Appalachian Dialect Granny

Plaiting Hair

Corie's braid

When I was a girl I loved playing with baby dolls. I had several and especially enjoyed playing with the ones with hair long enough to braid.

Granny braided my hair when it was long enough and when I was willing to sit still and let her. Granny always called it plaiting instead of braiding.

In high school I met a girl who would become a life long friend. I’d sit in 9th grade Algebra class and watch her French braid her hair. After watching it a couple of times I started French braiding my own hair. Every once in a while my younger cousin would come down and get me to French braid her hair for some special occasion.

Of course once I had the girls I had two heads of hair to play with. Over the years I’ve plaited their hair in various designs—everything from inside out French braids to French braiding only the front pieces of their hair to keep it out of their eyes.

The girls would sit on the edge of my bed for me to plait one side and then they’d have to move to the other edge of the bed for me to do the other side.

When they were young and moving around all over the place instead of sitting still with tension in their head I started telling them “Sit still with your head turned toward the closest and pull against your hair like a bear is trying to braid it.” I haven’t a clue how I come up with that, but it worked and today when I plait Chatter’s hair she still laughs about me telling them about the bear.

I looked in a few of my reference books but didn’t find the word plait listed as being unusual in Appalachia, but Granny is the only person I’ve ever heard talk of plaiting hair, well other than me and I really don’t count since I learned it from her 🙂

Tipper

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43 Comments

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    October 27, 2021 at 11:14 am

    My Mummo and Auntie always called it plaiting. I had two great aunts who were quite old when I knew them who still plaited their hair and wrapped it around their heads like crowns. I wish I could plait my hair now, but I’m a bit clumsy and can’t quite get it to go. As I’ve gotten older, my hair has gone quite white and is more like the hair I had as a baby. Lots of it, but so fine. I had to laugh at the poster who mentioned the Toni perms. My mother forced them on me, too, as a child.

  • Reply
    Christine
    October 27, 2021 at 10:16 am

    I don’t recall ever hearing anyone in my family using the word plait. My mom never braided our hair, she only permed it. My hair was fried from a perm most my young life….yep, I’d rather mom would’ve plaited my hair than permed it.

  • Reply
    Michael L. Jewell
    October 26, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Great article! The only time I have heard this word is where it appears in the New Testament (KJV).
    1Peter 3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
    PLA’ITING, ppr. Folding; doubling; braiding, from the WEBSTER’S 1828 DICTIONARY
    This Bible word from the Koine Greek means the elaborate braiding of the hair:—plaiting.
    My grandmother who would be over 120 years old if still alive had a thick braid that hung down her back, and she would also coil it into a bun. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Joanne
    October 26, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    We say plaiting hair here when referring to braids. It is as common as dishwater. My hair has always been long and straight. When in school the girls used to plait my hair everyday. They would often squabble over who got the honor that day. It is pronounced “plat”

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    October 26, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    My grandmother and my mother used the word plait.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    October 26, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    My grandmother said plait. She wore her never cut more than waist long hair in two plaits wound around her head. She taught me to plait her hair and mine.

  • Reply
    Betty W. Blalock
    October 26, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    My praternal grandmother (born in 1898) raised me and she plaited my hair. Nothing fancy…just two plaits down my back and bangs cut in the front. I wore it that way most of the time until I was 11 or 12 years old. My grandmother was raised in Vance County and lived most of her mid to late years in Wake County. But she talked a lot like those from Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 26, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    Tipper–First of all, of the 34 comments showing at this time, only two are from males. Yet from the mountain men (trappers) of the 1830s to Willie Nelson, plaits have had their place with males.
    As for the word, in my lexicon plaiting is the act; braids are the result. In other words, a girl plaits her hair into braids. Our daughter had braids when she was little and we spent a good bit of time living in England while I was conducting research. English ladies flocked to her like ‘possums to persimmons. They were clearly fascinated.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 26, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    We always said plait. My hair is so fine & thin that when I could have a plait it looked like a rat tail.

    I had a heart attack a few years ago when my hair was really long. One of the helpers (I was pretty out of it–wish I could know her name) came to my bed and said, ” Honey your hair will be tied in knots.” She Plaited all my hair–I guess in French braids as it was flat on my head. She got a rubber glove and used it to make hair ties. This is one of the kindest things I’ve ever experienced–it felt like a mother taking care of me.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      October 26, 2021 at 1:36 pm

      Wanda-what a sweet story 🙂

    • Reply
      Ruth B.
      October 26, 2021 at 7:25 pm

      My hair is still fine and thin. However, when I was a child and my mother would braid my hair, we also said it looked like a rat’s tail. My two sisters, however, had much fuller hair and lovely braids.

