Appalachian Dialect



onliest adjective Only.
1931 Goodrich Mt Homespun 63 She’s the onliest one I ever did know that could do such as that. 1962 Dykeman Tall Woman 70 If the bullet had strayed a little closer, I might have lost the onliest heart I’ve got! 1974 Fink Bits Mt Speech 18 Hit’s the onliest knife I’ve got n.d. Mtneer Talk = only one. “He’s my¬†onliest son.” 1994 Montgomery Coll. She treated it as if it was the onlist one she had (Cardewell).

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I still hear the word onliest on a regular basis in my part of Appalachia. Sometimes I hear it come right out of my mouth when I say things like:

“When I came by the ball field he was the onliest little boy out there. I reckon they changed the day and he didn’t know.”


“That was my onliest pair of flip-flops!! I can’t believe you left them at the lake.”


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  • Reply
    Guitar Man
    July 15, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I love this photo and hope that Woody himself gets to see it.
    I’ve even heard my little sister use “onliest”, so it’s still around.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I use to hear “onliest” often, but so many of the older generations that I’m acquainted with have gone on. I think that was the “greatest generation” that folks so often talk about. At least their word was the Gospel Truth!
    I had five brothers, we fought like Cats and Dogs, and although I’m the youngest, let someone butt in and we’d all turn on him. Family sticks together. I felt Safe having that bunch of brothers to look after me…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 15, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Onliest takes only to a whole new level. It is not your ordinary only. It is the pinnacle in onliness. An only that cannot be exceeded. Extremely unique! Extraordinarily singular! Exceptionally unparalleled!
    Of course I use onliest but only rarely. In most situations a simple only will do. Occasionally I encounter something that transcends exclusivity. That is when I break out a brand new onliest.
    On an unrelated topic, or maybe not, I have in my family tree four individuals whose first names were Onley. All of them were middle children in large families which rules out a secret desire on the part of their mother.

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    July 15, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I don’t think I hear that one,not sure.I’ll keep my ear out for it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 15, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Am I the “onliest” one that is worried about the drought and heat wave a’comin’ in next week?
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I’ve been putting ice in the dogs water pan! He loves it!

  • Reply
    June jolley
    July 15, 2016 at 10:30 am

    That makes me think of my Mama. Too bad we were corrected on our regional grammar when in elementary school.

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    July 15, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Onliest doesn’t sound strange, and might be used even now in my house. The form is akin to “babiest”, as in “he’s our babiest one, and he just left for Vietnam”. We heard this sentence from an older Arkansas/Kentucky friend in 1966, and we liked it so much that it quickly moved into our family’s common speech. My folks were East Tennessee/west Virginia people. Thanks for keeping our ears open to our heritage of words.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2016 at 8:57 am

    It has been many years since I have heard that word. Unfortunately, there is very little effort to preserve the old ways in my area, and is perhaps why I have found such a happy home at The Blind Pig. There is even an area magazine called Prerogative which features fashion, food, and points of interest in the area. I searched diligently in the magazine for articles of interest on the preservation of our beautiful culture, but it just seemed much like so many other magazines. It is a great magazine for most area readers, but I prefer to read and see pictures that preserve our great uniqueness. My greatest fear is that young people will not learn anything about the old ways, and it will all be lost. With age comes a certain honesty about everything, and sometimes I don’t even care for my frank honesty. It is the onliest way I know how to be!
    Unfortunately, it is difficult to find stories and pictures of ginseng diggers, ramp recipes, bee keepers, gardeners, guitar makers, just to name a few. So I will go to The Blind Pig each morning to get my fix, and I will enjoy anything about a culture so beautiful that it needs to be lauded.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 15, 2016 at 8:20 am

    Is that little boy your onliest older brother? I hear the word but not often.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    July 15, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Yes, I have heard it from time to time, but I don’t think I ever used it. I remember using “only one single solitary” as in, “Only one single solitary soul showed up to help me.” or “That little Jones boy is the only single solitary soul on that team that can hit the ball every time he comes up to bat.” “Onliest” is much quicker to say!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 15, 2016 at 8:01 am

    Oddly enough, I do not recall ‘onliest’ being in common use in southeast KY when I was growing up. I wish I could recall the circumstances for the first time I ever heard it. In our family at least we would sometimes say ” a single, solitary” one of something. Anyway, this is the onliest place I know that I can go and read about onliest.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 15, 2016 at 7:58 am

    I heard “onliest” all the time growing up. Either I don’t hear it as much these days or I am so used to it that I pay no attention when I hear do it.

  • Reply
    Cullen in Clyde
    July 15, 2016 at 5:17 am

    I believe there must be a ‘back-story’ to your 2nd example about the flip-flops getting left behind. Lol!

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