Appalachia Overheard




“He’ll be so excited he won’t be able to sleep.”

“He’ll worry me to death is what he’ll do!”



Overheard: snippets of conversation I overhear in Southern Appalachia

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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 10, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Here’s what I heerd about Sam Hill!
    Many, many years ago a man by the name of Sam Hill owned a mercantile. In other words, Sam Hill Mercantile.
    He found that if he kept the store full of this and that, more than other merchants, folks would frequent his mercantile first off and he would sell more, and make more money as well as the money he made on the common stuff. So like a hoarder, he began fillin’ that place to the roof top with strange and exotic thing-a-ma-jigs from hither and yon!
    One mornin’ a huge wagon filled to the point of almost overflowing pulled up in front of the loading door. It was covered up with those linen colored canvases and tied down one end to the other. This time a crowd of those early Saturday morning meetin’ men started gathering all around. One man was strollin’ in late just as the mercantile worker was startin’ unwrappin’ that big wagon. The crowd was so very curious and the talkin’ about that huge wagon was gettin’ louder and louder. Well sir, this man was a’ tryin’ to see and hear but could not. So in his very loudest shout yelled “What in the Sam Hill is going on”?
    And that my friends is how the whole thing started!
    Thanks Tipper
    and Gayle Larson for askin’ ….fer that is the tale I’ve known most of my days!

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    December 10, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    First person I thought about when I heard those sayings was my old grammar teacher, I think her name was Mrs. Kemp, whose pet peeve was exaggerations. I can still hear her say (in a very dry formal voice to someone who’d said they’d been scared to death)…
    “Apparently not since you’re still breathing.” LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 10, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks for all who responded to my sam hill question.
    If my dear mother had known it was swearing she would never have said it.
    She was so against swearing that we could get our mouth washed out with soap if we even thought about using profanity.
    Now that I think about it I think it is funny that she had no idea what she was saying.

  • Reply
    December 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    I commonly use and hear both phrases in Tipper’s “Overheard” post. But Gayle Larson’s question spurred an internet search which discovered the following website which has as good as explanation as any:

  • Reply
    December 10, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Hello, Gail, MY mother used to say that frequently to us, and I remember suddenly wondering what in Sam Hill that meant. She grew up in Kentucky but that’s the only clue I can offer.
    Maybe someone can enlighten both of us! Thanks!…Wes

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Know both expressions very well!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 10, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Definitely parents discussing the upcoming Christmas holidays! These phrases are very familiar to me!
    My Mother used to say that putting up the Christmas tree and decorations was very hard on children. For waiting weeks the time seemed like forever to them. I think that is one reason she only put up our tree in the forties/fifties about 10 days or a week before Christmas.
    Another reason…she dreaded the thing drying out and dropping needles, etc. ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Our Brass Monkeys froze last night, in fact they are right blue lookin’ this mornin’ even in the sunshine! ha

  • Reply
    December 10, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I often heard the Sam Hill expression Gayle mentions. Both of those sayings are heard often around here. Also often heard, “You are worrying the fire out of me.” If you were really being annoying they would step it up a bit with, “You are worrying the mortal fire out of me.”
    This is sure off the subject but I was greeted by an older gentleman with, “Howdy do.” It was so refreshing to hear that old greeting, and it sure made me smile. I don’t research some things, Tipper, but I feel this is probably the old shortened version of, “How do you do?” Keep those expressions coming and it will keep me wonderin’ and thinkin’.

  • Reply
    Mike Norris
    December 10, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Me: “Seems like you don’t feel good, Granny.”
    Granny Norris: “I took the big eye last night and can’t hardly hold my head up.”

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 10, 2016 at 9:34 am

    My Mom is always “worried to death” about something. I also enjoy when she adds “like” to it: “When he was a teenager, he liked to worry me to death.” That construction always tickled me.
    And I have no idea who she is talking about.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    December 10, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I not only heard ‘Sam HIll’ but “what in Sam Hill Jones are you doing.”!? I’d know right away I should STOP doing it as I was sure Sam Hill was not a good thing. Seems Sam could out cuss a sailor AND his parrot. So,…. Sam Hill is….. ” A sinless synonym for profanity”.
    Heres what I found on several sites.
    “A possible origin for the phrase “Sam Hill” is the surveyor Samuel W. Hill (1819–1889).[7] Hill allegedly used such foul language that his name became a euphemism for swear words. In the words of Charles Eschbach, “Back in the 1850s the Keweenaw’s copper mining boom was underway.
    There were about a dozen men who pretty much ran the Keweenaw. They were mining company agents, the ‘go between’ for the investors from Boston and the actual mining production people. Their names were attached to every report sent back to eastern investors. Among these company agents was a man named Samuel W. Hill. Sam was a geologist, surveyor, and mining engineer and had considerable power in the Keweenaw.”
    According to author Ellis W. Courter, Samuel Hill “was an adventurer, explorer, miner, and surveyor. He had worked with Christopher C. Douglas and Douglas Houghton on the early State survey. His judgment was respected. Although he was a rough character, he possessed a big heart and in the fall of 1847 had risked his life to help avert a threatened food shortage in the Copper Harbor district.
    Generally he was regarded as a hero throughout the entire Copper Country, however, he was contemptuous of all the praise that was heaped upon him. Hill also gained a reputation as being one of the most blasphemous and obscene swearers in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Although he had a colorful vocabulary and told many a good story of his early adventures, his ubiquitous use of lurid cuss words became legendary.
    Whenever friends or neighbors retold his colorful tales in more polite society, they had to tame his unmentionables by substituting the sinless sounding words ‘Sam Hill’. In time the expression, ‘What the Sam Hill’ spread far beyond the Copper Country. Today it has become a part of the American language. Few who utter these words ever heard of Samuel Hill, or know that he was the unconscious originator of a sinless synonym for profanity.”
    There was another Sam Hill on west coast who built a road from Mexico to Canada.
    Perhaps he was better at controlling his tongue.

  • Reply
    December 10, 2016 at 9:19 am

    I’m a northerner. My dad said it all the time. It was his way of swearing.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 10, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Those two are so very familiar. The things I remember that excited me as a boy and kept me awake was going fishing or camping or rambling in the woods the next day. We opened presents Christmas Eve night so it wasn’t first thing in the morning.
    I don’t recall worrying anyone to death but I recall thinking some trips took forever and we would never get there. So I guess I asked, “Are we there yet?” many a time. Now it is beginning to happen again. Trips of the same length on the clock feel longer and longer. It is just like the clothes that shrink and don’t fit anymore.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 10, 2016 at 7:56 am

    My mother used to say “what in sam hill are you doing”?
    Does anyone know who sam hill was or where this saying originated.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 10, 2016 at 7:48 am

    The night before Christmas when my kids were little

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