Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

My People

My people

My people

My people is a phrase I don’t hear as often as I used too. Granny says it-so does Aunt Hazel. Pap says it when he’s talking about other people’s people but not so much when he’s talking about his own.

My people simply means your family-and perhaps the most immediate friends and neighbors that you have.

Yet when I think on the phrase, which I’ve been doing lately, I think of a wider group of people. A group that reaches beyond my family or The Deer Hunter’s.

I think of my people as all those folks who identify with the heritage, traditions, and culture of Appalachia. Whether they live just over the mountain in Pine Log or in far flung places I’ll never visit-those who shine a bright light on the good of Appalachia are my people.


people noun The members of a family or extended group of kin.
1957 GSMNP-23:1:8 Well, I don’t talk about my people. If I can’t say something good about them, I don’t want to say nothing bad about them. n.d. Handlon Ol’ Smoky 62 As for Daisy and the children, they went over the mountain to North Carolina to live with her people. GSMNP-5:7 They was old man Messer, one of them Messer people. They was all musicians, and they could pick and play the fiddle, and we would go and just have a time, running old country round up. That is the way we done. 1973 GSMNP-70:2:6 Now, my father’s people was all raised up in Madison County, North Carolina.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English



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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 21, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    and Ed…could that cello be what they call a 1/2 bass, there is also a 1/4 and 3/4 fiddle…they come in sizes I understand. In the picture I never thought it to be a cello. I am anxious to learn the answer to what you where asking!
    Yep, I’m nosy!
    thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    August 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    My people always fit with family and closely found friends. It is those who identify with a group and have a very close relationship. I rather like the term because it shows care and love between people.

  • Reply
    Mark Selby
    August 21, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Curiously enough, I used this term just this past Saturday night. It was time to go the church’s fish fry in the community where I grew up. I was in my dirty overalls from working all day, and it was too late to clean up. So I told my wife I was going like I was because these were my people. It was actually quite comfortable to be able to say that.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 21, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    In that picture with the locomotive, one of the musicians seems to be holding a cello. A cello is not a notable (pardon the pun) instrument in Appalachian music, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. And the viola, too. Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Do you know the people in the picture and where it was taken?

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 21, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    In my opinion the term “my people”
    is a fading thing. Long ago when I
    was a kid, folks were so different
    than those of today. When you’re
    driving you seldom see someone wave
    or throw up their hand. Use to,
    lots of folks did this, even if they didn’t know you. Times and
    people are sure changing…Ken

  • Reply
    August 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    I’m more likely to use the phrase “my folks” – but the idea is the same. During the 80s and 90s I’d get myself in trouble using the “folks” and “people” as a general reference – too many of the kids I dealt with in those days heard it as a gang reference and would get their feathers all ruffled because of that.
    As luck would have it, I was listening to “The Once and Future Carpenter” as I read all the wonderful comments from your readers. We are all each other’s people no matter where we’re from.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    August 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    At home we used people as our kin and family. In public it was a region or area. Are all your people from Harlan County? I like to broader term. We all feel better when we are someone’s people.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I’ve heard “my people” since I could understand what it meant. At our home, if I overheard Mom telling a neighbor, we are going to my peoples Sunday. I knew we were going to Grandmothers in Marshall. If she also included we may drop (my Daddy’s) his peoples place, then I knew their was a chance we’d be going to Mars Hill to the big farm. I would get so excited I could hardly stand it. For I knew who “our people” were and knew it meant a trip up and over the mountains.
    More than once I have been asked, “Where are your people from?” One time an “old codger”
    ask me that very question. I was out of high school and at times a “smart aleck”…I replied, “America”…”Nooo”, he said, “I mean what part of North Carolina!”!…I guess that mattered to him, since he had the same name as my Mothers maiden name. People, Our People, My People, Their people and what part of Appalachia, city, county, branch, ridge, mountain or hollow, or not they are or aren’t from, still has a significant meaning to some old, set in their ways, Appalachian folks like this feller I ran into. He could then set the place, peoples name in his mind and remember a kin or a neighbor from days past.
    That is another reason I love talking to old folks with the dialect of our people.
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

    We used to call the people displaced by the Fontana Reservoir “dam people.” That’s a little bit funny and a whole lot not!

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    August 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

    My people goes back to Biblical days.
    Joshua 24:14 says, “As for me and my house (people) I will serve the Lord.”

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    August 21, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Tipper: Just thinking in terms of ‘my people’ gives me a wider perspective of the world. Recently I received a note from a Tusquittee fellow who knew my Uncle Johnny Mull. I think the fellow and his daddy would fit right in as ‘my people’ based on your definition. Thanks for a meaningful post.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Pat Shumway
    August 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

    In the song “Angel Gabriel”: “I’ll have lots of fun, and when my people come, I’m gonna take their tickets at the gate.”
    A variation I used to hear when I worked in an insurance office was “you people”. Policyholders, angry about a rate increase or some other change, would call and say, “Now I know it’s not your fault, but YOU PEOPLE …”

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 21, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Yes, I identify with “my people” in both contexts: members of my family and my extended family–but very importantly, those who are “like me” in ideals, background, culture and yes–even peculiarities! My people are a special breed, born and reared in the mountains and holding tenaciously to the customs and mores of our ancestors before us! And furthermore, proud to be who we are!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 21, 2014 at 7:43 am

    By your definition, Tipper, I guess I am your people. I grew up here and am back here after many years away. I hope that the sense of community in Appalachia never goes away. I hope that newcomers change their ways rather than try to change the people of Appalachia. Outsiders sometimes make fun, but that is their ignorance.

  • Reply
    benny terry
    August 21, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Your expanded version better says it. I would even expand it more to include those folks who are Americans, not by birth but by love; love of our heritage, history, shared feelings, and sacrifices. Being born here may make you an American, technically, but that’s not enough. Stand up and be counted, love and protect our Nation.

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    August 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

    I grew up hearing this said . Daddy would say my people were from Waynesville. I haven’t hear this said in many years. Barbara

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 21, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Yes, Tipper, my people are all the people who are of Appalachian heritage and share our values.
    This is a really significant post. I will probably be thinking about it all day.

  • Reply
    August 21, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I think the term has been borrowed and found its way into big city use, too… ‘my people will get with your people to hash out the details’.
    ‘My people’ referring to business associates.
    I heard more about other people’s kinfolk in conversation with the terms… ‘his people live on Roaring Creek. Her people are from Duck Run’. It has fallen out of use in my generation around here in MD.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 21, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Your last point is spot on, Tipper.
    I don’t if Dolly wrote the song “My Mountains, My Home” or if she just sang it.
    “These are my mountains, my valleys,
    These are my rivers, flowing like a song.
    These are my people, my memories,
    These are my mountains, this is my home.”
    Of course one of the John Parris series of books was entitled “My Mountains, My People.”
    In both cases, the clear intent was toward the broader community.

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