  • Reply
    Charlotte Bristow
    October 26, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Tipper, my dear maternal grandmother grew up in the mountains of Virginia, but her family moved to the NC Piedmont before she was grown. I let her plait my hair only once. She plaited so tightly, that my head hurt. I don’t remember how long I wore her braids (plaits). What a relief when I finally combed out the braids, and I had nice wavy hair for the rest of the day.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 26, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    We always platted (plaited) hair. Unfortunately my Mom could give perms, and each year I started school with something called a Toni perm. I called it the boing boing boing later in life. Every school picture gave evidence of me trying to plaster my hair flat. My sister had plaited hair, because a neighbor took to managing her golden locks.

  • Reply
    Mary
    October 26, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    I am so happy to have found this blog site, thank you. Even tho i did not grow up in Appalachia, my Dad and his side of the family did – Kentucky. My Mother always called it “plait” pronounced plat -rather than braiding. She grew up in Central Ky. When i used that term in Texas – people had not heard of it. So many of your words and pronunciations are quite familiar to me from relatives. This blog is like coming home (in a way).

  • Reply
    Gigi
    October 26, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    My mom and grandma would say plaiting hair. I had a real good friend, that could braid hair anyway you would want it. She passed away bout 3 to 4 months ago. Tipper, have you ever done the fish braid. She could do it so perfect. Pretty too.

  • Reply
    dee
    October 26, 2021 at 11:32 am

    My grandmothers said plait and my one grandmother I don’t think ever cut her hair. She always plaited her hair and then wound it up in a bun at the back of her neck. I came along in the early 40’s and most of the pictures of me show my hair french braided into pig tails up through 8th grade.

  • Reply
    Robert
    October 26, 2021 at 11:27 am

    With 3 sisters, I recall only the one 4 years older than me plaiting her hair, in the ’40s and ’50s. She wore it in pigtails and did it herself most times. Never heard braid used as a verb, as I recall, though I do remember hearing, “She wore her hair in a braid.”
    Fast forward 50 years and my pre-teen daughter started plaiting her own hair, sometimes in a French braid and sometimes in pigtails. I’ll never understand how a girl – or woman – can get their braids so symmetrically arranged without looking in a mirror.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    October 26, 2021 at 11:01 am

    I never heard the word braiding until I was grown, it was always plaiting. I remember when I was a child my grandmother would plait her long red hair every morning and then curl the long plait into a bun at the nape of her neck, secured by bobby pins. If she ever curled her hair she did it with small strips of rag. I don’t remember exactly how she curled it, but it seems like she rolled the long piece of rag up with a strand of hair and then tied it. My first memories of my mother curling her hair was with bobby pins. As she grew older she used the rollers most people my age are familiar with. I can look at my school pictures through the years and tell what method of hair curling my mom was using on me. I remember my aunts talking about a non-electric curling iron they used. I guess they heated it in the fire place or on the wood cook stove, but I don’t really know.

  • Reply
    Pat
    October 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

    I am almost 85 and heard that word many times when I was young. I was a city girl but my mother was from a small town. She had beautiful naturally curly hair and had no idea what to do with my straight hair. I have a picture of myself with her attempt at braiding it. She did her best and I love that picture.

  • Reply
    Charline
    October 26, 2021 at 10:51 am

    My Mother and Grandmother also said plait (plat). Like Miss Cindy, mine never got plaited, only snipped into a pixie.

  • Reply
    Bamma
    October 26, 2021 at 10:34 am

    In middle school girls woukd pay me $1 a day to french braid their hair. And an inside out french braid is also called a dutch braid.

  • Reply
    Patricia Wilson
    October 26, 2021 at 10:21 am

    In my family it was pronounced to rhyme with “plate,” not “flat.” I French braided both my daughters’ hair. They sat on a small stool in front of me. By the time they were in high school, they could do it themselves. Tipper, I don’t see how you managed it sitting beside your girls on the bed. I could never French braid my own hair. I think that the physical coordination gene in my DNA sustained some damage. 😉 My mother would not allow braids because she believed it would destroy my natural curl. The one exception was when I had the measles. I was so distraught at the sight of a face covered with red spots that she tried to cheer my up by braiding my hair in two pigtails, as we called them. Kids these days don’t even know what measles are, and that’s a blessing.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 26, 2021 at 9:51 am

    Yep we girls wore plaited hair in coalfields of Va. My mamaw did a plaite over each ear and then brought it across her head to have two thin braids on top. I saw a picture of women in Sweden with their hair like that and wondered if my mamaw had worn her hair like that to remember my Swedish grandpa that was killed at only age 36. I have been meaning to try plaited hair like mamaw did….thanks for reminding me.
    On another pronunciation….how is it we have several ways to say….hair….I’ve heard it a couple ways with two syllables…and also as…hare.
    As mentioned before, I also love our commonality with many British words .

