Appalachian Dialect Heritage

Say What?

Tore Up Jack

Every once in a while-an old saying bubbles up from my consciousness and flows straight out of my mouth. It leaves me wondering why I said it-where I heard it-and who was the first person to say it.

One day last week, I was describing a tornado that hit near Atlanta one time-I said “it tore up Jack”. As soon as I spoke the words-I thought how long has it been since I heard someone say that-and why did it float to the top of my mind and come out? Tore up Jack-means total destruction. Leaves you wondering just who Jack was?

A few others that come to mind:


If you want to dance you’ll have to pay the fiddler: I mean really-did some parent say “there’ll be no dancing at this house unless you pay a fiddler to make music first!”

Save your breath to blow your coffee: You just know some little old lady came up with this one to hush her complaining husband.


If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about: Easy-a frustrated parent of a whiny child.

For the love of pete

For the love of Pete: Just who was Pete-and who was in worse shape-Pete who needed love or Jack who was tore up?

Would gag a maggot: For anyone who has seen a maggot-this one is pretty much self explanatory.

Run like the Dickens

Run like the Dickens: Was the Dickens a whole family of fast runners?

I'll jerk a knot in your tail

I’ll jerk a knot in your tail: This one is usually said to an unruly child-but how many children have tails?

Trust her as far as you can throw her

I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her: It’d be hard to throw most folks-so does that mean you shouldn’t trust any of them?

I could go on and on with the old sayings and the pondering on who started them and exactly what they mean. Most of the sayings have withstood the passage of time, staying in the mainstream lexicon. Others fall away due to changes in the social or commercial aspects of daily life. One that comes to mind from my childhood “what ever flicks your Bic” My girls don’t even know what a bic is or why you’d flick it.

Hope you’ll leave me a comment about the sayings I shared-and please take a moment to share the ones you’re familiar with.



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  • Reply
    May 17, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    My Dad used to say “That’s enough to make you hit your Dad” and “that’s an oh [email protected]#t if I ever saw one”
    My mom would tell us “I’ll snatch you bald headed.” when we misbehaved. One I love is “she looks like she’s been rode hard and put away wet”.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    March 22, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    seeing the above note about purt near reminds me of a Sunday afternoon on the river bank. Someone noticed a turtle that had been “squashed” – the remark was made that it was dead. A woman wandered over to take a better looks and she exclaimed; “No, look, he’s just purt near, he ain’t plumb!”

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    March 22, 2016 at 11:25 am

    “Run like the Dickens” is a euphemism for “Run like the Devil.” “Devil” used to be considered a cussword, plus there was a superstition that naming the Devil aloud would cause him to come around and mess with you.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    March 22, 2016 at 9:49 am

    My Great Uncle used to say ” now if that wouldn’t cob whack you” when he heard something that surprised him, or something he didn’t agree with.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    “Why don’t you wish in one hand and sh*t in the other, and see which one fills up first”…..(that was often said in response to someone saying “I wish…”)

  • Reply
    Cathy Leggett
    February 15, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    My sister used to say. ” You don’t have a hound in this hunt” meaning it is none of your business.
    Cleggett Illinois

  • Reply
    Funny Sayings
    April 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Great use of photos to illustrate.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    March 16, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Well, one of my favorites to my boys is, “I’m gonna tan your hide.” Or, “You better watch out or someone might stomp a mudhole in your backside.” My mom would say, “I’m gonna either put the fear of God in ye, or beat the hell out of ye.”

  • Reply
    Charline Venturini
    August 20, 2010 at 9:52 am

    How about,”If ya’ll want to stay the night, we’ll make a baptist pallet, or hang you on a nail”;”He’s as drunk as Cooter Brown” – or, “three sheets to the wind”?

  • Reply
    July 16, 2010 at 7:56 am

    I always heard “gag a maggot off a gut wagon” and that boy is “meaner than a striped (stipeit) snake!” Speaking of stripe, when I knew I was in big trouble…. “you are gonna get a stripeing little girl!” that meant go get a switch off the willow and it would really leave red stripes on the back of your legs! Also, among many more, “quicker than you can say jack Robinson or quicker than you can say lickedy split!”

