Appalachian Dialect

Snowballs and Snow Water

snow on leaves

Our recent snowy weather brought an old saying about snow to mind.

Back when I worked at the college one of my co-workers often shared tidbits about growing up in Western North Carolina. I loved the stories she told me about her daddy.

One of the things she shared was that when they sat down for a meal he’d teasingly tell her “Well it’s better than a snowball sister.” Over the years I’ve noticed the snowball saying several times in my research.

Although it brings a smile to my face, when I really study on it I realize its a wise saying. If you were truly hungry a snowball wouldn’t be very satisfying and compared to the icy ball pretty much anything else would be.

I looked in the “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” to see if the better than a snowball saying was in it but didn’t find it. I did find another unusual snow saying.

not to give snow water to verb phrase To pay no attention to, treat with disdain.
1942 Campbell Cloud-Walking 152 Draxie and Mort were a sight to humor Lexie so they give in to be at the singing though they wouldn’t give snow water to Shy Isaacs. Ibid. 234 They weren’t nary girl amongst them I’d give snow water to, say nothing of setting up to spark’em.

—Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English

Although I’ve never head the saying about snow water I sure do like it! I’m going to try to bring it back to my area of Appalachia. I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know if you’ve ever heard either of the sayings I’ve shared.

Last night’s video: Best Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies in Appalachia | My Favorite Lunchroom Cookie.


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  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 10:12 pm

    My dad in northeast Mississippi used to use “Beats a snowball” if some particular animal feed might not be up to par.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    I too never heard of either… However, growing up many a response to my wanting something, my Mom used to say… “yeah sure…and people in hell want ice water”.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve never heard of either one.

  • Reply
    Rick Gillenwater
    January 20, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    Ever since my brother and I were little we have hear the “Better than a snowball “ phrase. He and I hunted a lot together and if we killed a squirrel or a rabbit we always would say, “ It will taste better than a snowball or a deer track”. Glad to hear that other mountain folks use the snowball phrase also

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    January 20, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    I have heard the saying, “better than a snowball” but never anything about snow water. My mama also would not let us have snow cream until after the first snow and as a child I never knew why so I guess she thought it would make us sick. We are here east of Raleigh and they are calling for some snow tomorrow and I really want some snow cream. I think I will take the chance and pray it doesn’t make us sick because we surely don’t see that much here in this area.

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    January 20, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    Heard (and used) the “beats a snowball” saying all my life, but usually said by farmers when referring to poor quality hay to winter their livestock with.

  • Reply
    Gary Griffith
    January 20, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    I have often heard”better than a snowball” referring to cattle feed of doubtful quality, particularly hay. Saying “It will be better than a snowball next winter.”
    I never heard the usage of “snow water”. I have heard “wouldn’t pee on them if they were on fire” but that suggests a little stronger dislike .

  • Reply
    Sandra Myers
    January 20, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    Never heard either one of these.

    • Reply
      Zachary Jarvis
      January 20, 2022 at 4:58 pm

      ” It beats a snowball ” is used here in the Shenandoah Valley to describe any sort of food in any season.

  • Reply
    Sherry Case
    January 20, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    My Daddy always said, “It’ll beat a snowball come winter.” You posts help me recall a lot of what my my Mama and Daddy once said. Thank you for this reminder of warm memories!

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    January 20, 2022 at 11:55 am

    Snow? What’s this snow you talk about? The last time I experienced that stuff was in 1981 in Yokohama, Japan. If it starts snowing in Honolulu, I’ll be moving South!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 11:49 am

    The reference to “It will be better than a snowball” must go way back in Appalachia. My dear grandmother was born 1899, and my mother mentioned her mother’s brief words telling them all they needed to know about continuing their hard work in the fields. They grew up in hard times, and all had to work long hour in the field to raise most of their food. Mom said if they complained Grandma would tell them come Winter it would be “better than a snowball.” On a lighter note, Mom always spoke of what a wonderful childhood and parents she had. It may have been partially because my mom had a passion for gardening and canning which I inherited. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 11:19 am

