Appalachian Dialect

Takin the Rag Off the Bush

appalachian words

Over the years of writing, and more recently creating videos, about the language of Appalachia I’ve had folks share words, sayings, and phrases from their family with me. Often I’m familiar with the usage, but sometimes its a piece of language that I’ve never heard nor read.

I enjoy learning about the rich colorful language of Appalachia—when someone sends me something I’m not familiar with I feel as though I’ve uncovered a treasure.

Recently Amanda left the following comment:

“I just found your channel and I’m in love with you and your girls! I’m from the foothills of the North Georgia mountains and live in north Alabama now. PLEASE tell if you’ve ever heard the phrase “takin the rag off the bush”. My mama’s family always said that when someone took a long nap. I still say it to this day. I have never come across anyone else that have ever heard this saying.”

I’ve never heard the saying used by Amanda’s family, but boy I like it! Hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know if you’ve heard the unusual saying.


Last night’s video: Best Cube Steak in Appalachia

Tipper

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45 Comments

  • Reply
    Lily M Stafford
    October 5, 2021 at 10:32 am

    keep that Coon up the tree ?????

  • Reply
    Lily M Stafford
    October 5, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Ever heard, KEEP THAT COON UP THE TREE i THINK IT WAS A GREETING OR GOODBYE ?????

    • Reply
      Tipper
      October 5, 2021 at 3:30 pm

      Lily-thank you for sharing that! I’ve never heard it before 🙂 hopefully if someone else has they will chime in and tell us!

  • Reply
    Charles Smith
    September 29, 2021 at 11:40 am

    My mother loved musicals and would sing this song from Lil Abner; in fact, we had the LP record of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y96AVPLv928

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 30, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Charles-thank you for the link! I really enjoyed the dancing 🙂

  • Reply
    Julie Humphreys
    September 25, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    I have recently found your blog from listening to your YouTube channel and I love it! My mother told me that my grandpa used to say don’t that take the rag off the bush! It was an expression to describe an occurrence that was kind of unbelievable. He was from Kentucky I think but he died when I was quite young. I’m 70 now. My mother also told me he liked cat head biscuits and apple stack cake which I never heard any place else until I got a cookbook about the Smoky Mountains. I wish I’d gotten to know him before he died.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 25, 2021 at 7:33 pm

      Julie-so glad you’re enjoying what we do 🙂

  • Reply
    Kit
    September 23, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    I never hears “take the rag off the bush” so I did a little research and found this explanation from its origins. Fascinating!
    “It was common in the 18th and 19th centuries to hold impromptu shooting matches where the target was simply a rag hung on a bush in the distance. A good shot would hit the rag, making it visibly jump. … You could simply have said that shooting the rag off the bush results in a done deal – winner done proved himself.Mar 4, 2010”

    Rag off the bush, to take the – The Word Detectivehttp://www.word-detective.com › 2010/03 › rag-off-the-bush

  • Reply
    Christine J
    September 23, 2021 at 11:08 am

    I’ve never heard “taking the rag off the bush”. I’m behind on reading your blogs this week, so I’m trying to catch up today. It was interesting reading all the different explanations of this saying and several other. I’ve heard some of the saying noted in other’s comments in my past and some I use like “the hurrier I get, the behinder I am”. I always heard “meaner than a rattlesnake” or “blind as a bat”. I think a lot of saying are being lost because when one goes to college the professors will very quickly mark up any report if you used any cliche or folklore saying. I know because my first few papers had in bright red letters “CLICHE “all through my reports. I learned quickly my ways of thinking had to change. I also found it had no place in the work place either, sadly. The younger generation in the workplace just didn’t seem to appreciate the old sayings either.
    Tippet, This is why I so enjoy your blogs and YouTube channel. I’m retired now and can say so many of the wonderful sayings to my granddaughter and explaining them to her. Some she likes and some she says are just crazy, but at least she laughs at them. I was thankful my daughter remembers my mom saying some of the old sayings.
    Thank you Tipper for you and your girls keeping alive these cherished saying and ways us mature folks grew up with and love. Thank you to all the comments because I’ve learn some I’ve not heard before and their meanings.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 23, 2021 at 11:40 am

      Christine-so glad you enjoy what we do 🙂

  • Reply
    Gigi
    September 22, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    No, I can’t say I have ever heard this saying that I know of.

