reference was a common description in the Cove! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 19, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I was declared “mean as a striped snake” as a child and have striven to maintain that image throughout my entire life. I am not sure what a striped snake is exactly but if your two lovelies are examples then I consider myself in good company!
    And by the way, the word striped is two syllables in my corner of the world. Pronounced /strī-pid/
    Not striped like the lines on a highway or the colors on a fish. “ITS STRI-PID, STEW-PID”

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I have heard that ol’ expression many times, some of the times it was used to describe me. Of all things. It is usually used around here as a lighter reference to small misbehaviors and just ” messing around”.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I’ve been falsely accused of being meaner than a striped snake on many occasions. Sometimes more than once a day. I’m just a bit mischievous. I pull innocent pranks that do no harm. A mean person causes harm.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 10:32 am

    I’ve heard that phrase all my life too, but I think it is said a conversation piece only. The Deer Hunter once told me he thought he had the only girls in the country that could get a deer and field dress him and bring him home. Once I got to know Chitter and Chatter, they’re gentle as grass. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 9:27 am

    We always just said mean as a snake. Guess we didn’t know striped ones were the worst. However, we did make distinctions with our cute metaphor in that we said ” cute as a speckled pup”. Another one was “fast as a striped rear end ape”. Animals with stripes must have unique qualities.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I’ve heard that phrase all my life as well. Then there’s the one Mom used to describe one of her children who was a bit sassy or cranky. She would say, “She’s had the devil in her ever since she got up today.” Or, she’s a pure devil today.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 19, 2017 at 9:14 am

    I think the striped snake referred to is the garter snake. They are not meek, unlike the green snake.
    I heard that expression all my life to. For some part of the time it fit me but when I think back on it I am heartily ashamed.
    As for the girls, nobody with their heritage could truly be mean as striped snakes. But I could see tough as a pine knot. Lord love’em, it can be a tough old world but I hope its striped snake meaness never reaches them.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    August 19, 2017 at 9:04 am

    I’ve always heard and said “mean as a snake.” Like you say, Tipper, it doesn’t mean evil. We always used it towards a grouchy person. One of my favorites for a mischievous person is “So and so is as ornery as cat bones.” That one tickles me every time.
    Hope you are feeling better.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Yep, now if the phrase ” meaner than a junk-yard dog” is used that’s a whole new territory. Kinda like Leroy Brown, in the song that Jim Croce sung about.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 19, 2017 at 7:28 am

    I’ve heard that on all my life too and I’ve even been called mean as a striped snake, pronounced stripe ed. I’ve only heard it used in a loving and kidding way never derogatory. Your girls certainly fit in the loving kidding category but they do have there moments when crossed!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 19, 2017 at 6:50 am

    “Mean as a striped snake!” Naaaa, I don’t think so. Maybe mischievous but I don’t think they have a mean streak in their stripes at all.
    Most garter striped snakes don’t hang around long enough to think of getting an attitude. Most I have seen move away so fast, zipping thru the grass and into it’s hidey place, before you realize you’ve startled it! Interrupting it’s breakfast search it will quickly decide to move on to quieter grounds!
    I think the yellow striped ones look mean and are very fast.
    I have sat in my living room and watched a little green garter snake, move through the grass, raise up its small head, observe the surrounding grass and move on along only to do the same thing several times before disappearing. I have caught many a green one through the years to show the kids or friends….Only one person didn’t appreciate me showing the snake to her. She and her husband ran and screamed as if the little green snake was the “devil” himself come to life! Bless her little heart…they kill with pesticides and poisons everything…and now wonders why she don’t have garden produce or butterflies and bees….
    Thanks Tipper,

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