Appalachian Dialect


large corn field

Sometimes an old saying bubbles up from my consciousness and flows straight out of my mouth. I always wonder why it chose that minute to appear when I haven’t said it nor heard it for ages.

One time I was describing a tornado and I said “Man! It tore up Jack!” Then I thought now where did that old saying come from?

When I was in high school I started saying confound it every time something didn’t go my way. I don’t recall Pap or Granny saying it so I don’t know where in the world I heard it. During that time I was at my friend’s house and her mother heard me say “Confound it!” She got the biggest laugh. She said she hadn’t heard anyone say that since she was a child.

Tore up Jack means total destruction.

A few other old sayings that come to mind:

If you want to dance you’ll have to pay the fiddler. 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.

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

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

I’ll jerk a knot in your tail. This one is usually said to an unruly child.

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 pondering who started them and exactly what they mean. A lot of sayings have withstood the passage of time and stayed in the mainstream lexicon. Others fall away due to changes in social or commercial aspects of daily life. One that comes to mind from my childhood What ever flicks your Bic. My girls don’t know what a Bic is nor why you’d flick it 🙂

Some sayings shared by Blind Pig readers over the years:

  • Pam Moore said “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: “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?”
  • 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: “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!”
  • 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!”
  • 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.”

One of my very favorite sayings came from a Blind Pig reader. Linda left this comment on one of my early Appalachian Vocabulary Tests: “My mother used to say: Your milk of human kindness has turned to bonnie clabber.”


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  • Reply
    April 25, 2021 at 1:28 am

    I was curious about the origin of the nickname “Hoosier,” but could never find a definitive story. So the one I relate is that folks in Southern Indiana had relatives on both sides of the Ohio River. When they would meet new emigrants from Kentucky, one of the first things they would ask them is “Who’s yer kinfolk?”

  • Reply
    Sherry Dobbs
    September 30, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    My Aunt was giving my cousin Scott a bath when he was about two years old. She went across the hall to get his jammies off the bed. He says Mommy come kill this bug..she said Scott what kind is it..he says… not know my not see him face!. Hilarious

  • Reply
    Lathan Roddey
    June 20, 2020 at 10:39 am

    Friend of mine said when referring to someone that was ugly : “ She’s so ugly she would scare a buzzard off a gut wagon “. Now that’s ugly !! PS they used to use a wagon to haul off the guts from the slaughter house and buzzards would gather for the big event

  • Reply
    Dee Dee Parker
    June 18, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Mother often told me,”Pretty is as pretty does.” A lot of the above sayings I am very familiar with.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve heard and used a good many of these phrases, and I’m from central Virginia.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 18, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    A few years ago at Our Garden Party, I heard Matt say as they were going inside, “I’ll slap you into next week.” Why, he wouldn’t bother one of those pretty twins atall. …Ken

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    June 18, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Not sure of it’s origin, but Daddy always said, “Well, I’ll be dog, you be the rabbit, down cross the cotton patch, me and you’ll have at it.” I was nearly grown before I could get it right.

  • Reply
    Linda Trambley
    June 18, 2020 at 11:42 am

    My mama, from Waynesville, always used to say “I don’t know if I’m washin’ or hangin’ out” . I guess that’s when you’re a little flustered:)

  • Reply
    Glenda Simpson
    June 18, 2020 at 11:14 am

    My childhood in East Tennessee was full of sayings that I still use, and they can pop out at any given time without a conscious thought. A couple of my favorites are “I will be back in a whip stitch”, and “he’s tighter than the bark on a tree”. I heard the”whip stitch” saying on an episode of Walton’s Mountain from elderly cousin Zadok as he wandered off on his own and didn’t want anyone to worry, so he assured them he would “be back in a whip stitch”. It brought tears to my eyes.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    June 18, 2020 at 11:01 am

