Appalachian Dialect

Mountain Sayings

Mountain sayings

Grandpa Charlie Jenkins

Yesterday I was thinking about my Grandpa Jenkins. I never knew him, he died when Granny was pregnant with me or shortly thereafter. But I’ve heard lots of stories about him. Pap said back in the days when he drove a truck, Charlie would hop in the big rig and ride along with him on long hauls. Pap said he was a fine man.

In the book These Storied Mountains John Parris discusses old mountain sayings under the piece titled Settin’s Cheaper’n Standin’. A few examples Parris gives:

  • She threw more out the back door than her man could tote in the front (describing a wasteful woman)
  • As poor as a bear that wintered up in the Balsams
  • Weddin’ without courtin is like vittles without salt
  • Beauty never made the kettle sing
  • Never get your horse in a place where you can’t turn around (Sigh… seems lately I need to paste this one on my forehead)
  • I ain’t been in his shoes and I can’t gauge his footsteps
  • It’s never to late to mend (thank goodness!)
  • No man stays far from a sweet mouth and a good table (this one sounds like something The Deer Hunter would say)
  • Where’s there’s bees there’s honey
  • What can’t be cured must be endured (this is now my standard answer to whiners)
  • Don’t miss her no more than a cold draft after the door’s shut (I love this one! Maybe it’s because I’ve been sitting by a drafty door lately)
  • He’d buy a load of cord wood to peddle out in hell if you’d give him till Christmas to pay for it (2nd favorite-and I swear I know exactly who he’s describing LOL)
  • Sit down and rest yourself, settin’s cheaper’n standin’

I bet my Grandpa Jenkins said a few of these old sayings and many others that are similar in nature. The sayings above are wonderful descriptive examples of Appalachian language at its best. Now read over the list again and think about the wisdom behind the sayings. Pretty cool uh?

Vibrant descriptive wisdom filled language = Appalachia



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  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    and Bill…so that’s where “Tar Paper Shack” come from that my Mom used to say…She lived just a hop, skip and jump from Asheville…and must’ve picked it up somewhere around that area.
    Don’t fret Bill, my Mom always called our house a “cracker box”. I always felt bad about her sayin’ that for my Dad..’Cause it was square and so small, but that is all we could get at the time after the war..She would tell folks (kin) that we lived in a “cracker box”!…LOL
    I guess it is what it is and we all get over it I suppose! ‘Aliken to day we now have something to talk about, I don’t hear much about Kings palaces and if you do you have to pay to see’um!
    Thanks Tipper and Bill

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Such colorful language, indeed!
    Sometimes I try to think up clever sayings,
    but I guess I just don’t have the insight needed.
    However, this past week I was seeking to give a bit of advice to a
    young friend who needed encouragement, and I wrote this:
    You can’t give out of an empty storehouse.
    That statement just sort of burst forth from my mind.
    I have not researched to see if someone said it before me and I just remembered it,
    or if it might be a somewhat original thought with me.
    Anyway, I thought it might be a “keeper” and so I wrote it in my journal of quotations!
    Ethelene Dyer Jones

  • Reply
    October 22, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Love the sayings, love the picture, love the car- so familiar.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 22, 2012 at 12:01 am

    and Sarahsbookreflections…We would answer to “How are you doin’?” with “Finer than frog hair and gooder than snuff!”
    I think that’s purty fine, don’t you…Another one used along with “hens teeth” was when asked somethin’ like…”Where’s old Billy Boy?” Well, “I don’t know he’s been scarcer than woodpecker lips!”…If the hens teeth and the woodpecker lips are ever found now that’d be somethin’…
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    I had the good fortune of knowing John Parris and was raised on a steady diet of “Roaming the Mountains” column in the Asheville Citizen. I also know he wasn’t above using a bit of literary license in his writings. My dad was a friend and fan of his also but this was strained once when he described our five room stick built home that my dad had built with his own hands after returning from WWII in the Pacific, as a “Tar Paper Shack” in one of his columns. There was no “Tar Paper” on the house but John must have thought this description would better illustrate a point he was trying to make about how the Needmore Community had changed after many families had moved away to find employment after the American Chestnut blight had put many loggers out of work.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    October 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Loved your post and the sayings.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    October 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Love the sayings, I’ve heard maybe one of them. Here is a couple… When she found out he was bad to drink she dropped him like a bad transmission. When asked how he was doing he said,” I’m hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit”!
    Ron Banks

