Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

The Devil In Appalachian Language

The Devil In Appalachian Language

In my opinion, the Devil, takes first seat when it comes to scary tales-stories-and songs in Appalachia. He is also found sprinkled around our language. There are sayings like:

  • The Devil and Tom Walker: which is used as an exclamation showing surprise
  • Up jumped the Devil: said after a mischievous or mean act has taken place or when someone who is disliked suddenly shows up
  • The Devil take the hindmost: sorta like saying “I’m gonna take care of myself and mine and who cares what happens to the rest.
  • The Devil takes care of his own: said when evil doers seem to prosper
  • Between the Devil and the deep blue sea: you’re in trouble and it’s most likely your fault
  • Get behind me Satan: comes straight from scripture-but often said in a teasing way when someone is trying to get you to do something you shouldn’t
  • Give the Devil his due: even if someone you dislike accomplishes something-you have to give him his due (this one has been around since Shakespeare used it)
  • If you sup with the Devil you need to use a long spoon: (this one is as old as the Canterbury Tales)
  • Full of the Devil

Then there are words like:

  • Dust devil: when the wind moves in a tight circular motion across the ground
  • Devilish: aggravating or despicable
  • Devil’s apple: may apple
  • Devil’s brew: liquor
  • Devil’s footstool: a large mushroom
  • Devil’s snuffbox: puffball full of dusty spores
  • Devil: to tease or aggravate

I’m positive I missed both sayings and words-please leave a comment if you think of any others!



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  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    October 30, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Especially for Brenda in the Adirondacks – know that we are all keeping our friends and family everywhere in our prayers.
    We’re getting on “DEVIL” of a storm here in Michigan, too! We’ve had 60+ mph winds, blowing sleet, and slick roads. Lots of power outages, but we’re hanging in. Hope y’all are, too!

  • Reply
    October 30, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Have you got the shrub Aralia spinosa, sometimes called The Devil’s Walking Stick? Pictures of the nasty, thorny stems don’t begin to do it justice. Makes my scalp tingle just remembering the first time I bumped into it – literally, and it wasn’t my scalp tingling that day!

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Howland-thanks for the comment! Yep thats Pap and Paul doing their best on an old Carter song : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    October 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    When you mention something that you really wouldn’t want to happen is “Telling the devil where your goat is tied” and we all know that if Satan knows where your goat is he Will “get your goat”. The devil can’t read your mind but he’s always lurking about listening to what you say, so if you don’t want all four tires on your truck to go flat Don’t say it!

  • Reply
    barry upward
    October 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Tipper.Hi, I hope you are staying safe in this storm,I notice your areacould get snow so it couldget rough with the high winds Ireally enjoy your music and your newsletter. Barry

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Howland-the full credit shows at the top between the radio buttons and the slider thingy.
    Tipper-We used to call potted meat-deviled dog. I ain’t telling you what we called vienna sausages

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Don’t forget one of my favorites, Devil’s Food Cake!! I know it is not a saying, but it sure is tasty.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    How about deviled eggs or deviled ham!
    Dust devils. And other names that mean devil, like Old Scratch or Dickens. (To scare the dickens out of you!)

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    How about, “The Devil take it!”, said in sheer exasperation about something that won’t function properly, to the point you don’t care if it disappears off the face of the earth and you never see it again, like my elderly car. Yep, I use that one a lot!

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    G’day Tipper,
    “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” and:
    You do that and you’ll have the Devil to pay!” Meaning that what you are about to under take, is foolish, dangerous or illegal.
    Question: The cut “Gathering Flowers From The Hillside” on the music player, That’s Paul and Pap, isn’t it? The credit doesn’t show up on the screen.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    we’d appreciate it if ya’ll could send out some powerful Appalacian prayers for us northern hill town folks. we are getting the weather. I have family in NYC and CT and RI, then the hilltowns here will get the horrendous storm surge on Thurs, just like Irene last year when farms and livestock washed away so fast, could not be saved. Not too many in the rest of the country even knew how bad it was cuz us, like ya’ll, don’t whine, we thank the Lord for what we have, cry, hug, help each other and move on, but it looks like it will happen all over again and this is hard to take. thanks for the prayers that we know you will send up for us. Farmwife Brenda in Argyle, NY, hilltown of the Adirondacks

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Some of these I’ve heard and use.