  • Reply
    October 11, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    It’s colder than a well diggers ass…Something from eastern Kentucky…Pikeville

  • Reply
    August 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

    What about when your peckish? It means when you are just a little hungry & might peck at some food as though you are a chicken.
    Also, “purt near”? Meaning “almost”.
    Lastly, any reference to “Ole Scratch” meant the Devil.

  • Reply
    May 6, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Love your blog. My dad who’s still with us always had a couple of good ones.
    When he was frustrated with us he would tell us to straighten up or “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your butt and drag you through it”.
    When it was nearing time for bed and wanted me to brush my teeth he would tell me to go “scratch your snags with your snag-scratcher.”

  • Reply
    Beth W.
    April 29, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Great stuff, Tipper. I enjoyed the post and the comments. One of my favorites is “He’s (she’s) smarter than a tree full of owls;” and another that always brings a cringe from me & the grandkids when my husband Buck uses it: “I haven’t had this much fun since the hogs bit my sister.”

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    April 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Those were great, Tipper… and I’m like you- they just pop out of my mouth sometimes before I even think about it.
    Once when I was small, I was acting up a bit while my Mom was getting ready to go to the grocery store, and she told me, “If you don’t straighten up, I’ll keep you home ’til the moss grows on your butt.” Years later I used to give her a hard time about saying that one! (She denied she even said it!)

  • Reply
    April 29, 2009 at 9:22 am

    I think “I’ll jerk a knot in your tail” has to be one of my favorites. We picked this one up in TN but use it all the time now. It seems like there were more sayings in TN than WV…or at least they were very different. Still, I love it!

  • Reply
    April 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    You can have it if you want but it aint no count.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Loved this post!!

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    April 27, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I heard a number of these growing up; “Gag a maggot” was my favorite, though. Another favorite: “If brains was dynamite, he couldn’t blow his nose.”

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    April 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Tipper: Do you have a book to find some of these or do you have one great memory. Do they say ” If you don’t remember we’ll have to call tipper”.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Tipper, I’ve heard all those sayings many times. One of my personal favorites is “busier than a one-armed paper hanger with the itch” and one I can’t write here, ’cause it “just ain’t fittin'”.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Tipper –
    “Tore up Jack” – I haven’t heard that one in a coon’s age!
    “Gag a maggot” reminded me of one my granddaddy used to say – “that boy’s ugly enough to knock a dog off a gut wagon.”
    Of course, Grandmother said it a little differently. She’d say that someone was “so homely only his mama could stand him… and she was half blind!”
    Another one – “going to town” on something was to be really enthusiastic about it. A good musician would “go to town” on his banjo, for instance. Or, I’ve often seen my brother “goin’ to town” on a watermelon – i.e., eating it enthusiastically.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Your Jack is way different than ours, around these parts if you said “Jack” that would mean “nothing”. Like “he doesn’t know Jack” or “Her flirtin’ doesn’t mean Jack.” Or “that didn’t do Jack for me.”
    The Bic thing cracked me up. I didn’t think anyone remembered the Bic. I love randomly saying “This bar maybe dark but with a flick of my Bic I can see you’re a hick.” My girls just look all weird and bugged because they have no frame of reference for it.
    Fun post. Thanks Tipper.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2009 at 9:28 am

    If you find out how money burns a hole in your pocket so you have to spend it let me know . . .

