Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Pap

Sparking = Courting…which =s Dating


courting and sparking in Appalachia

Tipper and Pap 1980 something

B verb (also spark with) Esp of a man; to woo, court; hence sparking = courting. Cf. talk.
1859 Taliaferro Fisher’s River 118 I sparked her a little that night, and told her I was a-gwine wiz her to meetin’ next Sunday. 1935 Sheppard Cabins in Laurel 172 When he comes and takes her to the church-house and calls on her with presents of candy and Victrola records, they have advanced to the sparkin’ stage. 1936 LAMSAS sparking (Madison Co NC, Swain Co NC). 1939 Hall Coll. Cades Cove TN We was small, both of us. They got to deviling us about sparking, you know, and Will says, “Now, boys, that’s got to be cut out, deviling them children. They don’t know what sparking is.” (Aaron Swanninger) 1958 Newton Dialect Vocab spark (Happy Valley TN); spark with (Walland TN, Millers Cove TN). 1963 Edwards Gravel 36 There was some fascination about talking on the phone; and many a good spell of light sparkin was done on that phone in my dad’s store. 1963 Medford Mt People 51 While the women never would encroach on the “men’s” side, young men, when “sparking,” would sometimes venture over to the “women’s side” of the church or public meeting-place. 1974 GSMNP-51:13 If I could just get to read that letter, why I’d know how to start. We called it sparking then. 1993 Weaver Scotch-Irish Speech 16 Also, expressions such as “sparking” (dating), “Courting” (dating with serious intent), and “talking” (contemplating marriage), very distinct in meaning in West Virginia, were used interchangeably in the Carolinas.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


The definition from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English reminds me of a memory I wish I would have asked Pap about.

I was probably 13 or 14 when it happened.

The pastor of our church was going to be preaching a revival and several folks in the church decided they’d go over to the other church one night and visit in support of the pastor.

I have no memory of the church’s name. It was located way up in the mountains in Suches GA. It seemed like it took forever to get there. I remember the cars in our group lined up going round and round the curves climbing higher all the while.

The church was a really old one that hadn’t been modernized over the years. I remember there were school desks sitting down near the front by the pulpit. Looking back I’m not sure if it’s because they used that area for a Sunday school class or if that’s just all the extra seating they had.

I set in the back row with one of my friends. Right away we scoped out the kids that were our age and one especially attractive young man who put you in the mind of a young Johnny Cash-flipped back black hair and all. Pap always set in the front of the church with the other men no matter if we were at our home church or if we were out visiting somewhere.

The church choir sang in a mighty way, they were really good. As soon as they were finished, the attractive young man came all the way to the back of the church and set down beside me.

After speaking a few words of welcome one of the pastors called for everyone to come to the altar and pray. Once the Amens had been said and folks begin to take to the benches I looked up to see Pap striding back through the church to where I was sitting. With not even a nod Pap took a seat on the other side of the attractive young man.

I was too puzzled to be embarrassed. I knew better than to ever cause trouble in church and besides that we’d barely been there 20 or 30 minutes and I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. As I set there pondering I decided it had to be the attractive young man that caused Pap to sit beside me in church for the first time since I was little enough to sit in his lap.

I meant to ask Pap why he came and set with us, but we were riding with a few other folks and I couldn’t ask on the way home and in the way of life I quickly forgot about the handsome young man and Pap’s unusual actions. It was sometime after Pap passed away that I remembered visiting the old church. If I had thought of it sooner I’d asked Pap how he knew the boy was trouble when that’s the first time he ever laid eyes on him.

When I was growing up I rarely heard anyone talk about sparking or trying to spark. Since this is the month for love, I’ll share some common Appalachian terms for dating with you one day next week.


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  • Reply
    Julie Christiansen
    December 5, 2021 at 2:23 am

    I have inherited an old love letter that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother when they were dating during WWI. The letter is dated 1918 and it talks about “sparking”. I didn’t know what it meant until I came to your website (thank you!).

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Loved reading this post today…..what a loving dad your Pap 🙂 I’ve heard the term sparking ,we usually said courting , but I love the way Jane Powell from the movie ” Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” sings the song” going courting” to all the brothers she didn’t know she had on her wedding day when they ask her about how to do with a girl . Still love that movie, have watched it many many times with a certain granddaughter Emily. We sang our hearts out all the way through every time and scarfed down lots of popcorn. 🙂 days of sweetness.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I’m going to have Joni Mitchell’s song “Court and Spark” running through my head all day. Haven’t heard it in years, so may not recall many words…expect there’ll be a lot of la-la-la 😉

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    February 7, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    And then there was “parlor dating”.
    That was where a young man had to go to the girl’s house on several Sunday afternoon and sit with her in the parlor, first Sunday in the presence of one or both of her parents, and then on later Sundays without the parents but with the younger brothers or sisters trying to peak or sneak in the room. After 3 or 4 parlor dates you might get permission to take the young lady to a movie on a Saturday night!
    Or at least that was the way it worked in the Uwharrie Mountains back in the 50’s and 60’s.
    Sparking and courting better not start until after the parlor dates.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 7, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Tipper–My sparkin’ days are many a decade behind me, but the term is one I’ve known and used all my life. In my lexicon, and I think this was generally true in Swain County, sparkin’ was a first step (i. e., hopeful of getting a date, showing interest, or cutting eyes).
    Next came courtin’, and that involved partnering up at square dances, spending time together a break time in school, meeting and sitting together at the movies, being together and church-related youth functions, or formal dates. The latter weren’t all that commonplace except in groups, because not many high schoolers in the 1950s had vehicles. I had two classmates who did, so I wrangled help from them for double (or triple) dates from time to time.
    If things got serious that was “goin’ steady.” That usually involved some token of pledged “fidelity” such as a senior ring the girl wore around her neck on a chain, or in one personal case, a little medallion from having been on the Swain High basketball team which won the conference, the region, and finished fourth in the state.
    Those were basically the three levels of romancin’, and if you were going steady being caught red-handed with someone else was a cardinal sin.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Wow, I love this church-house story! Sparkin, I’ve heard frequently, but as Miss Cindy remarked, mostly mild teasing. My parents used ‘struck on’ (re: Larry G.) for the real thing- no question of that term’s meaning!