  • Reply
    Teresa Cole
    October 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm


  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    One time I heard one of my older
    brothers say, “the Devil wouldn’t
    have me to stoke up his fire, I’m
    too green to burn.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    October 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    “The Devil & Tom Walker” is a short story by Washington Irving. There are a number of variants of the old song “the Devil & The Farmer’s Wife.” Old Scratch has insinuated himself into popular culture for centuries.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    It is raining while the sun is shining = the devil is beating his wife.
    Our high school is the Blue Devils. The name dates way back and I’m not sure if it came from Duke or not. I have guessed they said ‘blue’ devils to mean a mischievous devil as opposed to a really mean one. Just guessing.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    “Speak of the Devil”!!
    Meaning, someone or something shows up at the inappropriate time.
    You know that I use “up jumped the devil” a lot in my comments as well as the “the devil made me do it”…
    I seem to have run-ins with the devil daily…I saw him just the other day, ’cause “the devil was in her eyes”!
    When my kids were small, sometimes for the “devilment” of it. I would call my boys over and begin to feel the top of their heads! The response was always, “What are you doin’ Mom?” I’m feeling for little horns growin’. Only devils would fuss and yell like you two boys!
    Sometimes that stopped the conflict with laughter, sometimes not. When all else failed, the threatning sound of a door slam was second choice. “She’s goin’ to the switch tree”, I’d hear in the background!
    The “devil made me do it, and most of the time, I just faked it…The quarrel quietened down and the game of pac-man continued..
    Oh, those were the days!
    Thanks Tipper, for a “devil of a post”! And “speak of the devil”, I can’t believe we have sun, while further Northeast of us, the “swirling water devil” is about to make landfall..

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Used as an expletive by Grandpa, “The Devil!!”. I like the “silver-tongued devil” in Kris Kristofferson’s song.When someone you’re talking about shows up during the discussion, “Well, speak of the devil”.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 29, 2012 at 10:40 am

    The devils in the details!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 29, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Ever heard of someone so bad that “hell wouldn’t have him?”

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    October 29, 2012 at 10:27 am

    “Devil may care” attitude.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 29, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Dancing with the devil

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 29, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 29, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Tipper–I think I can add to your list in various ways.
    *There’s a rapid/backwater just above the upper bridge in Bryson City known as “Devil’s Dip.” Grandpa and I fell in it one cold April day when I was a boy and we sure enough got the devil from Grandma Casada.
    *Devilishly difficult–something which is particularly hard to accomplish.
    *An invention of the devil–something which is troublesome. I’ve most often heard it used by hunters to described barbed wire (usually when they had caught their britches in barbed wire while crossing a fence).
    *Don’t forget all of the many literary uses of “deals with the devil”–Goethe’s Faust legend, Charlies Daniels'”The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” etc.
    *The widespread use of Devil and associated terms (Satan, Beelzebub, Hell, etc.) in place names–Hell’s Half Acre, Devil’s Den, Devil’s Tater Patch, Devil’s Race Patch, Devil’s Courthouse, and Devil’s Courthouse Ridge (the last four are in Swain County or neighboring Jackson County–must be a place with devilish geography).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Hey gal! Its been a long time! I love this devilish post! I am looking at a home up in Butler, TN. Thinking about haeding into the mountains!!! Now I just need to talk DH into it!

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Some mornings before coffee we “feel like the devil.” Searching for the right word to express a particular thought makes me feel “bedeviled.” The Blind Pig rides to the rescue, great for breaking through “writer’s block.”

  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 8:56 am

    When my grandmother disapproved of someone, she would say ‘He’s only alive because the Devil is afraid he will lose his job.’ I’ve also heard devilment and deviltry for annoying acts plus between the Devil and the deep blue sea. We sure do make lots of reference to the Devil, don’t we?

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 29, 2012 at 8:52 am

    These weren’t in the list:
    “Devil may care” used to describe a flippant or non-compassionate attitude.
    “The devil take it,” probably meaning you can believe this or not, but it’s of doubtful authenticity.
    “The devil made me do it!” Excusing some not-so appropriate or wrong action.

  • Reply
    tony foster
    October 29, 2012 at 8:39 am

    devil in a blue dress and devil in disguise from popular music…devil made me do it as an excuse for bad behavior a la comedian flip wilson’s alter-ego geraldine. 🙂

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    October 29, 2012 at 8:39 am

    “An idle mind is the Devil’s playground”

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 29, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Tell the truth! Shame the devil!

  • Reply
    Ruthie Millar
    October 29, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Morning Tipper,
    Have you ever heard of the devil/hell referred to as “Sam” or ” Sam Hill”. I used to hear it a lot as a child , as in “He raised Sam last night” or He better get the Sam Hill outta here” it’s more for hell than the devil but still interesting.
    Have a wonderful day!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 29, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Did you mention Dancing with the Devil -flirting with danger -taking risks.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    October 29, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Yes, some of the sayings are familar; I still use a few of them. The devil has always been used to scare us to behave or not to do something that isn’t considered nice or behaviorally correct. Good post!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 29, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Dance with the devil.
    Dare Devil.
    Handsome Devil.
    The Devil made me do it.
    The devil seems to represent everything bad or forbidden.
    Of course if it is forbidden then it attracts like flypaper! lol

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