Appalachian Dialect

Something Smells Bad

Something Smells Bad cyarn kyarn

A few weeks ago I received the following email:

Hi Tipper,

I am trying to track down an old word. I have no idea how it is spelled, but it is pronounced “KYARN-ee” and it is used as an adjective to describe something that smells horrible. In fact, I believe it has connotations of (pardon my language) “sh***y.”
I know of only two people in my entire life who used this word. One is my best friend’s mother, who has lived her entire life  here in Franklin County, VA, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The other is my husband’s grandmother, who was born, raised, and lived her entire life in Wayne County, WV, near the WV / KY border. Rather a large separation, geographically speaking, so the word must be somewhat common to the Appalachian region, but I’ve never been able to track it down. Can you or one of your readers help me find it?
Thank you,
Catherine Spence
This is my reply:
Good to hear from you! I am familiar with the word-I’ve heard it exactly as you pronounced it. And yes it means something that smells horrible-like week old dead road kill LOL : )
My husband uses the word-and he says snake dens smell like cyarn.
I will put your question to the blind pig readers and we’ll see if they are familiar with it too. I’ll do some more research as well.
Have a great night!
My Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has this entry for cyarn, karn, karon, carrion:
carrion noun variant forms cyarn, karn, karon, kyarn.
1913 Kepart Our Sthn High 277 Occasionally a word is both added to and clipped from, as cyarn (carrion). 1939 Hall Notebook 13:44 White Oak NC kareron, kyarn = carrion. (Faye Leatherwood) 1940 Haun Hawk’s Done 121 Meady said she didn’t blame Burt any more than she blamed a buzzard for eating kyarn. 1942 Hall Phonetics 94 In the speech of older people this glide [j] is very common after [k] or [g]; for example, car, card, carpenter, carrion, cart, Carter, carve, garden, guarantee, guard, McCarter, scarred. 1976 Garber Mountain-ese 49 The food was so bad spoiled that it tasted like kaarn. 1996 Montgomery Coll. carn (Adams).
Mel Hawkins sent me the following comment-which shows Hall’s findings in 1942 are still alive and well today. (Mel is from North GA-just over the mountain from me)
“Tipper–Many of the of the oldsters around here pronounced garden as gyard’n.”
Hope you’ll leave a comment for Catherine and me and let us know if you too are familiar with the word cyarn/kyarn.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    June 6, 2021 at 7:30 pm

    I sure do enjoy the Appalachian vocabulary posts. My Mother was a true Appalachian and she used almost all of the words you have featured. She grew up in the Choestoe area of Blairsville Ga. It brings back precious memories of my growing up days and being with Mama and Daddy and my Grandparents and Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and neighbors from back in those good ole days. I still remember and use most of those words and it delights me when my granddaughters ask me the meaning of a word they’ve never heard. Most of the time it brings a smile and a genuine look of amusement. LOL!

  • Reply
    chad davis
    March 31, 2021 at 8:08 am

    This word is still alive and well in Soddy Daisy, TN.

  • Reply
    Mark Cox
    February 22, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    I’d rather stick to to word origins and roots than conjecture. Yes, all of Appalachia butchered many common words according to dictionary pronunciation marks and examples– but they are forgiven– because of the color and endearing qualities those colloquialisms provide to those of us who recall hearing them from the dearest and best Appalachian folks to live and breathe and love among us. The pronunciation key from person to person hearing/repeating is derived from mimicking and repetition. Those hearty Welsh/Irish/German and Scots found many times a variant of a word in English that was similar to one in their native tongue and so adaptations were made and repeated, especially if decorated with a frown, laugh, raised eye-brows or personality feature. I heard my Grandfather often use the word “study” as a synonym for “consider and/or worry.” He would say “I ain’t got time to be studying about it” when asked about something to which opinion wasn’t worth developing. In my workplace I have at times, admittedly in jest, said the same with a wry laugh. Others must have found some redeeming worth to the phrase, because I now hear others saying in throughout the workplace. It’s humorous–therefore it spreads easily. I have heard the word Cyarn for the better part of my life– usually from Appalachian folks older than myself. If the word was derived from Carrion, the meaning has migrated from mere smell and the understudy of rotting carcasses, for I have heard it used as: (1) Stinks like Cyarn (2) Lazier than Cyarn (3) Filthier than Cyarn (4) Ain’t worth Cyarn. If I hear anyone use the word, I know I have found a kindred spirit and together we can study country life and the shame of shaming it.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    My nanny (born in 1943) would use the phrase “It smells like pure-D-cyarn” pronounced like yarn with a K. We all say it in our family. We live in Tennessee.

