Appalachian Dialect Sayings from Appalachia

Say What – Colorful Language From Yesterday

fall colored mountains


I so enjoyed reading all of your wonderful comments on yesterday’s Say What? post. As Kris pointed out every region of the world-Australia in his case-has their own unique sayings. Whatever the area I believe people ought to hold on to them and use them so they’ll be passed on to the coming generations.

Jim’s point about old sayings being common in Appalachia was a good one and he even used a saying to say it!

A few other things that jumped out at me from yesterday’s comments:

  • John-who lives over the big pond said this in reference to my “If you’re going to dance you’ll have to pay the fiddler” saying: “He who pays the fiddler calls the tune” may well be the original saying, that’s what I used to hear when I was small, in other words “when you start to pay your way around here you can have things how you want them!” Since so much of our language came from the British Isles-I bet John is right.
  • Brian Blake said: “For the love of Pete probably refers discreetly to Saint Peter, without taking the Lord’s name in vain.” A few of you mentioned the saying For Pete’s Sake-bet that one is in reference to Saint Peter too.
  • Pam Moore told about a saying I’ve never heard-one with a very interesting story behind it: “My mom would always say that we had “enough food to feed Cox’s army”. I asked her who Cox was and she said she didn’t know, it was just something that her parents said. I did some research and found out that there were two Coxs. During the Depression, in 1932, a priest named Cox led a march on Washington, DC consisting of unemployed men from Pennsylvania. In 1894, another depression year, Jacob Coxey led a protest march into Washington, DC to ask that jobs be created. I thought it was interesting that there were two “Cox’s armies”.
  • Ethelene Dyer Jones gave a wonderful explanation for the old saying-its raining cats and dogs (which happens to be what it’s doing right now in Brasstown): “How about this one: “It’s raining cats and dogs!” By researching this old saying, I found that it dates back to thatched-roofed houses, when straw was piled high to keep out the elements from the crudely-built dwelling. The cats and dogs (and other creatures) would sometimes crawl upon the thatch and sleep. When a heavy rainstorm came, the weight of the rain on the straw, plus the added weight of the poor animals (that were surely getting wet!) made the animals fall through the roof and land inside the hut. Therefore, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” We still say it. But who has ever lived in a thatched-roof house?”
  • Ed Ammons chimed in with several sayings. But the list from the gentleman he works with-made me wish I worked there too-or at least that I could meet the man and hang out with him for a while!
  • Bill Burnett shared a saying he had just heard and his thoughts on it:  “I heard one yesterday that was new to me “I’ll be the son of a Motherless Goat”. just what does that mean? A lot of these are used in place of some vulgar swearing but why do they catch on and pass from generation to generation?”
  • Rachelle had a cute comment: “We are forever more telling Landon we are gonna jerk a knot in his tail, and he says “Nannie, I not have a tail”.”
  • PinnacleCreek shared one I’ve never heard but loved:  “I learned a new one from a lady I once worked with. She used to say to coworkers “Don’t sit there like Ned in the Primer!” I sure hope these are forever preserved.”
  • Ron Banks had one I have heard in the past but had forgotten: “In regard to a good church sermon: Now, if that don’t light your fire son, your woods wet!”
  • Bradley had this one: “The one that used to make all the young boys mad was when he would act like he was trying to cheer someone up. He would put his hand on their shoulder and say, “Now son don’t worry its always darkest right before it turns pitch black, besides it could be worse it could have happened to me.”
  • Martina had some good ones: “Grandma said of her grandson, an extreme procrastinator: “He doesn’t ride the horse the day he puts the saddle on” Mom used to have comments while driving of “great grandmother’s corset stays” and “stars and garters”. I don’t know if they were substitutes for naughty words or were just vintage expressions.”

I shared your comments with The Deer Hunter who believes strongly in using sayings to spice up his conversations. A few of his favorites:

  • deader than 4 o’clock
  • happy as a pig in slop
  • drunker than a 9 eyed spider

One of my very favorite sayings came from one of you. Back in February Linda left this comment on one of my Appalachian Vocabulary Tests: My mother used to say: “Your milk of human kindness has turned to bonnie clabber.”

That saying has stuck with me ever since she left the comment. I’m not sure why-if its because it sounds like its really old or if its the firm sound it has or because its so descriptive, but I love it.

Thanks again for all the great comments. You guys really do make the Blind Pig a better place to visit!



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  • Reply
    May 15, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Growing up, the elderly next door neighbor that everyone called Granny , would threaten us with a spanking by saying she was going to “turn us over her checkered apron”. And when she wanted us to hurry up with something, she’d tell us to “get a wiggle on Lucy”.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Hope this isn’t too vulgar, but I mean no disrespect. When I was small, my Uncle would make me laugh every time when he said this one (about getting into trouble or making a big mistake) “boy, you done #%&@ and fell back in it now”. It created a visual for me that made me hysterical with laughter. He was a rabbit hunter, so I guess he was frequently in places with no access to outhouses.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    My folks used the saying ‘Cox’s army.’ Really enjoy these!

