Appalachian Dialect

Pickin Peas in Egypt?

women picking peas

A few weeks ago I received the following comment from Jon Sheldon.

“I’ve heard and used these my entire life. I am from Northeast Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachians. Most of the families here descend from Scotch-Irish settlers who came through North Calina (spelled that way for a REASON!) and eventually made their generational homes here. I love your blog as well as the wealth of knowledge, humor, and nostalgia on your YouTube channel. I love to study accents and regional dialects and vernaculars. One saying I’ve heard all of my life and have yet to find the origin of is “Pickin peas in Egypt”. Have you heard this? It is used mostly when adults are telling a story or even when a child looks at a photograph. They will always ask “Where was I?”.  I tell my daughter when she looks at our wedding pictures and she says ” Daddy there’s you and there’s Mommy, but where was I?”.  I always tell her just like I was told, “You were in Egypt pickin peas!”. Alternatively  “In Egypt pickin blackberries”.  I absolutely love southern and appalachian english and am curious if you or any other readers are familiar with this.”


I’ve never heard the saying about pickin peas in Egypt, but I sure do like it! Around the Blind Pig house we often tease each other in the same sort of manner, but we typically make up a place or activity on the spot. For example, if Chatter comes in the living room and wants to know where her daddy is I might say “He’s sitting on the roof” or “He ran away screaming cause we were driving him crazy.”

I hope you’ll leave a comment and let us know if you’ve ever heard the saying Jon shared!

Tipper

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    LeAnna
    September 16, 2021 at 7:36 am

    I’ve not heard that saying, but back home there was an area in “town” known as little Egypt back in the day. Never knew why or how it got that moniker. Now I’m interested in learning about the Egypt connection in Appalachia!

  • Reply
    Alexis
    April 29, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    Hi Tipper,

    Have you ever heard the expression that something “is hanging fire?” It means that something has been delayed and is unresolved.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      May 3, 2021 at 10:56 am

      Alexis-I have never heard that before-interesting!

  • Reply
    Sharon Maberry Bourke
    April 29, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Funny thing is ,this sayin’ is not far from the mark! I’ve been reading about alternative origins of the Irish and Scottish. Therefore Appalachian folk not far removed . “Scota , Egyptian Queen of the Scots” by Ralph Ellis, or anything from Conor MacDari…
    off topic but related… Don’t you find it interesting that even the Mountain Range of has ancient physical connections to those places across the sea~

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    April 28, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    Never heard that one before, like it. When asked where someone is or where I’m going and I don’t want to answer I say “going to see a man about a dog”. Keep up the great work you do. Reading your blog is a bright spot in my day.

  • Reply
    JD in N AL
    April 28, 2021 at 10:25 pm

    Egypt is just down the road from Arab….

  • Reply
    JustAnOldGuy
    April 28, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    In Sullivan County, TN there’s a road that intersects 11E and the sign says “Egypt Road”. I followed it a long way but didn’t see any pyramids. There was a jackass or two but no camels. In addition to the jackasses there was some livestock and guinea hen or two.

  • Reply
    Stacey
    April 28, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    This post and comment section makes me happy

  • Reply
    Leslie Haynie
    April 28, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    My Father in law would tell my husband he was in his back pocket.
    I can’t wait to use this expression. 🙂

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    April 28, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve not heard that saying , but it’s a good one … One we use is , Way down yonder in the paw paw patch.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 28, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    We had a couple of sayings that were common. If you asked where somebody was, and maybe they were in the restroom, you were told, “They went to see a man about a horse” I had not heard that expression since I was a child. and this blog brought it to memory. If somebody took their good ole time getting back home or got lost on the road my Dad always said “They probably ended up in Noggy-tuck ( Naugatuck WV).

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 28, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Where were you born?
    I wasn’t born, they found me under a rock!
    or
    Where were you born?
    At the neighbors. My parents couldn’t afford to have kids!

    And speaking of Northeast Alabama I have relatives there. My great great grandfather William Martin DeHart left North Carolina and settled in DeKalb County. He left behind a wife and five kids. He absconded with a servant girl between 1883 and 1885 (1883 was the birth year of his last NC child and 1885 his first AL one). He had five more children in Alabama before he married his new bride in 1904. One thing that bothers me about the whole situation is that all his Alabama kids got to attend their parent’s wedding and none of the North Carolina kids even got invited. Another thing that bothers me is that now I am torn between the Tarheels and the Tide.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    April 28, 2021 at 10:15 am

    I’ve never heard it, but I like it. When our daughters were little, they couldn’t understand why they weren’t in our wedding pictures, either.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 28, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Nope, never heard that one but I like it. Some of the ones that ran through my head ain’t fit for using.
    Jon Sheldon, back about 1970 I was in the army with a man from the Cumberland Mts of Northern Alabama and he had a typical E.KY., E.TN., etc. accent. Many years later I worked with a man who was raised slightly south of the Cumberland Mts. of Alabama. He had a much heavier southern accent. I believe he would have said Calina too.

