Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

‘Spring’ In The Appalachian Language

Spring In The Appalachian Language

The last few days have felt like Spring here in Southern Appalachia and according to the calendar Spring arrives for real this week!

As I set in the car waiting on Granny the other day I started thinking about the word spring and wondering how many different ways we use the word to describe things here in Appalachia. Once I got home I pulled out my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English and was pleasantly surprised to see the book has almost 2 pages of ‘spring’ words.

We’ll start with the most obvious one: spring-a fountain head or source of a branch/creek.

In days gone by most people who lived in Appalachia got their water from a spring. Pap and Granny’s house used a gravity water system fed by a spring until I was in 8th grade. The spring Pap used was about a half a mile above the house. Pap dug out the spring (a spring used previously by his Grandfather) placed the end of a length of black pipe in the water, weighted it with rocks, put a screen over the end to keep out trash; ran the pipe along the ground, buried in places, back to our house where it connected with the water system. The fall of gravity along the pipe kept it filled with water until you turned on the tap allowing the water to flow freely.

While we had spring water fed into our house, in Pap’s early days the water stayed at the spring and had to be carried into the house when needed. Pap said in those days getting water and keeping wood cut for cooking and/or for heat in the winter was more than a full time job. (Granny said “That’s why there was less meanness, people didn’t have time to be mean!”)

Spring house-a small building of log or rock built around and over the spring to protect the spring-and to allow for perishable items to be kept safely by the spring where the temperatures were low.

Spring box-a box set in a spring to keep items cool.

Spring run-a trough in a spring house which allowed items to be set in a stream of water to keep them cool.



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  • Reply
    March 19, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    When driving through the hills of PA, you’ll see a pipe sticking out of solid ground running into a ditch or small concrete basin every so often. Those are spring run-offs where people come to fill their jugs and canisters with water, and boy – that is some of the coldest, best-tasting water in the world.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    March 19, 2013 at 6:50 am

    I remember hauling water for my Grandmother from a dug well when I was little, but the first time I seen water being piped to the house from a mountain spring was about 24yrs ago I was reading meters for the power company, and I saw this water spring up out of the ground, for what seemed to be for no reason. The family who live there were Terry’s and he told me that the water came from the mountain out back of their house (a long way) and he said when he first hook it to his house and let the water flow it had so much pressure for the distance it traveled it blew the fitting a part under the house, so he had to put a (T) fitting in line with the pipe to control the pressure,, I thought that was very smart way of getting water to the house..instead of having to haul it..

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Tipper–Tell Kay Dallas I can probably help her if she really wants to find a copy of the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English,” but it is pricey indeed and has been since it went out of print.
    Better news is that there is a new and expanded version in the works from the Univ. of Tennessee Press, but I’m not sure how long it will be before it appears.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Kay-I believe Miss Cindy got my copy of the dictionary on Amazon. But like you said-they don’t have any for sell now. A few years ago, I heard the book was going to be reprinted-but that doesn’t seem to have happened either. If I hear any news about the dictionary Ill be sure to let you know!!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    There used to be a (what I called a natural water fountain) spurting up out of a rock at the top of Woody’s Gap mountain near Suches. This was right by the side of the road and easy to get at. It came right out of the mountain side and must have been gravity fed because it spurted up several inches constantly. Seeing that water coming out of that rock always made me think of Moses. If that water Moses got out of that rock tasted any better than the water coming out of that rock near Suches, I sure would loved to have had some of it! We always got a cool drink there!

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Love Granny’s comment! So true that years ago people had so much to do it just naturally kept them out of trouble and limited the meanness. We are ready for spring!!

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Mama said they used to keep the wash pot down the hill near the spring. It was easier to take the clothes down than to take the water up. They would be down there all day.
    A few years ago we all visited the spring where my daddy had a whiskey still long ago. The money from moonshine bought our first refrigerator, electric stove & wringer washer.
    The spring was beautiful but down hill from an old cemetery–I’ve often wondered if the water ran under the dead folks. One of the headstones is a stone from an old mill–a lovely peaceful place right down the road from my old home.

  • Reply
    Lee K Little
    March 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    We used to have a spring house and an outhouse but visitors often got them confused. We would tell them if they could hear water running before they got there, they were either at the spring house or it was too late to matter.

  • Reply
    kay dallas
    March 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    hi tipper: i’ve searched high and low for Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Would you have any suggestions of where to locate. i would love to have this book for my library. thanks so much. a loyal fan
    kay dallas

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    I grew up with 5 natural Springs
    on our property. For a long time
    the one we used was below the house. And many a time I’ve carried milk to our supper table.
    I’ve lived in the big city before
    and there’s nothing like your own
    gravity fed, good tastin’ water.
    Besides, it’s FREE!…Ken

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Here in northern Appalachia it is sleeting/freezing rain today with snow expected till Thursday. Not very spring-like! I often wish my ancestors would have settled a little farther south!
    We have two local springs. One of them is in a private front yard. You’ve gotta’ love a small town, the folks who live there allow people to help themselves to the water and there is a collection box for those who want to donate (probably to repair the wear and tear to their yard).
    I used to go with my grandpa to both springs to collect fresh water. Our tap water here is full of lime and tastes like dirt and chlorine. There surely is nothing so delicious and thirst-quenching as spring water.