  • Reply
    January 23, 2012 at 12:41 am

    What a treat this has been reading all the quips and ‘sayuns’
    from all over. Between reading yesterday’s treasures and today’s recap, my mind is spinning with memories of whimsical quotes from the past. I agree with whoever said that our speech was more colorful years ago..Let’s not let all those cultural quips die.
    Being raised in Southern MS, I remember my great aunt saying, when shocked about something, ” my stars and red garters”…My gran used to sigh and say “Mercy Sakes” when exasperated…Our big extended family Sunday dinners were always enough to feed that fellow Cox’s Army (glad to hear that explanation).
    My M-in-L when disgusted with someone would say “he’s not even worth a mashed bullet”.. Oh my goodness, you were really cussin’ when you said when in trouble, “he’s sure up *&# creek.”
    My Dad used to say “he’s up a creek without a boat OR a paddle”..We heard of folks that were drunk as Cooter Brown, but more often, it was drunk as a skunk..My M-in-L would say when a mistake had been made, or you were frustrated about something, “Well, in a hundred years, it won’t make a bit of difference”, pat you tenderly, and you just naturally felt all better…

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    January 22, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I know I’m a day late & a dollar short(lol) on this one, but Mitchell told me his mama always said when someone was between a rock & a hard place he was “up against a nekkid rooster”! I just love that-

  • Reply
    January 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

    it’s so interesting isn’t it to see where all these old saying came from…i don’t think we speak as colorful as they used to 🙁

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I remember a lady I once worked with use to say “Ye Gods and little fishies.” Have no idea what that means but she seemed to say it when a crisis was rising.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    My dad always used the ex pression “went out like Lottie’s eye”. I wish I knew the story behind that saying.

  • Reply
    John Stonecypher
    January 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Barking dog old man said if you cant fight you better stay on the pourch.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Mercy no wonder I heard that sayin’ so much growin’ up….
    It says that it was derived from the carolinas….Civil War era…I googled it and very interesting…
    I am now into looking more of these sayins’ up that are Appalachian related…
    My granny said it about a farm animal…I can’t remember if it was an old rooster or mule…but said the way it walked it looked like it was drunker than Cooter Brown….LOL
    Thanks Tipper…

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    These are all so much fun! One of my favorites is, “A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.”

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I loved all the comments from yesterday and today…
    Another of my favorites was and I have never known who he was….
    My Granny said…”He was drunker than Cooter Brown!” I guess I need to google that one to find out who Cooter Brown was and just how long he stayed drunk!..LOL “What does “Deader than a doornail mean?”
    This one is rough language…A family member used to say and still does if someone is in trouble or can’t fix something broken….”You’re up %#&@creek now!… I always wondered where
    %#&@creek was when I was a kid and pondered why it was called such a thing!LOL
    Thanks Tipper, I think I will write some of these down to keep as a rememberance as they come back to me….

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    my mother said snatch a knot in your head a many a time. i saw that in the comments. these are all truly interesting, some i have heard and some not.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I enjoyed all those sayings from
    our folks yesterday across the
    land. Just remembered something
    my daddy said when he was telling
    of a recent experience. He would
    say “Fi’d ta deye” meaning “if I had to die”…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I like the collage at the top. I see the Deer Hunter, his dad, my dad and my mother.
    All pictures from time past!
    What would our lives be with ought all these colorful sayings!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 21, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I love the language of Appalachia. I hope it never goes away. I was surprised to hear you say you had never heard the saying about Cox’s Army, that is one I have heard since I was young.

  • Reply
    Special Ed
    January 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thank You for a little lighthearted fun on a chilly January yesterday. And Thank You for providing a place where we can pass on our bits of wisdom and wit, hopefully into tomorrow and beyond.

  • Reply
    Darlene LaRoche
    January 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

    My Dad always had alot of fun sayings he used, when we kids get together we always remember all the fun things he used to say…one of my favorite was: ” If frog had wings”….and one my husband always enjoyed hearing Dad say was” Dangerous as a cocked cannon”….lol Preciious memories of growing up….

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I’ve really enjoyed reading both of your recent posts…some of these sayings are really familiar! If I could think quicker, I could probably add a few, but for now I’ll just enjoy the ones you all have shared! 🙂

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    January 21, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Love this, Tipper. I enjoyed every word of this post.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Seems like when we need to remember something it takes a couple of days. The Deer hunter’s saying about the drunk spider reminded me of one about being drunk. A few years ago a boy slid out in a curve below My Daddy’s house and turned over. They got the wrecker and the State Trooper and soon all was O.K. When Daddy got back they asked him what happened. He said, “Awh everything is fine but I swear when they pulled that boy out he was drunk as a boiled owl!”

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Thanks for sharing them…one I forgot yesterday. My neighbor used to say snatch a knot on your head. Used to give quite a visual when you’re 10 yrs. old.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    January 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Tipper: Neat collection of sayings. Really enjoyed North Wind by Paul. A North Wind storm moved through last night and blanketed us with snow.

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