Appalachian Dialect


girl in creek

Chitter is plumb foolish about the creek

In the last few weeks two readers have emailed me with the suggestion of posting about the word plumb.

Here’s what the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has to say about the word.

A adjective Complete, thorough, absolute.
1895 Edson and Fairchild Tenn Mts 373 = excellent. “If I hed your gun, I’d hev plum fun.” 1904-7 Kephart Notebooks 2:367 Them hogs are plumb pets. 1936 (in 1952 Mathes Tall Tales 213) Up in the plumb middle of Hell. 1979 Carpenter Walton War 151 Hit’s a plumb sight how a thunderstorm jest gives her the hysterics.
B adverb Completely, absolutely, directly. Cf clean C, clear B.
1859 Taliaferro Fisher’s River 55 I cum right plum upon one uv the curiouset snakes I uver seen in all my borned days. 1867 Harris Sut Lovingood 25 I seed the warter fly plum abuv the bluff from whar I were. 1895 Edson and Fairchild Tenn Mts 373 = very. “He ought to be here plum soon”; = wholly. “I’m plum done out.” 1931 Goodrich Mt Homespun 55 “They plumb give her up,” said Serinthy, “but Doc Burns come by and he fotched her out of it.” 1937 Hall Coll. Cosby Creek TN [Do you live alone?]: Not plumb. (Cindy Benson, who explained that her granddaughter had come to stay with her for the summer) 1939 Hall Coll. Hartford TN He run up and stobbed his knife into [the bear] and cut a big long gash plumb to the hollow of the bear. (Billy Barnes) c1940 Padelford Notes Hit’s gettin raily moughty nigh plumb cold. c1945 Haun Hawk’s Done 267 Elzie got on the horse and rode plumb down to old man Gulley’s to get him to come and see the cow. 1969 GSMNP-37:2:2:10 I’ve hunted plumb to the Smokies back through here on Deep Creek and Indian Creek. 1970 Foster Walker Valley 8 You could reach either way and get them but you couldn’t turn plumb around.

As you can see, the Dictionary has a lot to say about the word, and I didn’t even share the entire entry.

Plumb is one of those words that I’m not sure I could make my point without using. I mean how would I say: “I’m plumb wore out” or “I was plumb to Peachtree before I remembered I was supposed to stop at the Folk School” or even “We’re plumb out of milk somebody needs to stop at the store next time they’re out.



bowl of vegetables

Come cook with me!

Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. For the rest of the class details go here.

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  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    June 16, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Tipper I liked Ken comments sure brought good memories about catching lizards to sell always had jingle monies in our pockets . This was plumb good for small kids my nephews was two years younger than me and we caught 4 doz that day. We got 75 cent a doz then we divided our loot between us.

  • Reply
    Carolyn Powell
    June 15, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Plumb to me means absolute vertical. Carpenters use a plumb line to make certain things are straight. I’ve also heard it as “plumb tired” but my first thought is always on the vertical.

  • Reply
    Robert Wasmer
    June 14, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    When we lived in Maryland, I would listen to bluegrass music on WAMU radio station. Ray Davis, one of the disc jockey’s, would often say after he played a particularly sad or tragic song, “that is a plumb pitiful song!”

  • Reply
    June 12, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    Like Chitter, I’m plumb foolish about a creek too!! Love to get in one, or drive along side one, or just sit and look at one. My grandparents used that word Plumb and i may have at one time when I was a lot younger. I don’t hear it around here in south central PA.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 12, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    What a sweet young lady
    down by the creek,
    some say she’s plum foolish
    But she’s pretty as a peach!

  • Reply
    Nancy schmidt
    June 12, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    So familiar but don’t hear it much now that I’m in Kansas. I think I save it for one of my favorites: “ I’m plumb tuckered out now”.
    Both my East Tennessee parents used it freely when I was a girl. Come to think of it I guess I still use it for emphasis: “ that is plumb aggravatin”.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    June 12, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Tipper, “Plumb” is a very useful word. I say it often.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 12, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    I use to love playing in the creek, like Chitter. It gave me a real sense of purpose. Me and Harold use to catch lots of lizards and either sell ’em to Bob Mason’s Colonial Store, or there was a man from Ga. who came by occasionally. He paid a lot more, but we never knew when he was coming. We fixed a box, big as a Casket, to hold the lizards in, and put it in the creek in front of the house. We checked it every day to keep the watersnakes out, but most of the time, those snakes could outsmart us. We’d take a hoe to get the snake out and give it to our Fiests. Usually that ole snake was so fat on lizards, he couln’t move much. The dogs would sling the stuffings out, they knew how to take care of snakes. (They saved us many times picking strawberries, rattlesnakes and copperheads use to be plentiful, but them Feists could smell ’em.)

    I use the word “plumb’ alot when I’m talking. Some folks think I hadn’t had much schoolin’, but I went to school at Andrews and learned much. Daddy and Mama just went to the 7th grade, that’s all there was back then at Bushnell and Hewitts. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 12, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I know that one well. Remember Minnie Pearl saying she lived in Plumb Nearly, plumb out of town and nearly out of the country? Unfortunately, my most likely use of it nowadays is in “I plumb forgot.” Now there is food for thought. If our way of talking is fading out, why does it ‘stick’ in certain uses more than others?

    • Reply
      June 12, 2019 at 10:42 pm

      My grandparents built a home way out in the country on a winding gravel road. They named the place Plumb Nearly for the exact reasons Minnie stated.

  • Reply
    Jeannie Emberton
    June 12, 2019 at 9:51 am

    We have always used the word plumb,like,Im plumb done or she plumb forgot.
    I think the word has something to do with being level or straight or equal,something that is the”straight of things”Pertaining to using a level.I’ve always heard something not level,”half bubble off plumb”.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 12, 2019 at 9:28 am

    You never even got to the fruit ‘Plum” which both the wild and tame versions make wonderful eating as the fruit fresh off the tree or jelly with butter on a hot ‘Biscuit. When I was growing up there was a stand of wild plums just above the Swinging Bridge which would sometimes have an abundance of fruit, we would gather them when ripe and my Mom would make the most wonderful jelly which we would enjoy all through the winter. This is just one wonderful memory I have of growing up on our farm.

  • Reply
    June 12, 2019 at 9:26 am

    I didn”t include “plumb” in my 1976 booklet “IOWISH: What It Is and How To Speak It,” but I should have. It simply didn’t occur to me because I hadn’t heard the word in normal conversation since I was a kid. My Iowa grandparents, all four of them, and their generation, used the word as reported here, and they were never in Appalachia. It’s a great word! I can still hear Grandpa say after a long day, “I’m plumb tuckered.”

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 12, 2019 at 7:50 am

    That’s one of those words I haven’t heard in ages. My parents used it often and I am sure I did also.
    If I use it now I am not aware of it. I love these word tests. Sure brings back lots of good memories. Makes me plum happy.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 12, 2019 at 7:14 am

    Plumb is such a expressive and useful word, I don’t know what I’d do without it. Like saying “I’m tired” compared to “I’m plumb wore out”. The latter is so much more expressive!
    I live the picture of the thoughtful girl!

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