Appalachian Dialect

Missing Home and Being Backwards

Tipper in blue dress


Folks enjoyed my reading of “Mountain Path” by Harriet Simpson Arnow so much that they begged for me to read another book.

Last week I started “Dorie Woman of the Mountains” by Florence Cope Bush.

As I worked on the second reading of Dorie I jotted down things that jumped out at me. One of the things was when Dorie’s parents sent her to Waynesville, NC to live with her grandparents and attend school.

Dorie didn’t make it very long she was too homesick for her family to do anything but cry. In fact she barely spoke to anyone even when they were trying to console her.

We would say Dorie was being backward when she refused to talk. In Appalachia backwards means—shy, reserved, bashful, slightly strange, or all of the above! Here’s the definition from my favorite dictionary.

adjective Reserved, shy, bashful.
1862 (in 1999 Davis Civil War Letters) 49 if that should be the result after a thorough acquaintance, I shall not be backward in making it known to you. 1969 GSMNP-38:95 they’d tell you right at once what they believed. They wasn’t a bit backward about talking. 1991 Beverley Old Mt Idiom 146 Eat all you want. Don’t be backward none. 1999 Montgomery File A lot of mountain people are kind of backward, but I don’t care to talk to nobody (40-year-old woman, Del Rio TN).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

I was so backward when I was a child that when folks tried to talk to me I’d hide behind Pap or Granny and if they weren’t handy I’d just stare without uttering a word. And like Dorie I didn’t like being away from my family. It made me sad and lonesome.

My older brother Steve had a friend who was elected choir leader at his church, even though he wasn’t even in high school yet. The friend begged Granny to come see him lead the choir. I don’t remember why, but only Granny and I visited Moccasin Creek Baptist Church to please him.

The church was so small that the Sunday School classes were mostly just divided up among the pews. The children were sent to the far right corner in the front and although I would have rather stayed with Granny and the other women I was cajoled into going along with the younger brother of Steve’s friend.

The Sunday school teacher said we were going to pray and she wanted each of us to name something to pray about. All around the circle of kids different items were offered up for prayer. Everything from sick family members to people in financial need was mentioned. Until it was my turn.

The teacher encouraged me to say something, but I only looked at her. She kept trying to pry something out of me until finally the younger son of the family told her “Don’t worry none, she don’t talk to nobody.”

My backward nature has greatly improved since that day. Who would have thought that small girl with big black eyes who wouldn’t talk to nobody would someday talk to thousands of people each week via video.

Last night’s video: Dorie Woman of the Mountains 2.


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  • Reply
    February 8, 2022 at 11:48 am

    I have been watching the youtube videos on the mountain dialects and loving it. My Dad’s family lived in Virginia in the mid-1700s but went to N Carolina after the Revolutionary War. Eventually, they wound up in Mississippi by 1840. They got homesteads and were cotton farmers. A lot of the words and sayings you talk about are used in Mississippi. My Grandmother would say, “I had an idear when I got up today sumpin was off.” I guess the trip through NC stayed with them. All the people in Walthall County MS use most of the word and phrases you list and the accent is not far off.

  • Reply
    Cindy Jacobs
    February 6, 2022 at 10:02 am

    I was so backwards and shy when I was a kid. Whenever anyone came to the house for a visit that I didn’t know well, I’d cry and run into the closet when they were introduced to me. I absolutely hated meeting new people at church, never wanted to leave my mother’s skirt-tails. I can even remember wishing I could sink into the carpet or turn invisible rather than have to speak to anyone new!
    As I got a little older, I loved to sing, and my music teacher at school tried for three years to get me to sing a solo. Finally, in fifth grade, she somehow got me to agree to sing Amazing Grace for the old folks at a nursing home, but when the day came, I was so scared, I was terrified. I ended up forgetting all the words that I knew like the back of my hand before, and just stood there crying through the whole piece! It was awful. Thankfully, my music teacher wouldn’t let me quit, and two years later, I sang a solo in church, before nearly 800 people…and this time, I didn’t forget the words and only cried after I was done.
    Being shy and backward is no picnic in a world that expects everyone to perform with ease, and be gregarious and graceful in social settings, but even though it’s rough being different, I’ve learned that shy people like me often have a different perspective on things that allows us to see or think things that others might miss, and that it’s okay to be a little “different”.