    I’ve never heard either, better than a snowball, nor the one about snow water. I always heard, not a snowball chance in hell, don’t eat the first snow or it will make you sick and don’t eat the yellow snow. I enjoy learning old sayings and then sometimes say them in conversations with my daughter or granddaughter. The look on their faces are priceless and it gives me a chance to explain the saying, where it came from and hopefully they will remember one day it’s part of celebrating Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Nancy Boswell
    January 20, 2022 at 10:52 am

    I always grew up being told never to eat yellow snow 🙂 And I think we all know why.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 20, 2022 at 10:33 am

    Tipper, my mother-in-law always used to say when she was canning, “It will taste better than a snowball” when winter comes.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 10:01 am

    I grew up in Charlotte, and every few years we would get a real snow. My mother would put out a big dish pan in an open place to catch clean snow as it fell. That pan of snow
    Became snow cream. We used milk, sugar and vanilla or sometimes lemon flavoring. In my memory, snow cream was the best thing about snow.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    January 20, 2022 at 9:57 am

    I’ve never heard these sayings about snow. I always heard if snow stays on the ground and doesn’t melt – it is waiting on more. We never made snow cream with the first snow of the year. Mother always said it would make us sick. Thank you for the info on snow & I learn so much from you and the other readers. The weather man said we may have snow on Friday – but here in Central NC – we never know. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 9:37 am

    I’ve never heard either one of the snowball sayings but I’m going to start using “it’s better than a snowball, sister” just because it’s cracks me up! Thank you for sharing!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 20, 2022 at 9:32 am

    I’ve heard “it ain’t much but it bears a snowball”. I haven’r heard the one about snow water but I do know that snow water isn’t very good to drink. Maybe they’re talking about water from melted yellow snow. “Oh you’ll love it. It’s as pure as the driven snow, the yellow is from a hint of lemon I added!”

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 9:13 am

    I’ve heard a snowballs chance in hell but that’s an old saying and haven’t heard it in many, many years:) My dear husband was born in Chicago and his parents moved out North of Chicago in a little country setting where he attended school. Apparently, he had the best lunch room ladies cooking in that school. Even in his 70’s, he would tell you how he loved those ladies. He said the aroma of the good smelling food cooking for lunch would come drifting up the stairs and he would be smiling because it was always good. He loved the little glass milk bottles and later the little cartons of milk too.
    Woke up this morning to more snow. It is beautiful, but I am not loving it:)

  • Reply
    Brad Byers
    January 20, 2022 at 8:59 am

    One of my favorite snowball references is from a completely different context. A friend of mine is a blacksmith, and is quite a good one. We have a saying “Don’t even pick up a snowball in a blacksmith shop.” It gets the point across; you never know what’s too hot to touch there.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 8:52 am

    Better than a snowball was a common saying when I grew up. When my parents referred to a stingy person, they would say, she wouldn’t give you snow water.

  • Reply
    Sheryl O Paul
    January 20, 2022 at 8:40 am

    My father used to say that to us kids when complsining about a food. Finny thing is he was 2 generations removed from NC

  • Reply
    Margie G
    January 20, 2022 at 8:34 am

    Tipper, I’m delighted you got the snow you’ve been hoping for and I hope you got a lot to look at and play in! Lol. I especially love a cardinal’s spectacular red against the snow. Yesterday I saw more robins than I’ve ever seen in January and all I could think about is them freezing and being way off course- neither of which I can verify. Lol But as with ALL concerns in my life, I gotta turn it over to the Lord for He knows and His arm is plenty long enough to care for little animals….I awoke to more of this FLAKAGE falling from the skies (hoping it kills a slew of bugs especially creepy biters.) I wouldn’t mind if a bunch of yellow jackets freeze either! Lol

  • Reply
    Donna S Justus
    January 20, 2022 at 8:33 am

    An older man I knew growing up always said “Come this winter, it sure will be better than a snowball” when his wife was canning the vegetables from their garden. I always loved to hear him say that.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    January 20, 2022 at 8:31 am