  • Reply
    Cathy E.
    September 22, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    My 82-year-old father’s grandmother in southern WV used to say “oh granny hippy toe” or something to that effect after a big meal. Has anyone else heard that expression? We use it as well, even though we don’t have a clue about its significance.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 23, 2021 at 9:34 am

      Cathy-thanks for sharing that one! I’ve never heard it 🙂

  • Reply
    Betsy Wilson
    September 22, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    My Grandmother used this phrase. She was born in Northwestern Alabama, (1889), and spent her early childhood there before her family moved to Southern Oklahoma before Statehood. She used it to signify a rash action taken by someone.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    September 22, 2021 at 4:50 pm

    Frances,
    Not exactly sure this is correct, but our understanding of as stubborn as a hog on ice was because if a hog got on ice they would not move and it was hard to make them move. I think that might have been from a fear of falling.

    Don’t take this to the bank because it might be counterfeit!

  • Reply
    Janet Hutchinson
    September 22, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    I’ve never heard of this saying and I thought, being raised in E. KY, I’d heard all the Appalachian Mountain sayings!

  • Reply
    Joanne
    September 22, 2021 at 3:29 pm

    Tipper,

    Yep, I’ve heard it all my life here in southeast Texas. I always understood it to mean someone did something very clever, had an outstanding victory, or told a tale that was totally unbelievable. Mostly the older folks said it, but occasionally I would hear someone my own age say it. I guess the equivalent to it would be, “Now don’t that just take the cake, or “Now ain’t that just the beatenest thing you ever did see”? My aunt would say, “Aw pshaw when she heard something unbelievable. My mother and her people liked to tell tall tales on a regular basis for entertainment, but when they really wanted you to believe what they were telling you they would say, “Now laying aside all them tales and picking up the truth..” I loved their language and often find myself saying the same colloquial words and phrases to my kids or grand kids.

  • Reply
    Charline
    September 22, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    I’ve never heard this saying, but I’ve sure enjoyed reading the comments! It remimded me that there are a few scattered historic communities named “Shake Rag”, which stirs my imagination.

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    September 22, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    Heard it many times in my youth but not so much lately. Used in the context of amazement at something, usually something someone has done: “Well, if that don’t take the rag off the bush.”
    The same sentiment is expressed in a similar “old saying”: “Well, if that don’t beat a hen a-rootin’.”
    Probably many more I can’t recall just now.

  • Reply
    Sherry Thacker
    September 22, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    My Granny used to say that about things, like if something unusual happened she would say “Now if that don’t take the rag off the bush.” I have never heard it anywhere else and it made me sit up and take notice. If you find out anything more about it I will be anxious to hear about it. I just always thought it was something from our family as she was the only one to say it. We came from Shenandoah County in the Shenandoah Valley. I am glad to know it was said other places.

  • Reply
    Kay Rash
    September 22, 2021 at 11:57 am

    Well, as my mother would say” that a new wrinkle on my horn”.

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    September 22, 2021 at 11:33 am

    I thought it was a family thing until I read what Lana Stuart posted.
    There is a saying in my family and as far as I know it isn’t wide spread. I heard it most at the after church dinner. When you were offered several different foods and you kept saying no, someone would ask you if you wanted a hog killed.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    September 22, 2021 at 11:03 am

    It is so Appalachian sounding I think we need to adopt it! Rags were very popular back in the day. We had dish rags, wash rags, dust rags, glad rags, instead of cloths. Through the years following your blog my memory has been reinforced on many sayings and words. Some I have heard were possibly just from my area. I have never heard that particular one.
    An unusual one that gets right down to earth and is somewhat self explanatory is when I would hear one of the old timers say, “He is happier than a hog in slop.” One would have to have been around a hog to understand that one. Feeding the pigs was one of my chores, and no danger of me getting attached to them. I have always liked work, but I hated that chore, as almost always they would splatter me. They were also big tattle tales, because if your young mind got sidetracked they would squeal loudly forcing you to feed them by flashlight. Sometimes the areas of childhood that were the hardest taught you the most for later in life.