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    October 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Your area and mine, although much alike, may part ways here. I haven’t heard most of those sayings and I thought I was “King of Sayings”.
    Bradley’s post made me think of my own precious Grandmother. She used to say “Poor as Job’s turkey” meaning very skinny. Once, after hearing her say that all my life, I asked her “Just how poor was Job’s turkey?” She immediately got that twinkle in her eye that let me know I’d been had and said “Why, he had to lean against a tree to gobble.”

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    I’ve heard some of those sayings maybe worded in a slightly different way. That number 10 saying sure hits home.
    As for the Deer Hunter’s Grandpa Pressley, my Granny was just like that. She would make you eat something even if you didn’t have room for it whenever you went to her house. She would say, “Son, you’re so skinny, it’s a wonder you don’t fall through a hole in the seat of your britches.” She was usually obeyed out of love and respect but, for whatever the reason, she was ALWAYS obeyed. So, you would have to eat something. Now, what wouldn’t I give to sit at that table with her just once again!
    She was the best!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    October 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I have heard of a couple of these sayings; they seem to have a lot of meaning to them due to the analogies to everyday living. I enjoyed reading all of them and will probably go back and read them again. It’s great to learn something new every day.

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Most of those sayings are unfamiliar to this flat lander, but has anyone heard “Fine as frog’s hair,” in answer to how are your doing?””

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    “Getting your horse into a place where you can’t turn around” reminded me of one we used as kids when an argument was about to lead to a fight. ‘Don’t let your mouth get you in more trouble than your rear can handle.’
    Recently I was scrolling through some of your vocabulary posts and remembered one I haven’t heard in many years. My dad used ‘cally slantswise. for what most people called kitty cornered.

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Enjoyed this post! As usual the comments were a fun read today as well. BTW I agree with you that the “cured/endure” saying is a good cure for whiners. I use it often and it works well with broody children of all ages too! 😀

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I loved this post…I hope this comment goes thru…I commented yesterday about apple butter, stack cake and granmaws way of drying apples…I think the “Halloween Booger” grabbed my comment as it was on its way to the Blind Pig..OOoooo!!
    Well, here it is..I’ve heard a few of those sayin’s in some form or other..Your own title of your blog is an old sayin’…I heard that one all my life, in reference to someone who got a break in life, come upon an inheritance, just didn’t get caught doin’ somethin’, etc. etc..
    I too love John Parris..I have a couple of his books..Seems I have trouble finding them…unless someone wants big bucks for them..I’ll just wait around and they will show up somewhere to match my pocketbook…LOL
    Thanks Tipper for a great post..
    PS and this is a big PS….
    There was a “wooly bear” on my porch..I picked him up, he curled up like he was cold…I looked him over..he was black on one end and auburn brown thru the middle and black on the other end..Good, I thought! Since he was crawling up to my door (about 10″ away) I put him in a flower stand, high up where a stem went toward a tree..Thinking that would give him something to do and away where he wouldn’t get squashed! Later in the day, I went out, he had crawled, jumped, who knows, back down to my door again..This time he his well on his way to the stoop..I think He was trying to tell me “It’s gonna be cold as grannys well pump kevered in a quilt and I better let him in so he can stay warm this winter!”
    Why else would a “Wooly Bear” keep trying to come in the house?
    Pss..Yeah, I know “wooly bears” curl up when you pickem up…but this one was “shivering and had goose bumps on his legs!”