  • Reply
    Regina
    October 26, 2021 at 9:47 am

    I grew up in Mississippi and we always used word “plait.” I had a rag doll and spent a lot of time plaiting her hair. In summer I would go into the corn field and plait the corn silks. They always looked like silky blond hair to me.

  • Reply
    Jane O'Dell
    October 26, 2021 at 9:27 am

    We called it plaiting when I was coming up. I called it braiding with my daughter. I’m not sure why or what caused us to call it differently since I grew up saying, Mom, please plait my hair. Cool post. Thanks for calling attention to how language changes just within our own short lifetimes. Much love from SC, Jane❤️

  • Reply
    donna sue
    October 26, 2021 at 9:18 am

    I love this post! I have always pronounced plaiting like “plate”. My Mom is from Pennsylvania, so I don’t know if that is common there. Her foster mom, which was my dad’s aunt, lived in Maryland part of her childhood, then the family moved to Pennsylvania – Phoenixville/Valley Forge, West Chester and Marshallton areas. (I probably am spelling that wrong – Mom always pronounces it “Marshallteen”, but I know it is not spelled the way she says it). My mom and aunt went to live with Na-na and Dad-da when my mom was 12, so she does say a lot of words like they did. I have heard plaiting and braiding equally in my life. When I was born, I had no hair. So my mom would glue, yes glue, bows to my head. That’s probably why I do not like hats or caps of any kind on my head to this day – it probably hurt when she took the bows off my head! All through school, my hair was straight. When I was in grade school, she would put curlers in my hair Friday night and leave them in until Sunday morning, but my hair wouldn’t curl no matter what she put in it to hold the curl. Even braiding my hair didn’t create waves. About ten years ago, when I was diagnosed with that disease and they told me I had only about three years to live – over a few months I noticed my hair getting wavy. It was crazy, because overnight a few months later, it was like I had gotten a perm. Everybody envied my curls. I was happy to finally have curly hair! As I healed, though, my hair didn’t have as tight of curls as it did as when I first was sick. It’s still curly now somewhat, but once I comb it, the top hair is straight, but the underside is still curly. At least I can use curlers or an iron now, and the curls hold in my hair. Sometimes I will get a perm, and it, too, does last now. Yay! Braiding hair reminds me of curling your hair. Oh! the hair drama/trauma I’ve gone through for those elusive curls all my life! Both my sisters have hair that curls just at the thought of wearing curlers. My Mom’s does too. The Bible tells us a woman’s hair is her glory — for as much time and money we spend on it, it sure is! How many times do we hide in our homes because our hair won’t behave the way we want it to some days? Yes, I am poking fun at us girls.

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Shirl
    October 26, 2021 at 9:10 am

    Mom and her mother wore their long hair platted and then fixed to the back of their head with long hairpins. I never saw either of them without their hair pinned up. The style was common in the Old Regular Baptist Church they attended. My oldest daughter had waist length hair until her late teens and wore plaits in her ponytail and pigtails many times.

  • Reply
    Peggy
    October 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

    I’ve always heard braids referred to as plaiting. I’m not sure where that started for me. Eastern Kentucky, I guess. My Momma cut my hair in a pixie when I was little because I wouldn’t sit still to let her work on it. I did a lot of plaiting with my little girl until she learned to do her own and learned the fancier French braids. She now has three little girls so has plenty of opportunity to use her skills

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    October 26, 2021 at 8:57 am

    My mother braided my hair, but my best friend Patsy’s mother plaited hers! Both mothers were originally from Oklahoma,
    so I have no idea why they learned different words. Patsy and I simply accepted that she had plaits and I had braids (although we both usually called them pigtails)! I don’t remember seeing French braids until I was grown. I tried to learn to do it because it is so pretty, but never did.