    • Reply
      Frances Jackson
      September 22, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      Your mention of “happy as a hog in slop” made me laugh because it reminded me of something my husband used to say. Someone who was happy and carefree was “as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.” I asked him once to explain this, and he said, “What does a dead pig in the sunshine have to be unhappy about?”
      He had another saying, “As independent as a hog on ice.” I never got a really satisfactory explanation for that one either, but both these sayings bring up vivid, if startling, images.

      • Reply
        Sanford McKinney
        September 22, 2021 at 4:27 pm

        Frances,
        Not exactly sure this is correct, but our understanding of as stubborn as a hog on ice was because if a hog got on ice they would not move and it was hard to make them move. I think that might have been from a fear of falling.

        Don’t take this to the bank because it might be counterfeit!

      • Reply
        Sanford McKinney
        September 22, 2021 at 4:45 pm

        Frances,
        My understanding, which might be erroneous, of the meaning of “As stubborn as a hog on ice” came from a hog getting on ice and just would not move. One almost had to push the hog off the ice which probably came from their fear of falling.
        So, don’t take this to the bank because it might be counterfeit!

      • Reply
        Joe F.
        September 23, 2021 at 12:41 am

        There was a book in my high school library entitled “A Hog on Ice: and other Curious Expressions.” It was written by Charles Funk of Funk & Wagnalls fame, and explained the etymology of this and other expressions, like “let the cat out of the bag” and such.
        I didn’t read it through but did pull it down to peruse a time or two. Best I remember, or rather the impression I came away with, someone is like a hog on ice when they are in a precarious situation. The reason being that a hog on ice cannot navigate very well when on ice because of his hooves being what they are. Think Bambi (or any deer), who has similar type hooves being on ice and you’ll get the picture.
        I checked Amazon to see if the book is still in print and, lo and behold, it is. Might be worth a look-see :
        https://www.amazon.com/Hog-Ice-Other-Curious-Expressions/dp/0060513292/ref=sr_1_2?crid=13JK14WF03ID4&dchild=1&keywords=hog+on+ice+book&qid=1632370973&sprefix=hog+on+ice+%2Cstripbooks%2C213&sr=8-2

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    September 22, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Never heard this in Wise County Virginia.
    When I married into a flatlander family, I found many odd phases among them that they had made up themselves. …bet this phrase is one of those just found in a family.

  • Reply
    Lana Stuart
    September 22, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Yes, I have heard this expression many times but not anything to do with taking a nap. I’ve heard it to mean something really excellent or noteworthy. Here’s a little explanation – http://www.word-detective.com/2010/03/rag-off-the-bush-to-take-the/

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      September 22, 2021 at 4:49 pm

      Joseph Yates
      August 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm · Reply
      An elderly and colorful neughbor lady from Texas used that expression “they were really tearin’ the rag off the bush” to mean they were creating quite a commotion…she pretty much spoke in Southern idiom, and it was always fun to listen.

      Sanford
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      September 22, 2021 at 4:16 pm · Reply
      Joseph,
      Interesting in that the lady from TX presented just the opposite meaning of taking a nap? I had an idea, probably erroneous, that bushes had been covered for some reason such as preventing frostbite, freezing or protecting berries from birds, and after this chore was done a nap was earned. That could be a logical conclusion?
      Based on the comments, there is nowhere near a consensus on the true meaning of the comment?

