Appalachia Overheard



“I was going to bring you some eggs this morning but I remembered I had to ride with Randy to work. I thought well I’ll have to nuss them in my lap. So I didn’t bring them but I’ll bring them in the morning.”


I was so excited to hear the word nuss used!!! Although I have come across it in books I have never heard anyone actually use it. Hearing it truly made my day!

Part of the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English’s entry for nuss – a variant of nurse:

To take care of or cuddle (a child), esp by holding it on the lap. 1939 Hall Coll., Jefferson TN = fondle a child; hold a child in one’s lap. “I nussed your child.” (Robert Ray) c1950 Haun When the Wind 18 Listen: -Now don’t you tell me the words-Up in a tree top-nuss me whilest I sing the rest of hit-will you, Granny. 1965 Dict Queen’s English 15 = hold. “Maybelle, you nuss the kid for a while.” 1998 Brewer Don’t Scrouge “Nuss” means holding someone on one’s lap. Although it probably derived from “nurse,” in mountain usage it has no connection to feeding an infant. Men and children as well as women nussed the baby. Sometimes if seating was limited a fellow could nuss his girlfriend, which, by the way, never seem to scrouge him in the least.”


Overheard: snippets of conversation I overhear in Southern Appalachia

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  • Reply
    Angela Fee-Maimon
    August 30, 2019 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you. My Mamaw used to say this, and I was telling my daughter about it today. We have infant twin in the house, and it occurred to me that Mamaw would have said, “let me nuss them.” Then I wondered about the etymology of the word.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Gayle-yes I have heard Great Day In The Morning. I’ve actually heard one of the Blind Pig readers say it : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 17, 2015 at 7:23 am

    B.-yes I know what they are : ) I don’t hardly ever hear buss. And when I hear sugar tit it’s usually by someone making light of an adult who is acting like a baby LOL : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I remember hearing my aunt use the word nuss when talking about my baby cousin.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Don’t know that I’ve ever heard this one before, so I learned something new as well!

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Every night when I get home and
    finish the chores, I like to sit
    in my recliner to watch TV. That
    is when my dog Whisky likes to sit with me while I nuss him to sleep.
    It’s a sight to see, with his little feet pointing to the stars
    and him just stareing at me till
    he’s asleep. That’s the way my
    girls use to do…Ken

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 16, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I haven’t heard that word in a very long time. My grandpa used it.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    January 16, 2015 at 11:01 am

    I’ve learned something new, too. Never heard the word used.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 9:08 am

    My cousin and I were recently talking about some of the words our parents used and nuss was one of them. We thought it had the same meaning as nurse, but young children were often asked to nuss the baby while their mother did her work. I guess it didn’t have anything to do with feeding since most babies were breastfed during that time. I’m surprised to find the word used by other folks, in other states!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 16, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I did hear that word as a child but had forgotten it.
    I wonder if you have heard the saying “Great Day in the Morning”? My mother would say ” Great Day in the Morning what ever possessed you to do that”?
    She was usually upset about something I had done.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 16, 2015 at 8:38 am

    I have heard and used “nuss” as long as I can remember, it usually referred to holding a small child close to your chest with their head on your shoulder. I nuss my small grandchild pert near every day. It does wonders for an Old Man’s heart.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Nuss was a very common word growing up. In a large extended family where everyone had a toddler or younger, it was certainly a well used word. I seem to personally remember a bouncing of the knee to keep the little one better satisfied. I had not heard it from many families except our own, and I never actually thought much about it at the time.
    Some words or customs are kept and carried on by certain ones while others fall by the wayside. I still frequently cook the fry bread or hoe cake cooked by my mother and her mother before that, and I fix a type of chow chow my grandmother used to make in a crock. As far as I can learn the hundreds of the descendants from that large family rarely stick a tomato in the ground much less cook their own bread. Oops, except that uncle always bringing the sweetest onions and cantaloupes to the reunion from Delaware.
    The beautiful customs and vocabulary will not be lost thanks to the efforts of folks like Tipper.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 16, 2015 at 8:29 am

    It’s been a while since I heard the word ‘nuss’!
    I wonder if your readers know these terms. They might be used together and kind of goes along with
    It was my turn to ‘nuss’ the baby, when that sweet little cheek called to me! I leaned in to give him a ‘buss’ and he spit out his ‘sugar-tit’, it hit my knee and right in the dirt it fell! What a mess!
    I’m sure you know what a ‘buss’ and a ‘sugar-tit’ are?
    Tipper I love these posts, so many times it brings back the language of our ancestors!

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    January 16, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Tipper: The word nuss was part of my dear Grandmother Wimpey (Thomason). Her mother was fortunate ‘to miss’ the walk to Oklahoma on “THE TRAIL OF TEARS” a hundred years before I was born!
    THANKS for reminding me of two amazing people in my big family in the mountains of north Georgia!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 16, 2015 at 8:06 am

    This is a word I’ve only heard from my Grandmother. She would use it in exactly the same way. Funny enough she was raised in Michigan. People where I grew up used the word nurse also meaning it the same way, they were originally from Georgia. Strange.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    January 16, 2015 at 7:50 am

    The last time a heard it was from my grandmother. She was well known for her ability to calm the fussiest baby. Thanks for bring up a beautiful memory picture of her in the big rocker nussing my baby brother.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 16, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Tip, I don’t recall ever hearing or reading that word so I’ve learned something new today!

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