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    March 18, 2013 at 11:41 am

    We had spring water piped into the house and was it good. We used to laugh at my Dad, when he would go visit relatives in Oklahoma he always took water with him. During the last days of his life we carried water to him in the hospital. NO plastic! It had to be in glass jugs and a glass from home not those plastic hospital cups. He said their water tasted like it had peaches soaking in it. I’m so glad I was able to take his spring water to him.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I have a spring house and a spring. When we bought our house the spring was the water supply. We soon had city water put in but I can still hear the spring water running whenever I walk to the mailbox. I think the deer and probably other animals drink from the spring. I often see them in the area by the spring house. I sometimes think that if I could bring the sound of that water into the house I could sleep like a baby. But with my luck it would probably just send me to the bathroom all night.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    March 18, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Great post, and I wonder if “puttin’ a Spring in your step”
    is in the book. If it will stay spring-like for a while, I think I will have a spring in my step.
    Your little dog could put a spring and a bounce in ones step.
    Later, thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    March 18, 2013 at 9:50 am

    When I was growing up, I stayed with my Grandparents during the day while mom & dad were working. They didn’t have running water and I used to love to go to the spring with them to get water. There was also a big spring box where Grandma kept things cold, even though she had a fridge. She said that it kept things colder. At my parent’s house, we got our water from a spring, but it was piped into the house.
    There is NOTHING as tasty to drink as cold, fresh spring water.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    March 18, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Both my grandmothers had wells; one with an electric pump and the other with a hand pump in her kitchen. I didn’t see a spring house until I was eight or so. Imagine my shock when I spied a small lizard running around the edge of the water. Even though the lady assured me that the lizard kept the water clean, I didn’t drink a drop in the home there, but ate every bite of my dinner.

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    March 18, 2013 at 9:46 am

    That is a great photo of Ruby Sue… the Rat Terrier. She looks so much like our rattie, Thumper. I love those dogs. Thumper is busy with the softening of the earth releasing all those interesting smells that dogs love. Nose to the ground!

  • Reply
    steve in Tn
    March 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Many people today have never had real spring water. Even what we buy in bottles is often purified tap water, not real spring water. Nothing beats it. Deep, deep well water is close, but the purified, filtered water is like eating winter tomatoes from the grocery store.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    March 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

    We had gravity water from the time I was about 12 until I graduated from high school. Not much pressure, but it sure beat carrying the water!

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Two of my aunts lived a half mile apart with a spring in between. It was used to keep milk and butter cold. Everyone for miles around knew the spring was haunted. None of the food ever disappeared, but I have been known to run so fast from one house to the other, it could have been told that I disappeared.
    I have a spring that feeds my pond and one that runs out in my gravel road, making a mess year round. Two of my neighbors share the same spring to supply water to both houses. They had eight or ten kids between them and never ran out of water.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

    There is nothing more refreshing than cool, spring water. As kids when we visited my aunt in northern NJ, we would visit her spring. I haven’t heard the use of the included words for a long time. I look forward to more spring words.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 18, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Bradly, that’s Ruby Sue, a sweeter dog you’ve never seen and devoted 100% to the family. She is a Rat Terrier. I love animals and Ruby Sue knows it she is always glad to see me when I visit. In fact they tell me I am the only one she doesn’t bark at.
    There is spring forward in spring and fall back in fall. I would tell you what I think of that time change but there is not enough space here for me to list all my objections to it.
    I’ve seen spring houses, spring runs, and spring boxes at my grandmothers. That is part of the ingenuity of our Appalachian people. They always found a way to make things work. I just love our people!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    March 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Spring…and hope renewed:
    Spring…a time of beginning again,
    With buds and blossoms galore.
    With spring’s growth hope rises
    Pushing our limits aside.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    March 18, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Tipper: Your Post today took me right back to the Mathenson Cove where my Daddy had built a ‘Spring House’ over our Spring where we stored the milk. It was about a 50 yards from the house and seemed like a real adventure to go get the milk/butter when I was a very young child. Of course there was always a scary something hiding in the bushes any time I got out by myself! Cheers, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Oh to have good spring water to drink instead of this awful city mess that they charge us way too much. Have to filter it before its half fit to drink. Sorry to say I haven’t had a glass of spring water in years.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2013 at 6:08 am

    That is a sweet little dog. I’m not sure but, it looks like a Jack Russell. When I was a boy (before I heard of Jack Ressells) there was a little dog and I think it was a Rat terrier. We used to call them Granny dogs. The reason we did was because lots of the older women (Grannies) had one. They were small and made wonderful pets. They could be lifted easily, didn’t eat much, would follow her everywhere she went, lie beside her rocker, and were devoted companions in every way. I always loved dogs but I loved the little ones best.

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