    About someone going too slow, “He’s moving like the lice are falling off him!” or “She’s slower than molasses in January!”
    About a garment too big, “It fits him like socks on a rooster!”
    About someone tall, “He’s a long, tall drink of water.”
    About someone in need, “She’s as poor as Job’s turkey!” or “He doesn’t have a thin dime.”
    About something (or someone) you don’t recognize, “I wouldn’t know it if it jumped up and said ‘Howdy’.
    When you don’t have enough time, “I’ve been as busy as a cranberry merchant.”
    About a pretty girl, “She’s as cute as a speckled pup!”
    About not wanting to do something, “I wouldn’t do that for all the tea in China!’
    About heat, “It’s hotter than seven shades in Hades!” or “so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk”
    About cold, “It’s colder than Blitzen!”

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I try not to post twice on the same post, as I am entirely wordy enough with one post. However, an expression has troubled me through the years. I often heard the expression, “He thinks he is a big shot.” I have never learned if that is common to Appalachia or just a local saying. We had a very prominent family in the area with last name of Shott, so it could strictly be local. I would be very interested to know if others from Appalachian have ever hear or used this expression.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      June 18, 2020 at 11:33 am

      I’m from KY. and I believe you are from W.VA. I’ve heard big shot all my life, so it must be more than local.

    • Reply
      Ann Applegarth
      June 18, 2020 at 12:17 pm

      Yep! I’ve known big shots in Texas, Oregon, Kentucky, and New Mexico — or at least guys who thought they were big shots!

      • Reply
        Emily from Austin
        June 18, 2020 at 2:49 pm

        Same here (East and Central Texas), Ann Applegarth.
        There are lots of big shots or would-be big shots in
        our neck of the woods. Some things never change.
        I hope these exchanges of old sayings will have
        a good long run.

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      June 18, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Pinnacle Creek, I always heard ‘ big shot’ in southeastern KY. We had an elderly lady in my home town when I was a kid that was known for speaking her mind. Something was said once about those who thought they were above the common herd. She said, “We have a lot of big shots in town. Squeeze the O and put a dot over it.” Of ciurse it was the big shots who rode the ‘high horse’.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    June 18, 2020 at 9:48 am

    The only one I hadn’t heard or said (many a time) is the “Save your breath…” I’ll probably have that one pop outta my mouth now.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 9:30 am

    As much as I have read on the Civil War I always thought that was General Cox. Thanks for straightening out a misconception. My Dad was a walking dictionary of old sayings, and when we get together to share memories we always quote one of his old sayings. One f the funniest was when he heard something preposterous he would say, “I’ll be a suck egg mule.” I think that one may have been just reserved for his children. He was the only one I ever heard call skim milk “blue john.”
    About the older lady who always said, “Don’t sit there like Ned in the Primer.” She was from a remote area near Bishop, Virginia. She used many different words and old saying that were foreign to me even though she lived across the state line in an adjoining state. One I hesitated to put on here was her using the word “shaggy” for a patient’s derriere. This mystified me, and I found it amusing. We had to reposition patients in bed, and she would tell them to “move their shaggy.” Surely that has to be the oldest and most confusing word I have ever heard, but apparently common to her area. She has long since passed, so I cannot ask her! That is why it is so important for these old sayings and words to live on. Some are very localized, and many are familiar over a wide area. We do not want to lose them.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    June 18, 2020 at 9:27 am

    My mother used to say, with a sniff, “she’s no better than she should be.” I always wondered what that meant actually, although her sniff conveyed her intent.

    Dumber than a box of nails was one of my Dad’s. Also, a brick shy of a load. And of course, I’ve always heard “he’s got ants in his pants” to refer to a fidgety child.

  • Reply
    carol harrison
    June 18, 2020 at 9:18 am

    My mother-in-law used to say, “well I’ll be go to milk” when something amazed her.
    I have also heard when someone was perturbed at another: ” Just leave, you and the horse you rode in on”.