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I can see now who you and the girls get them pretty eyebrows. Pap was really something! And I’m glad to have known him. I like the way he plays the guitar so well. It’s like he really feels the music. Without getting mushy or anything, I’ll just agree with Cindy, and time has really been kind to you. …Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 7, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    My nephew is 19 and didn’t know what “parking” was. We still tease him about it.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 7, 2017 at 11:22 am

    When was young all the older folks kidded the younger generation about sparkin anytime they saw two members of the opposite sex talking. It didn’t matter if they were just friends my Dad took great pleasure deviling me, my sisters and/or our friends as did many of his friends.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I used to have jet black hair that I flipped back just like you described. Then one day I flipped it back and it kept going. I haven’t seen it in 50 years.
    You and Pap have the same smile. Just a bit to the right (your right.) If I may be so bold it is quite becoming on you!
    It appears Pap was a Red Man man.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 7, 2017 at 10:46 am

    I’ve heard the terms used my whole life.
    Mom and dad never said dating but courting or sparking instead.
    Us dads were boys once too so we know certain behavior when we see it or like someone else said, a friend might have told your dad to keep an eye on that young man.
    Love the 80’s hair and Chitter and Chatter look a lot like you or as we say, “they favor you.” I see Pap was a Red Man baccer chewer. My g-dad chewed that too after he gave up twist tobacco. I had my first chew at about 10 and my g-dad gave it to me. Later I was on the floor sick as a dog and green as a gourd. G-dad thought it was funny and that he would break me from wanting it. He was wrong I was asking for more the next day.

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Tip, wouldn’t it be fun to know if that young man still lives in Suches and how he turned out?
    You look just like you did back then!
    Loved the story 🙂
    Many blessings for your day.

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Pap knew what that handsome young man was up to and you can bet the young man knew what Pap was up to. Can’t blame the fellow for trying to spark the gorgeous girl in the picture!

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I’ve heard and used that word and I believe some of my family still do. Another expression we used was struck on. For instance John was struck on Sally. I don’t know if that is Appalachian or not.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I’ve heard and used that word and I believe some of my family still do. Another expression we used was struck on. For instance John was struck on Sally. I don’t know if that is Appalachian or not.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I’ve heard and used that word and I believe some of my family still do. Another expression we used was struck on. For instance John was struck on Sally. I don’t know if that is Appalachian or not.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I’ve heard and used that word and I believe some of my family still do. Another expression we used was struck on. For instance John was struck on Sally. I don’t know if that is Appalachian or not.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 7, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I’ve never heard that term used, as such. I had a friend in high school who would use “bundlin'” as a word to mean kissing…like for an extended period at a party or something. I always thought that was hilarious.
    Daughters do that to a man (I bet the Deer Hunter knows). I saw it happen to both my brothers. Two pretty wild hill boys turned ultra-diligent when they had girls. Add me to that, too. And, Alex’s big brother James (12) once took on an SUV in a Wal-Mart parking lot he felt was driving in a threatening way towards his little sister.
    I love the picture. The hair is awesome! I should find one of me with my Kentucky Waterfall haircut of the same vintage.
    Great story.

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 9:10 am

    When our daughter wanted to sit with her friends rather than with her “embarrassing” parents we told her she had to sit closer to the front than we did. (So we could watch her.) If we noticed anything amiss with any of them a grunt from either parent was enough to end it. That is after her mom went up to sit between her and the one she was talking with. That only took one time and no discussion later – She and they got the message.
    I remember being the boy that looked around for any new girls (or ones that didn’t know me yet} to sit with. There was a Baptist church and a Methodist church in our community. I floated from one to the other when the girls or their Dads made me feel unwelcome. Later when I got a car I could go to town where there was an abundance of churches and girls that didn’t know me – yet.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 7, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I have read it in books mostly, both sparking and courting

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 7, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I expect he asked someone or maybe they volunteered to tell him something. That was the way. The parents wanted to know who their kids knew and checked out their reputation quietly. I suppose these days lots of folks would think that was outrageous but to me it is just good parenting. Back in the day the old timers probably felt a lot more strongly than we do that certain characteristics “ran in families” and did not want their children marrying into bad situations.
    I confess to not seeing just what the relationship is between ‘sparking’ and ‘paying court to’ a yound lady. Are ‘sparks’ the feelings of mutual attraction? Does it have anything to do with flint and steel?

  • Reply
    February 7, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Wow! You and your daughters are identical and beautiful.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 7, 2017 at 5:31 am

    Tip, I don’t think I ever heard that word used in a serious manner only is a teasing way and very seldom at that.
    I love the picture. You sure were a pretty young girl!

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