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing the sayings. Had a good laugh.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    October 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Good sayings, sweet mouth and good table is right down my alley.. Friend of mine last name Jenkins, hmm maybe some kin…

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I have heard all of the expressions, except the bear and the cord of wood. Also, I enjoy your posts. Southern terms and sayings are my favorite. We (Southerners) use a vivid and colorful language. Happy Sunday!

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Loved them and have heard some of them. My grandmama, an SC native, used to say ‘Can’t Never Did Nothing’ whenever I whined about being unable to do something. Even with the double negative, I got her message loud and clear. I can’t tell you the times I have used her saying to my kids and the grands. The one about change-endure is another I use a lot, too.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    October 21, 2012 at 8:35 am

    You can catch more honey with an
    ounce of suger than you can with a bushel of salt

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 21, 2012 at 8:25 am

    The Deer Hunter’s Grampaw Pressley never let anyone in the house without trying to feed them. I’d usually say No thank you, I’m not hungry to which he would reply..I’d rather feed two hungry dogs than one that ain’t hungry, now come on and eat.
    I never quite understood that saying but I sure heard it a lot.
    Forrest, my second husband who died in 1990 had some really choice sayings. One of my favorites was him speaking of someone he didn’t have a very high opinion of….you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s–t! Too funny and extremely accurate!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 21, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Before anyone says, “Well I’ve heard that all my life and I don’t live in the mountains,” let me explain. Just because it is born in the mountains doesn’t mean it has to stay in the mountains. All the earths mighty rivers and vast oceans started a tiny drops of water up on a mountain somewhere. Where was Moses when God gave him the Ten Commandments? Where was he when he saw the Promised Land? Where did Jesus go to pray? And so are the sources of all wisdom and truth. Born in the mountains and freely given to all who would partake.

  • Reply
    Robin Naneix
    October 21, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Sounds like my family from the McCausville area…
    Steeper than a mules face…a month of sundays…as scarce as hens teeth…these folks were rappers before rapping was cool

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 21, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Tipper–John Parris was a grand chronicler of mountain days and ways, a true treasure, never mind the fact he could be a bit gullible when it came to taking tales at face value. I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with the literature of the Appalachians, and if I’m not, it ain’t for lack of trying. Simply put, Parris is my favorite. In fact, by odd coincidence, my October e-newsleter, my column in this past week’s “Smoky Mountain Times,” and with the one scheduled for this week, are all devoted to the man and his memory.
    I love his literary device of describing a season, a custom, or something similar by saying “October is a hunter’s moon of cold gold filling the eastern horizon.”
    “It’s crops gathered and wood cut for winter.”
    “It’s dust devils dancing across dry fields and milkweed seeds cavorting on a mountain breeze.”
    (The words are mine but the approach is his).
    I think I owe Lonnie a word of thanks, although that might be up for debate. My brain roams down darkening roads into yesteryear with a will, but the travel is of a nature most probably could care less about.
    One final thought before I get all too long winded. Every mone of Parris’ books–“Roaming the Mountains;” “Mountain Cooking;”My Mountains, My People;” “Mountain Bred;” and “These Storied Mountains,” are true treasures. Notice all of them have the word “mountain” in the title. He wasn’t a man to hid what he cherished, and all who read him are richer for it. I would urge your readers to do just that.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    October 21, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I am reading a book written in Scotland in 1911. It’s surprising how many of “our” sayings were used at least that far back. I guess we kept the ones that worked and made up our own when we needed them. If I had another life, and Jim Casada’s brain, I’d do a study of that kind of stuff.
    I’ve got that John Parris book. I’ll have to go back and take another look. I love the picture.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 21, 2012 at 6:52 am

    I love them all and have heard a few. They leave no doubt about the meaning in your mind like so many things today.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    October 21, 2012 at 6:28 am

    I loved this post Tipper. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    October 21, 2012 at 5:53 am

    A lifetime of wisdom in a few words, there!

  • Reply
    October 21, 2012 at 5:11 am

    i have heard three of these, but also have heard many sayings just like these.

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