  • Reply
    Patti Brockwell
    February 6, 2022 at 12:45 am

    Bless your little shy heart. I was the same way and still can be. But I think we quiet ones actually listen the best and learn the most—so when and if we do talk, look out! BTW, I don’t find it strange that you can talk and teach through video—it’s probably the one-on-one or “party” type group atmospheres that are the hardest. That’s the way it is for me. I truly do not understand “chit-chat” with strangers and I actually marvel when I hear it done while in line at check-outs or in elevators, etc. Blows my mind! Yet, I can easily teach a class or address a group while on a stage. Anyway, I’m happy that you have found an outlet for all the words that little girl had to say! It’s a benefit for you and us!

  • Reply
    Cyn Hanrahan
    February 5, 2022 at 1:56 pm

    I listen to you read at bedtime. Sometimes it’s a struggle to stay awake if I’ve stayed up too late, but I always do. I wanted to cry along with little Dorie last night about her homesickness at school. I did the same thing, and my parents lived less than a mile from the school. Even after the crying stopped, I couldn’t speak. It wasn’t wouldn’t, it was couldn’t, and when forced to I’d mumble and stutter. My family moved to the big city right before 3rd grade and all that came back, I missed my grandmother and cousins so much. That picture of little girl Tipper looks like she’s about three steps away from crying. Just precious, and such a pretty child! You haven’t changed much on the outside.

    • Reply
      Kelly Shook
      February 12, 2022 at 4:44 pm

      We enjoy listening to the new book, but I keep waiting on Samantha T. to show up…

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    The only things you hear when you are talking is stuff you already knew. In order to learn something new you have to listen while others talk. Most of the time you don’t learn much even then.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 12:00 pm

    I was so backward in high school that I would take a F on book reports instead of giving it in front of the class. The army took part of that backwardness out of me but still hated to get up in front of a group for any reason. After I was saved I was to eat after meeting dinner at papaws and I knew at some point he would ask me to turn thanks. I really dreaded it. He did ask and I gave the blessing over the food with the Lord’s help. Not so backward now speaking and testifying in church.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 11:55 am

    Nice photo. Looks like you were a serious child with a lot going on in your mind. It seems you finally figured out whats important and have found your calling.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 11:35 am

    I was the opposite, Tipper, and it kept me in trouble. They say I took after my Mother’s side of the family, and they were chatterboxes. My sis was just the opposite, and the term they used for her was common to our part of Appalachia. They would say, “You hardly know she is around.” As time went on we both changed, and in some ways she is more outgoing than I am. We do change, and in Appalachia there are some unique ways to describe our different personalities. This was often referred to as our “turn.” My baby sister was just always called a tomboy, but later in her life only wore dresses and behaved like a proper young lady. We usually would reserve backward for somebody who steered clear of others at gatherings. Your quiet demeanor and being pretty would have made you a favorite in our extended families. There were so many children in everybody’s way that they just naturally appreciated a quiet child. Rambunctious was often a description for the ones who were a “handful.” Now they diagnose the ones who are a “handful” sometimes with ADHD. Glad they didn’t have that when I was growing up or a bunch of us would have been in real trouble.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      February 5, 2022 at 7:25 pm

      A major cause of problem kids is poor parenting. Our role as parents is to teach our children how to behave as an adult. Instead most parents send their kids to day care and to school to be taught what should be rightly be learned at home. When their children get home they are turned over to the internet, tv or a video game for their next round of life lessons. Then when their kids get in trouble the parents scratch their heads and wonder “What did I do wrong?” They didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t do anything! That’s what’s wrong!

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    February 5, 2022 at 11:30 am

    I just ordered the book and look forward to reading it. Having lived away from “home” most of my adult life, I definitely know what it’s like to be homesick.