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    April 26, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    I would love to know if anyone has ever heard this….”as long as Pat stayed in the army”. As in: if someone got a job or started something new or referring to some kind of endeavor, the comment would be made, “He’ll/that’ll last about as long as Pat stayed in the army.” My mother still says it and the only time I’ve ever heard/saw it was in one of Homer Hickam’s books quoting his mother.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    I sure enjoyed the reasoning behind these. Makes you go hummmmmm . . .
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    April 26, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    That storm sure tore up jack… I mean you couldn’t save squat!
    That ought to float your boat.
    Smart as a screen door in a submarine.
    I know a lot of them and have used most of them after I got ‘growed’.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I have heard all of those sayings and here are a couple more.
    He’s a ring-tail-tooter. – meaning he is a mischevious child
    Don’t be cuttin’ your biscuits at me, I ain’t got no butter for you. – This is my brother in law’s favorite saying when someone is looking at him expecting something.
    You could ride to town on that knife. – meaning that it one dull knife.
    Fun post!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I had never heard the saying, “Tore up Jack,” but most of the other ones are very familiar.
    Grandma used to say, “It hurt like the Dickens.” We knew what she meant. Dad would tell us, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry for.” I’ve said that to my daughter and my grandsons.
    Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane. When I say these things the grandsons tell me I talk “old-fashioned” and that “nobody talks like that anymore.” LOL
    Enjoy your Sunday. It’s cool here.

  • Reply
    Coach Daley
    April 26, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I think Jack was Jack Robinson.
    I was curious but when I looked up ‘Jack’ I found all sorts of things refering to things “male” and masculine. A Jack-of-all-trades, jack rabbit, Jack Frost are all males. Other things seemed to indicate some kind of action or quickness or otherwise like a projection like a jack post or jack rafter. A jack-in-the-box pops out quickly and scares some, just like the tornado does.
    But there is a phrase I’ve heard about something happening ‘before you can say Jack Robinson.” Jack Robinson being a character who leaves almost a quick as he arrives so that you hardly know he was there.
    I’ve heard this expression, or overheard it actually, when a mama was telling a daughter that a boy was not a good choice because “gettin’ up with him would be over before you could say Jack Robinson.” I hope she wasn’t talking about me!!
    “Gettin’ up with” is another phrase I’ve heard more often. When you ‘get up with’ some body you meet them in some kind of setting. Maybe it is a one time happening or maybe like that girl, you could ‘get up’ with some body and plan to stay that way for a long time. Not with Jack though!
    And in that case her mom could have used a phrase I’ve known from my childhood; ‘stick like gumbo.’ Gumbo, other than the food reference, is soil that is unusually sticky when it gets wet. So the term is mostly used in reference to the sticky mud.
    So that mom might have said something like, “Honey gettin’ up with him would be over before you could say Jack Robinson. You need to find yourself somebody that’ll stick with you like gumbo.”
    Or maybe she could have added a little more. “Honey gettin’ up with him would be over before you could say Jack Robinson. You need to find yourself somebody that’ll stick with you like gumbo, like the love of Pete.”
    Oh well, I also remember a girlfriend from way back when who had quite a quick wit about her. One time when she kissed me my hat fell off. When we stopped she looked at me and said, “Look, I flipped your lid!”
    So when I was teaching in the classroom and the guys still had their hats on I would say, “Flip your lids fellows.” And it is so funny because when the guys would look at me like they didn’t know what I was saying to them, it was always a girl who had to tell them to take their hat off.
    Have a great Sunday everyone, but if your old like me keep you lids on to keep the sun off your head.
    Coach Daley

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I have heard and used most of them, but I don’t use the one with Jack’s name because that is my son’s name, lol. How about “I’m so hungry my belly n backbone are bumpin”. “That kid is so rough he could tear up a cannonball”. “That road is rougher n a cob. “He’s busier than a centepede at a toe countin contest”. “That’s slicker n snot on a glass doorknob”. I better stop now or I might take all the comment space. Terry

  • Reply
    noble pig
    April 26, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Gag a maggot? That’s a good one.

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    April 26, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I’m not familiar with the one about Jack. I’ve heard the rest and used them, but not in ” a right smart while.” Have a blessed Sunday.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Sorry I haven’t commented in a long while. It’s been crazy around here! I had a good laugh at these sayings, but one of my favorite is one my father in law says and I do not get it at all, but it cracks me up none the less. If something is surprising to him he will say, “Well, if that don’t hairlip the governor.” What does that mean?? LOL, thought you would get a good laugh out of that one. Best wishes!