  • Reply
    Cindy Childers
    October 26, 2021 at 8:49 am

    My Mom always used plaited my hair. I use the word plaited when in reference to braided hair.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    October 26, 2021 at 8:39 am

    I’ve never been a planter or braided. My hair is ultra curly and fuzzy so it never worked out. I remember Carly crying in frustration as I’d try to fix her hair and I remember Mara holding her feet and crying in exasperation with the hair fixing thing which lead me to tears. Both girls have beautiful hair now. I remember mommy with her water bottle and spray detangler working on my hair and I hated it too. To this day leave my hair and me ALONE…. I’ve had lots of hair issues all my life. Once a HUMBOLT, CA hippie (who used to hang out with Cathy Bates) told me I needed to get dread locks…. I almost passed out cold on the floor from utter shock…. lol. Absolutely no dreads or braids for me!!!!

  • Reply
    Staci
    October 26, 2021 at 8:19 am

    I’ve only heard “plaiting hair” from my African American friends – pronounced as mentioned earlier, like flat.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 26, 2021 at 8:02 am

    If memory serves, we said “plait” with the “p”. Plaited hair was most common among the elderly ladies when I was little in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My Grandma plaited her hair. It was below her waist if left straight but she would make two plaits and wind them around her head making a little crown. Although my brother and I lived with her two years I don’t recall ever seeing her plait her hair. It is a mystery to me when she did it. I was just used to seeing it as done.

    Which brings up a whole ‘nother thing. She did her own plaiting. What other kind of jobs are done without seeing what is being done, that is just by feel; what I have heard called “muscle memory”?

  • Reply
    Patricia Page
    October 26, 2021 at 7:53 am

    I have always called it plaiting hair. My grandmother called it that (she was born and raised in Cherokee Cty). My grandmother who was born and raised in Rowan Cty (Salisbury) also called it that.

  • Reply
    Emily from Austin
    October 26, 2021 at 7:51 am

    We said “plait” [plat] in East Texas in the 1940’s and ’50’ for pigtails, but “French braid” for the ones that started higher up near the forehead. I enjoy seeing pictures of your girls with their neat plaits.

  • Reply
    Becky
    October 26, 2021 at 7:45 am

    i’ve always plaited my hair when it was long enough… and we said it so it rhymed with flat…doesn’t surprise me at all its an old Brit term…my British friend will sometimes say things and I’ll usually come out with something like “I ain’t heard that since i was a little kid up in the mountains”…apparently lots of things i learned growing up came from them cause when he moved into the mountains “wadn’t nary a soul had any trouble atall bein able to understand him and his accent”

  • Reply
    Kathy Gautier
    October 26, 2021 at 7:36 am

    My grandma also said plaiting my hair like “flat”. She would say “Come here and let me plait your hair to keep it out of your eyes.” Thanks for another memory today. This is the best part of my morning and I so enjoy reading your blog and the comments. We are all so different and at the same time so alike! Have an awesome day.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 26, 2021 at 6:46 am

    Somewhere along the line I heard of plaiting as well as braiding but I never thought about it much I never had enough hair to plait or braid. It was always cut short. It seems that my fine soft hair was always falling in my face with my mother always fussing at me about it so they tried to keep it short because I didn’t seemed to care of my soft fine hair fell across my face.
    I can remember my mother saying “Stop squinting at me through those bangs!”

  • Reply
    Angelia Davis
    October 26, 2021 at 6:08 am

    Both my mother and grandmother said plait, same pronunciation as previously discussed.

    • Reply
      Debbie
      October 26, 2021 at 11:48 am

      My grandmother would sit on an old straight back chair in her bedroom and plait her long black hair. I would sit on the floor just mesmerized as she would flip the ends back and forth and then bring the lengthing plait across her shoulder to finish to the end of her hair. She would then wrap the long tail in a neat circled bun at the back of her head and secure it with a few hair pins. If there was a special occasion, she would leave her hair a little loose around her face (not pulled as tightly when plaited), heat up the crimping iron on the stove, and put a few waves in the hair at her temples. When she died in her eighties, her black hair only had a few white hairs at her temple . I wish I could sit at her feet now and watch her “plait” her hair.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    October 26, 2021 at 4:59 am

    My mother and grandmother said plaiting. But here’s a question for you: How do you pronounce “plait”? We pronounce it like “flat”, not like “plate.” When I look it up, it seems that “flat” is the Brit pronunciation. That makes sense to me, since so many of our words are from the Old Country.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      October 26, 2021 at 6:00 am

      Patricia-we say it like you 🙂 Thank you for pointing that out.

      • Reply
        Ava
        October 26, 2021 at 7:34 am

        My grandmother wore her hair in a long braid and then coiled it into a bun. She said plait. (Rhymed with flat)

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