    I have heard, and said, “I wouldn’t give the time of day to …”. I haven’t heard the snow water one, though. It’s meaning about not paying attention to something gives me the thought that since snow melts, the problem will melt away eventually, too. It’s not always easy to ignore someone who is bent on giving us grief – especially when we watch them manipulate and deceive others into believing they are sweet and innocent. But God knows their hearts and their game, He will take care of that situation. It broke my heart over the example that was used for the snow water in your dictionary, where it said the girls paid no attention to shy Isaac. How sad!! I have been that very shy person when I was younger, and I feel that heartache poor Isaac must have felt. I enjoyed learning a new saying from this post. I also really loved the saying Ron Stephens shared – “they wouldn’t give you air if they had you in a jug”. That one makes me smile! I know someone who is doing that to me right now. Some people have no mercy, and it makes you wonder if they truly accepted the Grace of Jesus, especially when they profess to be a good Christian. I just have to shake my head and know that God will eventually expose them for what they are. I choose not to give them the time of day, and move on with my life. I do pray for the people I know they are fooling, though. I will now think of them as a snowball – when it starts getting too warm for them, they will melt away. That’s a good way to think about any problem in our life. It’s not permanent. Winter eventually passes into spring and summer.

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Jeremiah Houser
    January 20, 2022 at 8:25 am

    This may be a little off subject, but how many remember when we were advised against eating snow cream because of fallout from atomic bomb testing?

    • Reply
      January 20, 2022 at 9:09 am

      Jeremiah-My mamaw told me never to eat the first snow because it was poison 🙂

      • Reply
        January 20, 2022 at 11:15 am

        We always wanted snow cream as soon as there was snow but my mother would never fix any until there had been several snows “to wash the germs out of the sky.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 20, 2022 at 7:14 am

    I’ve never heard of better than a snowball but I have heard of a snowballs chance in hell…heard that one all my life.
    I just love our old sayings that were made up by our ancestors and their ancestors. They were a clever people!

    • Reply
      January 20, 2022 at 6:43 pm

      Miss Cindy, I spent some time working in Spain about 30 years ago. I was in a lot of meetings where an interpreter helped us Americans understand what the Spanish were saying and likewise helped the Spanish folks understand us. I didn’t realize how much I rely on metaphor and simile. In one meeting, I said, “That’s got about as much chance as a snowball in Hell.” The Spaniards, who could understand a lot of standard English; however they had to have ‘snowball’s chance in Hell’ translated. After their minds eye pictured that event, they broke out laughing. To be fair, I had my fair share of difficulty with idioms, especially those that were local to Madrid.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2022 at 7:06 am

    I’ve heard better than a snowball but not the one about snow water. The one I hear the most is better than a stick in the eye.

    This past Monday morning woke up to 5-6 inches of snow and this morning we have 3-4 inches more. Hope you got some of these snows. E.KY.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 20, 2022 at 6:37 am

    Can’t say as I ever did hear about giving snow water to. I wonder if that saying got made because, among the ways of getting water, getting snow water was easiest.

    They one I heard (but it has been a very long time) was, “I wouldn’t give him/her the time of day.” That reminds me of another one with a very different meaning, “They wouldn’t give you air if they had you in a jug.”

    Can’t give anybody snow water here. Our snow got gone. Glad you got some Tipper though I’m sure you wanted more provided your family was safe and warm first.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    January 20, 2022 at 6:36 am

    This was a common saying in the Upper Shell Creek, Carter County, TN community where I was born and reared. The phrase was slightly different, “Beats a snowball”. I heard the comment many times when people were preparing food for the winter months as in, “This sure will beat a snowball when the snow is flying”.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    January 20, 2022 at 6:29 am

    My father (born and raised in the lower Uwharrie Mountains) used the “better than snowballs” term. Most often it would be when I would comment on the quality of the hay we were putting up for out cows, as in “Well, it’ll be better than feeding them snowballs next January.” I’m sure the real meaning was “stop complaining and keep working”!

    Dad passed away over 20 years ago, but I still miss him.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney J
      January 20, 2022 at 6:45 am

      Yeah, I guess we never really “get over” missing our parents. Not sure my generation could endure the hardships my parents conquered.
      Since I wasn’t familiar with the Uwharrie Mountains, just had to learn more. The mountain range includes lots of counties.
      The Uwharrie Mountains are a mountain range in North Carolina spanning the counties of Randolph, Montgomery, Stanly, and Davidson.

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