  • Reply
    Old Red Barn Co.
    April 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I haven’t heard of some of these. I love hearing them from you though!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Dadgummit. Most of the old sayings I remember have already been used here. Many were euphemistic words used in the place of a cuss word. “Take a big slug of this ‘Who hit John?’.” “I’m gonna tan your hide.” Pappy

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 12:25 am

    “That’s so good, it’ll knock your hat in the creek” – one of my best friend’s favorites.
    “She couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag” – for the directionally challenged.
    “I’m so confused, I can’t find my butt with both hands.”
    “I’m so busy, I just met myself coming down the road.”
    “She just gave me down the road.” – when someone’s fairly upset with me.
    “I wouldn’t believe him if he told me water was wet.”
    I’m sure I’ll think of a hundred more…

  • Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I’d heard all (and used most), but the “tore up Jack”. That’s a new one to me.
    I learned on a documentary on cemeteries that the “saved by the bell” expression came from back during the days of primitive medicine/science. To make sure a person was not buried alive who was presumed dead (and not mostly dead), they would tie a string to the corpse, then run the string up through a hole in the casket up above the ground, with a bell attached to the other end. If the person awoke, they’d pull the string and ring the bell, thus being saved by the bell…assuming anyone was nearby to hear it, I guess! ;-Þ

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    April 25, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Cute post – I’m not familiar with all of them, but have gotten a few strange looks from my kiddos 🙂

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I’ve heard of most of these, too.
    How about: I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 ft. pole, I’ll me a monkey’s uncle, my lands!, and if the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    April 25, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    My mother’s favorite: “She’s no better than she should be.”

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I’m very familiar with all of those.. love ‘for the love of pete’ or ‘for the lovapete’

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Pete, Jack, and the Dickenses. Where did they come from, and where are they?
    As a kid, I heard “I’ll give you something to cry about” plenty of times. Made me cry all the louder!
    Tore up Jack is new to me. I’ll be using it up here, too!

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I have heard all of those. And I use them regularly.
    My Mom was full of those sayings. One I remember her saying…
    “He’s dumber than a bent sled track.”
    I remember asking my Dad what a bent sled track was, he cracked up laughing, never did answer that question.
    Maybe I should have added it my post the other day about questions I’d like to have answered.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Smack dab in the middle (of something) What do you think a smack dab is?

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    These are funny. I have “run like the dickens” before and used that saying many times.
    My Dad would say, “I’m going to town, be back directly.” When is directly?
    A hissie fit was something we pitched when we got angry. “Pitchin’ a hissie fit!”
    I love these old mountain sayings.
    How fun to remember them.

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    April 25, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I loved this. I have heard most of them. And said them. We usually say something along the lines of “it’s time to pay the piper” instead of the fiddler, but I have heard that one before.
    How about:
    “I’m going to slap you into next week.”
    “I Swanee.”
    “You scared the peetwadlin’ (sp?) out of me!”
    I’m sure there are plenty of others.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    How about:
    Don’t make me come over there!
    That (place any food dish here) is so good it’ll make you wanna whup your mama, reach across the table and slap your daddy.
    Slow down, who do you think you are Barney Oldfield.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I am very familiar with all these sayings but I can’t think of any more right now. They come to you when you least expect them.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    i have heard about dog woods but never seen one bloom…there are so beautiful! your are harvesting from your garden already?!!!! the ground is still frozen here and we just have over 2′ of snoww earlier this week. we had a severe thunder storm last night with lots of rain and wind and in town we heard a bunch of big maple trees came down…so sad. i finished my “wow” top if you want to take a peak at it. i am so happy but no clue how i will quilt it.

  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    April 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    “Smack you into next Sunday”
    “Slap you so hard your head’ll spin”
    I RARELY EVER got spanked or smacked. I think I can count on one hand any spankings, that I remember. But those types of sayings scared the crap outta me! (Hmmm, there’s another one)

  • Reply
    April 25, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Well all’s I can come up with is “long time~no see”…there are a few not so nice ones, but I’ll keep them to myself…LOL!

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