  • Reply
    November 28, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Didn’t know how to spell it, but know it as Karn or caryn. Have heard it all my life form my family in north Alabama. It’s a distinct smell. Death, dookie, stinky dirty bootie combo. Bad dogs smell of it. It doesn’t smell like carrion, it smells worse, like Kyarn!

  • Reply
    Robert Davis
    June 11, 2018 at 10:35 am

    My Mother used the word cyarn her whole life, usually after the dog had rolled in something dead. She was born in Shuboota, Miss and lived her life in Mobile AL. We always gave her a hard time, telling her that there was no such word. Several years after her death, I was watching Jeopardy and low and behold, there it was. What is Cyarn? Answer, a smell from rotting flesh. As usual, Mom was always right. Love you Mom!!!

  • Reply
    Jane Poindexter
    March 24, 2018 at 12:34 am

    My Grand Mother used the word all her life for something that smells bad ,She was born and lved all her life in Yadkin County NC.

  • Reply
    Roger Brothers
    March 23, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    Yep Mamma used the word quite often

  • Reply
    June 30, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    My mother has always pronounced it cyarn. When I was old enough, I found it in the dictionary as “carrion.” When Mama used it, she was referring to an odor, such as roadkill. On a side note, during the 30’s depression, there was a family in the mountains who were starving. They killed a buzzard and ate it, and they were extremely ill for several days!!!!

  • Reply
    Paul Gabbard
    June 26, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Cyarn is found on the walls of the outhouse pit. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a creek beside your house you had to dig a pit for the outhouse. Cyarn is the urine and fecal matter that has splashed up from the bottom of the pit and hit the wall of the pit. The word was usually used to describe someone or something lazy because cyarn is so lazy it has even stopped smelling bad. Someone who lays on the couch all day when there is work to do is being “cyarny”.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    The word is still alive and well in Blue Ridge GA which rests in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

    • Reply
      August 12, 2021 at 6:22 pm

      My mother was from Gilmer County, GA, next to Blue Ridge, and I heard her use this word repeatedly while growing up. There was the usual facial expression of a wrinkled nose and squinty eyes and a hearty “shew! that’s kyarn!” I appreciate the conversation here. It is something I have wondered about for a very long time.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    September 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    My Grannies used this term. It sounded like kyarn coming from them. They were both from Ky. One from Barren Co and the other from Cumberland Co. It meant to use somthing that was rotten and stinking to high heaven.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    oh yea, my mother in-law, rest her soul, raised dairy goats and when one would die and get buried in the pasture to shallow, she always said it smells like kyarn out there.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    O yea we’re familiar with the word and it’s meaning,, Thank God nothing a little soap and water want take care of tho..

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Faye-thank you for the comment! The Faye Leatherwood mentioned in the post was apparently someone by that name interviewed in the Smoky Mountains by Joseph Hall. Hall’s research was used to write the dictionary I quote in the article.
    Maybe she was an ancestor of yours : ) Have a great night!!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    faye Leatherwood
    August 31, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    In reading the above comments, I noticed the name “faye Leatherwood”.
    Is there another one out there?