  • Reply
    Jane ODell
    February 5, 2022 at 11:06 am

    I’m so glad you do talk to us. You are a jewel for sure!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 5, 2022 at 11:03 am

    I too have “chinquapin eyes” but mine look like the burr before it opens!

    • Reply
      Sheila Ashley
      February 5, 2022 at 3:52 pm

      I was a “backward” child even to the second grade of school. One day I was crying to go home and my teacher told me if I didn’t stop crying I would be put back in first grade. Well that worked because the last thing I wanted was another year added to this misery called school!

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    February 5, 2022 at 10:51 am

    Your picture is so sweet. My mother was a talker so my sister and I were shy and quiet. Someone told me one time that people who are quiet are the best listeners! I still to this day at 71 years old have a hard time feeling comfortable when talking with people. Love the Dorie book! Thank you for reading to us. You and your family are a blessing to me. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 10:01 am

    What a calling you have, Tipper. Yes, indeed. Who would’ve imagined the precious little backward Tipper in the grade school picture to PROVIDE SMILES AND COMFORT to thousands every week. (And every day through past posts.) I AM SO STINKIN’ PROUD OF YOU.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Tipper, I haven’t watched/listened to the new book reading video yet. I’m way behind on a lot of YouTube videos and I don’t want to be rushed when I listen to the new book read you just started. It will be fun to set down, relax and play them one after another to get caught up on the book.
    It’s funny the things we have in common. I use to be very shy as a child too. I’d hid behind my mom or dad too when people tried to talk to me. One time I had to stay a week with my Aunt Betty when I was little and cried almost the entire week, day and night. She and my cousins tried everything to get me to stop crying. She was at her wits ends when she finally told me if I didn’t stop crying she would give me something to cry about with a switch. I stopped crying because I knew she meant it and I didn’t like getting switched. As I grew I only talked when spoken to unless it was with family or close friends. Now days my hubby tells me I need to learn to shut up…lol…oh well, I’m still learning to balance my new found gift of gab.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    February 5, 2022 at 9:36 am

    Some might say, “It is what it is.” Others would say, “It is what you make it.” I think you fit both.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Yeah, it is hard to believe that little backward girl grew up to be Tipper! When I was young, kids were known as backward or jabber-jaws with no in-betweens.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 5, 2022 at 9:23 am

    I wasn’t completely tongue-tied as a kid but not far from it. To this day I do not draw attention to myself. And in a crowd I’ll be over on the fringe. But I have learned that folks can act outside their usual nature if need be. They won’t like it but they can. And some discover unknown talents.

    Your picture is very good. Your expression kinda says you are shy. It seems to me to be a “wait and see” look. Or it could be an “I’m not sure how I feel about this” look. Anyway, it’s precious. I don’t think I have ever seen just that hair color. I cannot give it a name. Maybe there isn’t one.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      February 5, 2022 at 10:32 am

      My sister Rhoda’s hair was that color when she was younger. I call it chestnut.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 5, 2022 at 9:18 am

    Tipper, I was much the same as a child–very timid & silent. No one today would believe it, though, as I talk to nearly everyone–even in the checkout line!

    I guess that’s why I am so familiar with “backwards”.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    February 5, 2022 at 8:42 am

    I was like that too at that age but Mamma worked part-time at a store in town and had taught school in our rural county so we were always meeting people and I guess that’s how I grew out of it. But I remember hiding behind her. Now I’ll talk to almost anybody.
    I am enjoying your reading Dorie as much as I did Mountain Path even though I’ve read that book. It was my late sister-in-law’s favorite because it reminded her of her family stories of her ancestors growing up in pre-park days in the Smokies area.
    Thanks again for sharing your gifts.
    I picked a few jonquil buds a couple days ago and put in water in a south window and one has opened. This sunshine this morning is a welcome sight and spring seems just around the corner here in Middle Tn.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    February 5, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Tipper that is a good picture of you, thank you for sharing it with your readers. I know what the term being backwards means. I have heard it all my life to describe someone who is very shy. I also had my time of being backwards when I was a child. One thing that made me backwards was frequently when someone would visit our house I would hide behind a large upright player piano we had, at least until my sister would tell people where I was! Like you, it is hard for me to believe I was ever like that. People who know me today would have a hard time believing how shy I was when I was a child. Thank you for sharing your life with your readers, it makes everyone feel closer to you. Dennis Morgan

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 5, 2022 at 7:55 am

    Tipper–I’ll offer an emendation as well as a comment. Those weren’t big black eyes; they were shining chinquapin eyes.

