Appalachian Dialect



mortally adverb Extremely, exceedingly, intensely; at all.
c1940 Simms Coll She wuz so mortally glad to see us. 1940 Still Snail Pie 214 Maw did mortally relish partridge. 1955 Ritchie Singing Family 48 I just couldn’t mortally stand to sit still on that log bench and that tune snakin around so. 1997 Montgomery Coll (known to Norris): It’s mortally hot today (Cardwell). 2001 Lowry Expressions 5 My mother-in-law was operated on 3 weeks ago, and she was eat mortally up with cancer.

—Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English

The Deer Hunter uses the word mortally a lot. He might say “He was mortally flying down the road” or “If he wrecks going that fast he’s gonna be mortally wounded” or even “It was mortally hot today.”

Mortally is one of those Appalachian words that are so familiar to me that I don’t think unusual until I run across it in one of my reference books.

Are you familiar with using the word mortally as it’s used in the dictionary entry?


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  • Reply
    patty H.
    November 2, 2021 at 8:44 am

    Love your website! Just finished reading Dicken’s “David Copperfield”. Interesting to note that he uses mortally frequently, and in the way that you are referencing. Living in Central NY, we only use mortally in a death connotation, as in, the deer was mortally wounded. ( The wound killed the deer.)

  • Reply
    Donna Brewton
    October 21, 2021 at 10:13 am

    ” I was mortally embarrassed to have …..” or ” I was mortified”. I find myself saying these phrases in the worst of situations. I love exploring words. Fun right? DonnaB

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    We’ve heard mortally used in this sense before, but for us here we say “all fired”.. such as “He is all fired determined to get a deer on opening day.” I heard that used just the other day.

    Btw.. the Fresh Apple Cake turned out fantastic!! We both loved it. It sure said and tasted like fall to us. We stayed up much later than usual to enjoy a warm piece from the oven. This recipe is a keeper. Thank Tipper.

  • Reply
    Rita F Speers
    October 20, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve been mortally embarrassed before….. I think it means that you’re so embarrassed that your plumb mortified!

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    October 20, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    It was commonly used when I was young but not much anymore.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve heard and used it all my life but not as widely used as in your description of The Deer Hunter’s examples. There is mortally wounded, of course, and mortally afraid and mortally embarrassed (mortified). I didn’t grow up in the mountains but in Raleigh. My Pa left them at 17. I’m sure some of his language came down to us, but I think the uses I mentioned are common to us flat-landers.

  • Reply
    Tina Huffman
    October 20, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    I grew up more with the word mightily. He was movin mightily fast in that ole car. Mom was mightily angry when I come in past curfew. He mightily shoved that door clean off the hinges.

    I heard the word mortal alot when my kids were growing up. My boys used to beg for the video game mortal combat. I used to tell them they’d get that game when hell froze over. LOL. I hated video games and their dad bought them a PlayStation and they enjoyed it until I got tired of them fighting over it and mightily threw it to the ground in the middle of the sidewalk one day. Needless to say, I think it was one of my better decisions even if I acted out like a fool when it happened. Guess I should have just taken it but I was at my last straw.

    God bless!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    October 20, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    “He come down the road mort’ly a-flyin’ “

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 20, 2021 at 11:31 am

    Yes, mostly to mean really fast–like mortally flying.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Seems slightly familiar, but cannot remember where and when. We use literall a lot such as. “He was literally running away from that dog.” “He was literally gettin’ way too big for his britches.”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 20, 2021 at 9:30 am

    I’ve never see it in print but I’ve heard and used it all it all my life (if it is the same word). I would have spelled it mortly /mort/lē. I don’t put the “a” sound in it. Like the Deer Hunter says it signifies an extreme rate of speed.
    Mortally/ˈmôrdlē/ means ending in death as in mortally wounded. Fatally. It comes from the French word mort which means dead. Other words using mort are mortician and mortuary.
    Mortly, on the other hand, comes from a holler in Southern Appalachia and means moving like a bat out of hell.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 20, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Never heard it used except for mortally wounded …in Wise County VA . I am very surprised by it’s use in any other way and very surprised that down your way it is commonly used and heard.

    • Reply
      Kevin Knight
      October 21, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Kat, my name is Kevin Knight and I read your comment concerning the move to the Washington DC metro area and how you dealt with beltway traffic. I immediately understood what you meant. We moved to Falls Church in 1960 from West Virginia, talk about culture shock (LOL). I eventually ended up in Franklin county Virginia. I have some friends in Wise county. Frank and Evelin Marion are their names. Have you heard of Marios pizza on Wilson blvd in Arlington County ? If you would like to drop me a line e-mail feel free and maybe we could take ride on the metro subway(LOL). I worked on the subway in 1979, but didn’t ride it till 1995. Hope you have a blessed day, bye.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 20, 2021 at 8:57 am

    Yes, for sure but we pronounced it “mort lee”; as two syllables instead of three. Similar to “tee tote lee” in meaning. Have not heard though in a coon’s age.

    Tipper, you have done me a great favor in gradually helping me understand where I am in my life journey. Your vocabulary posts remind me each time that I grew up in Appalachia (southeast KY) but my uncertainty about when I heard – or used – those words tells me I have not lived in Appalachia in about 40 years. Instead I have lived on the fringes. That might seem a self-evident thing just based on geography, and in a way it is. But on a deeper level it explains me to myself and I appreciate your help in that. It tells me one of the reasons I want to move though Lord knows I dread the doing of it.

    And to the lady who posted yesterday about only every having received kindness from Appalachian folks – thank you. Those are the folks that I know best. Your post did – I believe – show one of the things Tipper is all about; namely showing the Appalachia that doesn’t appear much in books, tv, movies, etc.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 8:52 am

    I don’t think I say it it but the people I grew up with sure did. Best I remember, mortally was used in a sentence that included a threat to beat someone up.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      October 20, 2021 at 2:25 pm

      I heard the expression many times growing up in a slightly different way such as: John will beat the mortal “crap” out of so and so if so and so starts anything. The ly was always dropped when used in this example

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    October 20, 2021 at 8:39 am

    I’ve heard mortally used that way all my life. Especially like, “He was mortally flying down the road.”

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    October 20, 2021 at 8:38 am

    I’ve hear the Deer Hunters expression of mortally wounded many times, especially pertaining to combat where someone was mortally wounded. I expect the Deer Hunters and my examples of mortally mounded meant that one was not killed instantly, but did or would surely die from the injuries?

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 8:19 am

    I’ve heard mortally used that way, just can’t place where or when, must have been a long while ago. Not a word I use except for describing someone mortally wounded.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2021 at 7:45 am

    I’ve heard it used, but to be honest I can’t recall my people using it growing up. If someone did, I just don’t remember it. It’s odd but seeing it in your title I knew it was about something extreme. I’m sure at some point in my life someone told me. I guess I just never took to it.

  • Reply
    Lisa Rossman
    October 20, 2021 at 7:07 am

    I have never heard mortally used in that context. I like it a lot though and will try to start using it!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 20, 2021 at 6:01 am

    I think of that as one of our words! “Our” meaning mountain people. I’ve sure heard it a lot and used it a lot, but it’s one of those words I hear or speak but never think about it. It’s just part of normal speech!
    I must have a lot of words in my vocabulary just like this one, so common that I never think about it.

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