  • Reply
    Emily from Austin
    June 18, 2020 at 9:08 am

    “These shoes are as tight as Dick’s hatband,” my mother would say.
    It has a nice ring to it. We. always wanted to know who Dick
    was. No one knew.
    They had “enough food to feed Cox’s army (pronounced like Coxey’s,” and
    now I know why) was a common description of abundance in my mother’s (b. 1920)
    and her mother’s generations. Have not heard it in many years.

    “They were thick as thieves” was said of a very close association, often with a suggestion of
    “up to no good.”

    Thank you so much, Tipper, for sharing these delights.

    On another subject, did you or your readers ever hear that bluejays go
    to Hell on Friday? It took me more than 50 years to
    find out why: they gather dirt on people all week, then
    go to Hell on Fridays to report on our misbehavior.
    They are back by Saturday.
    When a kid asked how that was known, the response
    was, “Well, did you ever see a bluejay on a Friday?”
    Not having paid much attention to the attendance
    records of bluejays on Friday, we were stumped.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      June 18, 2020 at 11:39 am

      I’ve never heard or read about the bluejays and neither has my Wife, but I’ll start looking for bluejays on Fridays. lol

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 9:00 am

    I”ve heard most of em. Momma and daddy would say them . Here we started saying them too. Some are funny.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 18, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Tip, I have heard almost all if these. My mother frequently threatened to jerk a knot in my tail. One that I heard but has a variation is gag a maggot on a gut wagon. These expressions were just a part of life for me, in fact I wonder why we don’t say things like this now but I guess its because they are outdated!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    June 18, 2020 at 8:21 am

    I’ve heard most of these or slight variations of them. For instance the one about not trusting I hear as ” I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw a bull by the tail.”
    The only person I ever heard say enough food to feed cox’s army was my Dad.
    One I’ve rarely heard and just can’t wrap my brain around is ” dumb as last years bird nest.”
    How about ” meaner than a stripe-ed snake.” That made me think of a story of a friends 4 yr. old Grand Daughter. My friend said his Grand Daughter was the meanest little girl he had ever seen, While she was riding in the cars back seat she told her Daddy she wanted to go to McDonalds. Her Daddy said no. There was a baseball bat next to her and she whopped her Daddy over the head. Yeah, she got wore out.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 18, 2020 at 8:07 am

    You make me wonder if anyone has ever compiled the book (surely a big one) of Appalachian sayings. I would guess they appear throughout the Dictionary of Appalachian Regional English (hope that’s right).

    I doubt if it is a regional saying but I thought the other day about the saying, “Get up on your high horse” and its companion “take you down a peg”.

    Then there are the ones about time; “since who flung the chunk, in a coon’s age, since Heck was a pup, once in a blue moon”.

    I’ll probably be thinking of more all day.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      June 18, 2020 at 11:29 am

      Ron, I’m familiar with these but my Dad would say ” I’m going to have to take you down a notch.”
      I too will be thinking of more all day and I just thought of another one. Make yourself useful as well as good looking.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 18, 2020 at 7:36 am

    These are all jerk a knot in your tail was said by my neighbor to her son many times a day. The more seious isdues he got into she made him pick his own switch. Had to be hust right too

    • Reply
      Jim k
      June 18, 2020 at 8:08 am

      Heard most of these, one I heard growing up but not in a few years was “more power to ya”.
      Usually when two parties disagreed as a parting comment.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 6:49 am

    I have heard almost all of these (and used some). Instead of “Ned in the primer”, my father said “Ned in the first reader”. In the example of “run like the dickens” dickens is a synonym for devil – perhaps going back to Shakespeare.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    June 18, 2020 at 6:18 am

    “He’s a big blow”

    • Reply
      aw griff
      June 18, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      Don, this one is akin to a big blow, ” he’s so windy he could blow up an onion sack.”

  • Reply
    June 18, 2020 at 5:48 am

    We use to visit an Old-Timey Missionary Baptist preacher, he was in his 90’s and he’d comment about some of the younger preachers coming up, ” their kinda like fleas you can’t put your finger on’em”. meaning they were not firm on their preaching, or another way of saying wishy washy.

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