  • Reply
    Karen
    September 22, 2021 at 9:08 am

    I have never heard that expression either. It’s so much fun to hear sayings and learn about the customs of the different areas of our country. An expression I’ve heard all my life in here is Berks County is “The hurrier I go the behinder I get.”
    I heard my Grand-ma say that whenever she was rushing around trying to get things done.

    • Reply
      Melissa A
      September 23, 2021 at 1:37 pm

      My grandma used to say this too! It’s an Alice in Wonderland quote. 🙂

  • Reply
    Shirl
    September 22, 2021 at 9:07 am

    I’ve never heard that saying in my family or anywhere that I can remember. Maybe it was a saying made up by someone in Amanda’s family after having a particular experience with a bush. I know my parents had sayings I have never heard anywhere else in the world.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    September 22, 2021 at 8:41 am

    My family would say that when they went skinny dipping in the Cass river. It’s terribly
    hot , let’s hang our clothes on a bush.

  • Reply
    JustAnOldGuy
    September 22, 2021 at 8:21 am

    That’s a new one for me too. Perhaps it refers to some clandestine signaling system. For example a moonshiner might signal that he had product available by displaying a rag on a roadside bush; perhaps a lover could signal that ‘the coast was clear’ for a tryst by that means. In either case the absence of a rag would indicate that product or pleasure was unavailable. Thus a person taking a long nap had taken the rag off the bush and was unavailable.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    September 22, 2021 at 8:10 am

    Never heard that one….one of the best I have ever heard was from my friend the late Frances Fair Partin. When she was confused she would say, “I don’t know if I am a-warshin’ or a-hangin’ out”. Frances and I were in the first grade at Antioch School in Union County, GA. My mother was the sole teacher and we didn’t get away with much. Francis was best friend to my wife and I after we moved back to the Blairsville. She has been gone almost a year and is missed..

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 22, 2021 at 7:44 am

    Nope, never heard that before. It did remind me though that my Dad would occasionally say, “We’re going to have to take out a joist.” if something extra-ordinary was going on. No notion of how taking out a joist had anything to do with anything.

    I think maybe this expression just might be a “family” one, like a family joke that only insiders know. I reckon maybe there are lots of those scattered around in Appalachia. Those would be hard to collect because of their limited use and distribution.

  • Reply
    Jeremiah Houser
    September 22, 2021 at 7:23 am

    I’ve heard it all my life. “If that doesn’t take the rag off the bush”. In the context where I’ve heard it, it meant something strange or different or amazing.

  • Reply
    [email protected] gilbert
    September 22, 2021 at 7:21 am

    Yes I have heard it is live in ohio my parents are from Kentucky from what I Remer the meaning of it was some one throwing a fit.

  • Reply
    J. David Chrisman
    September 22, 2021 at 6:59 am

    Now that’s a new one on me!

  • Reply
    Whistling Dixie
    September 22, 2021 at 6:52 am

    I’m new to this beautiful area. My neighbors often report the weather by saying, “They’re givin out…” – rain, snow, sunshine, whatever. I’ve never hear that.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 23, 2021 at 9:37 am

      Whistling-thank you for the comment! That usage is common to me, but I’ve never thought about it being unusual-thank you for pointing it out 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 22, 2021 at 6:50 am

    I’ve never heard it either, Tipper, and like you I think it’s great! I’ll be anxious to follow the comments today to see if there are others who know it. I don’t take many naps, but I may start just so I can say it.

  • Reply
    OkieJammer
    September 22, 2021 at 6:26 am

    Love this post, love my ancestors and family history from the Smoky Mountains’ area and SO appreciate all that you and your family do to delightfully teach us the ways, the seasons, the wonderful crafts and foods, the joys and sometimes the poignant aspects of Life in Appalachia. Such a beautiful calling is yours. Thanks much!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    September 22, 2021 at 6:23 am

    Never heard that in North East TN that I can remember. Now I am wondering the meaning behind the saying. I am sure it is based on something that just went over my head.

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