  • Reply
    martha j childers
    April 28, 2021 at 9:32 am

    there is small town off highway 431 going to Sand Mountain called Egypt. Maybe that is the Egypt they are referring to.
    I’m sure Jon has heard of this town, probably lives on Sand Mountain himself in Northeast Ala.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 28, 2021 at 9:09 am

    I have never heard the saying. Loretta and Conway said they were picking wild mountain berries when asked where they had been. Appalachians make up their own sayings and really don’t care if anyone else understands the meaning. Mom used to say, “I wish I was across the Brynee Ocean” when she got aggravated or embarrassed.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    April 28, 2021 at 9:06 am

    Been away a couple of days and just now catching up on things, one of the most important being my daily dose of Appalachia, the Wilson-Pressleys and all the good culture. The talk of local witticisms reminded me of a thing that my Mom and Aunts might say when they’d want one of us to do something, e.g., when needing one of us to carry a bucket of water, one of them might say, “You do it and I’ll give you a Yankee Dime.” Well, after a trip over the hill and lugging two-gallon bucket of water back up the hill, we’d learn that such a “dime” was an empty promise. I’m sure this is a carryover from the days when the South “fit” the “North.”

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 28, 2021 at 2:00 pm

      I thought a yankee dime was a kiss on the cheek! A plug nickel is a worthless coin.

      • Reply
        Jackie
        April 28, 2021 at 9:20 pm

        And a Dutch Quarter was a hug.

  • Reply
    Nathan
    April 28, 2021 at 8:28 am

    When a child asked where they were at / came from our saying was “in the cabbage patch and found hiding under a leaf.” Seems that All regions had a way of answering the unanswerable Questions. That is the Florida Panhandle way.

    • Reply
      Randall Dockery
      April 28, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Tipper, Jon, that is a good one. I’ve heard told of saying like this and my momma would say something like, “went to feed the hogs and they ate him”, or went to feed the goats and they led him away. Now of course we knew those weren’t true and would assume that she didn’t know. Perhaps these sayings cake from a woman’s thoughts at the time she said them. Appalachain women always had a lot to do and was always busy. So when interrupted by a child she would just speak what was on her list to do. (Pickin peas, feeding the hogs, tending goats, working in the garden, etc…)

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 28, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Never heard that one. Isn’t it the Irish who say, “a twinkle in God’s eye” for before someone was born? I have heard my Dad say, “before you was thought of” but that is the only expression I recall only that line.

    I wonder if there ever was any real relationship of peas to Egypt (seeing as how there are Egypts that are not Egypt). Or is it just one of those quirky nonsense saying meant to not be real. Those sorts of things sure do confound folks from “off”, makes them think somebody is off and they’re right. But it isn’t who they think.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 28, 2021 at 10:30 am

      I’ve been to one of those Egypts. It’s in Yancey County, North Carolina. I’ve been to Jupiter too! It’s about 20 miles from Egypt.

      • Reply
        Tommy
        April 28, 2021 at 1:48 pm

        We also have Egypt in northeasr Mississippi

  • Reply
    Margie G and Fluffy
    April 28, 2021 at 8:26 am

    I think it is based in Biblical scripture. Before getting to the Promised Land, the tribesmen had been slaves in Egypt. To add insult to injury, they wandered around 40 years in a desert for about a 3 week trip which goes to show they made stupid choices. I’m certain its meaning refers to a time long ago and thus it’s usage. I was told “you were just a sparkle in your daddy’s eye” concerning before my time. Lol. I want you all to know I’m not old or fat! I’m mature and fluffy!!!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 28, 2021 at 7:52 am

    I never heard that one but I can see lots of ways to use it. For instance when you are mad at someone you could tell them to go pick peas in Egypt. When you are going somewhere you don’t want to say you could say you are going to pick peas in Egypt. I am sure I will be using it a lot. Good one.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 28, 2021 at 7:13 am

    I’ve not heard that expression but I do like it. Locally I’ve heard ” he’s off picking daises” it’s the same meaning. I do like “Picking peas in Egypt” sounds exotic!
    We are a resourceful people, if we don’t have a tool for a particular job we make one and if we are asked a question and we don’t have/know the answer we make one.
    Picking Peas in Egypt, that’s a keeper!

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    April 28, 2021 at 6:22 am

    I love that saying! I remember asking that question and getting you weren’t born yet which of course brought up do many other questions

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