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    August 31, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I remember hearing my father use that word and also Mother said it meaning carrion or something that had been dead awhile, like an animal on the farm or road-kill, and smelled to high heaven. I asked one time what it meant and Mother didn’t know, but later I learned it was a word for carrion.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    b.Ruth-I mispelled Cairn in my comment. I have a touch of numbness in my left left hand which causes me to strike keys unintentionallye sometimes. It is Cairn, with noe e.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    August 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    My 91 year old dad is originally from the Unaka and Copper Creek area and I have heard him use this word my entire life.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    August 29, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    We pronounce it “karn” around here- it means a dead body of some sort that smells really, really bad.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Have heard the word “carrion”. Never heard it pronounced as “kyarn” or any of the other ways though. We never used the word “carrion” much that I recall – said “something smells dead” instead that I recall.
    That “Kyarn” (etc.) pronunciation must be like the “Arsh Potatoes” pronunciation for Irish Potatoes where the newer generations just keep saying something wrong even though they know the right pronunciation for it, cause that’s the way their elders said it, kinda like we girls in our family sometimes say nowadays (in jest) “argee” instead of “argue” cause that’s the way our Dad said it (“Argee, argee, argee, that’s all you girls do is argee.” LOL)
    God bless.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 29, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    and Ed…You might be interested in reading Irish Burial Laws…I found it intriguing.
    How I ever missed this when reading the Irish history sites, I don’t know! I didn’t find a Cairne reference, but could have overlooked it.
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Oh, I am just now seeing this! My Mother and Grandmother, Aunts, etc. (AL/E.TN) always used this word! When I asked what it was, I was told ‘carrion’. Mom’s most common usage was, “Why, she’s as lazy as cyarn.”
    I am so glad Catherine asked, and that you posted it here, Tipper. I love all the comments (esp. Barbara W.’s)- what a great old word!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    and Ed…you could be on to something with cairne. My Great grandparents were Scots/Irish! However, I always thought a cairne was a marker for a trail etc. Also a stack of memorial stones, per Granny. Then she might not have revealed to us as children that bodies were under these stacked stones.
    Now this makes me ponder another thing. Why didn’t they bury their dead near the Irish Tater fields where the ground was much looser?
    Thanks Tipper, and Ed…Just sayin’ and ponderin’!

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I haven’t heard that word in a long time. I never gave it much thought as to what it meant I just knew it was something that smelled awfully bad.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Haven’t heard the word, so now I will add it to my mountain vocabulary.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I grew up hearing this from dad and mom. From what I understand it is from the word carrion which is decayed meat or flesh. That old dog smells like kyarn. What in the world has he gotten into? I don’t hear it very often now.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 29, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Two years ago I killed a huge snake that my dogs had treed and drug him off to the bottom of my property. A couple days later there were two great big buzzards standing on that carcass, dining. The Good Lord put creatures on Earth just to keep it clean.
    Even City-dogs will waller on
    cykarn if given the chance…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I like Sheryl Paul’s answer best. Cairne is a Scots-Irish word that means a memorial or gravesite. In places where the ground was so rocky it was almost impossible to dig a grave, the body was laid out on top of the ground and covered with stones. That kept the larger scavengers out but couldn’t stop the smell.
    I looked the word cairne up on one of those online dictionaries that has the little speaker icon. The pronunciation is the same as I have heard and used except the “air” part sounds like the mainstream modern “aere” way of speaking it. Substitute my pronunciation of “air” and it is almost identical to the kyarn I know.
    Our Scots-Irish ancestors probably brought the word with them and continued the burial practice here. They couldn’t use good bottomland for graves, so they took their loved ones up on a rocky hillside and interred them in a shallow grave covered with stones. That could be why mounded graves have persisted in Appalachia for so long.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I had a boyfriend that was from Blue Ridge, Georgia that use that word regularly. It was meant to replace the word sh*t.

  • Reply
    Maria Atkins
    August 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I was raised on Kentuck mountain part of Cheaha mountain in Alabama we all used cyarn to describe horrible smells.I now live in Dover,Tn and no one uses it.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 29, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Mommy used “kyarn” exactly as you do to describe something rotten. She also said “we are as poor as kyarn,” which I never understood. If you’re still smelling, there has to be a little something left, right?