    In many ways I was backward, and certainly a naif, when I went off to college at the age of eighteen. For the first semester I was so homesick all I could think about was getting back to the Smokies. I’d never seen the ocean, never spent any time away from home except on camping trips or in the homes of friends, eaten maybe a half dozen “sit down” restaurant meals, been in less than a handful of states, never been on an airplane, etc. In some ways I was typical of mountain lads of that era but I don’t think many knew my degree of homesickness. I got over it and have been fortunate enough to travel widely and see much of the world, and I’d like to think I’m moderately outgoing.

    Still, if one reflects, whether they are backward or not, there’s something about growing up in the ancient hills and hollows of Appalachia that always calls those raised in them back home. They ever remain the home of the heart.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    February 5, 2022 at 7:50 am

    First off, you were a very adorable and cute little girl. I meant to tell that after some other childhood pictures I saw of you. And, yes, to any mamas eyes ( cause mamas have X-ray vision to the soul) I can see the “ backwardness” right in your pretty brown eyes.And, yes, it’s hard to believe you now share (not the least bit backward) to the entire world about your wonderful life in Appalachia! Let me add you are doing a FINE, FINE job at that!!! Have a blessed day! I’ve never been backward much. I actually remember as a little kid thinking in my particularly peculiar way. I’ve always had a feeling of being alone and don’t trust period. I know and have had a clue always just how weird and utterly sick most people really are…they’re toxic vampires who don’t see people they see what they can take off you and get off you and leave your soul for dead… I know it ain’t peaches and cream but that’s how I see it.

  • Reply
    Tina Huffman
    February 5, 2022 at 6:53 am

    I for one am so grateful that you are not still backwards! Such a blessing you are to so many!

  • Reply
    February 5, 2022 at 6:49 am

    Tipper, the Lord has blessed you with the ability to communicate through several mediums : videos, blogs, vlogs, print, songs, and photography. He has given you talent to touch others lives through your personal stories of family, friends, sayings, folklore, song, gardening, medicinals, – all things Appalachian. He has used His black eyed quiet spoken backward child to touch many hearts – ours included. It is truly a blessing from your whole family to ours. Thank you for allowing Him to work through you.

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    February 5, 2022 at 6:22 am

    The Good Lord can change your direction from “backwards” to “forwards”. My husband was so “backwards” in high school that he would take a zero rather than give an oral book report in literature. A few years later when God saved him and called him to preach his direction changed to ” forwards”. He has preached to thousands of people during the last fifty years. ❤

  • Reply
    donna sue
    February 5, 2022 at 6:21 am

    What a wonderful post! I enjoyed the story about Steve’s friend’s church. It reminded me of the church I attended in Iowa while I lived there a few years. It was small, too, but I loved everyone there. Isn’t it something to look back on – how God takes something seemingly so impossible and gives it a different outcome?! Such as you going from so very shy, to having a fan base from around the world. I bet if you could meet each of your fans in person, you would be so friendly, giving each person a hug and chatting as if you had been around each other forever. I believe you are doing God’s purpose for your life. And you are doing it exceptionally well!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 5, 2022 at 6:05 am

    Tipper I 100% share your childhood struggles. I was so withdrawn people sometime concluded that I was retarded. I’m still considered standoffish. You have indeed done a great job of overcoming your paralytic shyness!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      February 5, 2022 at 10:55 am

      There is a saying “the smartest person at the party is the one who isn’t talking”. I wouldn’t know, I won’t even go to the party.

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