  • Reply
    Teresa Atkinson
    August 29, 2014 at 10:19 am
    my grandmother (Nanny Frances) grew the carrion flowers – they smelled awful when they bloomed, but they sure were pretty.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 29, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I have heard this word all my life. My Mother and Grandmother and now myownself use the word. “Something stinks like cyarn!” was common if the garbage can outside was left open in the summer! lol When I was in college, (this was when I was in a middle age crisis after the birth of our children) I got interested in words I heard of my Appalachian parents and Grandparents. “Cyarn” took a while longer than some. Most English teachers I chatted with never heard the word, but most agreed it was a form of carrion.
    I am so glad to hear of other persons whose family have used the word “cyarn”! This is the first time when in all my book research and asking folks, that I have even heard of anyone else using the word. The word really describes better than any other word except…”S–t” just how bad the “odoriferous fumes of stink” arise to the nostrils!
    You are my kind of people!
    Thank you so much Tipper for this post and thank you Catherine for asking Tipper so she could post about “CYARN”, you know the word really stinks! LOL

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I especially enjoy when these old, almost forgotten, words and expressions are featured on The Blind Pig. I had not heard the word cyarn.
    An old word or expression from long ago will sometimes randomly pop in my head as I go about my day. I will realize I never hear it anymore, and it makes me wonder how much is lost and gone forever. Oftentimes reading your posts will trigger an old memory.
    As barefoot children many long hours were spent amongst the fodder shocks and numerous apple orchards of WV. We would often complain of getting foundered on the apples or having edged teeth. I have no clue why these expressions were common back then unless conditions of animals and humans sometimes were used interchangeably in the backwoods farm country.

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    August 29, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I have heard my mamaw use it.They lived in the Bowling Green,Kentucky area. She would say smells like that dog,s been roll on in cyarn.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    August 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I’ve heard kyarn used all my life. Never knew how it was spelled til now though. Probably one the meanest things I can remember from school involved the word kyarn. A boy that didn’t live here very long rode the bus with us and everyday when he got on and off the bus a girl would yell “kyarn bag” at him. Which he did smell. I don’t know if he could help it or not. The girl that always yelled that said he was old enough to know what a bar of soap and water is. Which we were in our mid-teens but still you never know people’s situations and it always made me feel bad when she yelled “kyarn bag” at him.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Kyarn was a very common word when I was growing up. It was used by everyone, not just my family. It was also used to describe something dirty or filthy. When my girls start making fun of the way I talk, kyarn is the one word they tease me about the most. Ghome runs a close second.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 8:34 am

    My dad used this word for as long as I can remember. Always for something that smelled bad. I always thought it was a shortened carrion. East TN.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 29, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Never heard the word before, but guessed that it derived from carrion or carnage before I read the post.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am

    The word could also be derived from Cairn an old name for a grave site. Certainly prior to modern methods of burying could have had a bit of a smell.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Yes, it’s carrion. My mother uses the word cairn.

  • Reply
    Brenda H
    August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Have not heard the word karon since the passing of my Grandmother 40 plus years ago. Have know ideal what
    karon is but as a child I new it was bad odor and to run.

  • Reply
    Patricia Page
    August 29, 2014 at 7:42 am

    My grandmother(born 1895) born and raised in Marble used the word “karn” routinely and often to describe something spoiled, rotten, or decaying. If she was referring to smell, she always used the phrase “smells like karn”. My great grandmother(1864 born in Andrews lived in Marble) always referred to her garden as geearden.

  • Reply
    Barbara Woodall
    August 29, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Well, Lord I reckon! I’ve heard the word all my life.
    Granny Lou might say of a lazy bum drifting through. “They need to get their kyarny behind on down th’ road! I reckon some of their folks got killed with a bar of soap. They are skeered of it.”
    I’ve heard and use the word “ruint” too. Means something spoiled.
    “Is that young’un ruinet/spoiled rotten?”
    (Naw, he always smells like that. LOL)

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 29, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I sometimes heard it in Choestoe as “Ky-arn flesh is rotting somewhere around here.” It took me until high school and vocabulary study in English class to figure out that my folks meant “carrion” which they had elided into “ky-arn”. Whatever, we got the idea across: You didn’t want to stay long where “ky-arn” odors permeated the air!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 29, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Tip, I know the first one, cyarn. It describes something dead long enough to smell or smells bad enough to be something dead. I don’t remember where I first heard it so I can’t tell you if it’s from my family or Papaw Tony’s family.
    The other pronunciation of garden is one I think I may have heard a few times but not enough to have a clear memory.

  • Leave a Reply