Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Was

Appalachian grammar the word was

was verb past tense of be, used with both plural nouns and plural pronouns as its subject. [OED dates this usage from the 14th century; DARE labels this usage “especially South, Midland” in the U.S.]
1801 Meigs Journal 4 A Spectator even without knowing the Language would be convinced that matters was well arranged. 1866 Elijoy Minutes 110 [T]he meeting lasted 16 days & nights during which time there was 27 baptised & there was 48 Joined the church. 1939 Hall Coll. (Cataloochee NC) We went over and put us up a still, and we was a-making some awful good [liquor]. It was so good you could taste the gal’s feet in it that hoed the corn it was made out of. 1939 Hall Coll. (Sugarlands TN) They’d bunch up if you was sick and come work your corn for you and make quiltings and roll logs and grubbings, one thing and another, and help you when you was sick and disabled or you couldn’t help yourself, but they don’t do that anymore. 1969 GSMNP-44:12 They come from Ireland. They was Scot Irish. 1973 GSMNP-76:15 You had to work the roads six days a [year] after you was twenty-one years old. 1974 GSMNP-50:1:23 We was poor folks and hired out [to] get enough money to buy cloth to make me a dress. They didn’t have dresses made up in the stores then.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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The was usage described in the dictionary entry is beyond common in my area of Appalachia right down to my house household and my own mouth.

There are two quotes from the dictionary that caught my eye:

1939 Hall Coll. (Cataloochee NC) We went over and put us up a still, and we was a-making some awful good [liquor]. It was so good you could taste the gal’s feet in it that hoed the corn it was made out of.

1939 Hall Coll. (Sugarlands TN) They’d bunch up if you was sick and come work your corn for you and make quiltings and roll logs and grubbings, one thing and another, and help you when you was sick and disabled or you couldn’t help yourself, but they don’t do that anymore.

Tipper

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Howland
    March 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    I first heerd ‘Was’ used like this in Lawrence County 40 years ago; hit’s still part of the language in our house today…

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    March 24, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for this, Tipper! I’ve added it to my book. Great-great grandpa was born in Kingston, Tennessee.
    “Backwoods Tennessee is the classic locale for a tradition as American as apple pie, the secret distillation of down-home whiskey. Uncle Jed of television’s “Beverly Hillbillies” filled his pickup’s tank with “moonshine” but feared it was hard on the engine, and a special formula is said to have been sold to the Army’s Oak Ridge Arsenal for rocket fuel. As mountaineers said, “It was so good you could taste the gal’s feet in it that hoed the corn it was made out of.”

  • Reply
    TimMc
    March 24, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Was you ever in the woods when your light went out ? So dark couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. This actually happen to me, I felt my way back home.

  • Reply
    Ken
    March 24, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Tipper,
    That was a good line, “tasting a gal’s feet that hoed the corn.” Besides, I end a lot of sentences with a prepositional phrase and I don’t see anything wrong with that. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 24, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Tipper,
    I was goin’ to comment about was, but I was laughin’ so hard at Miss Cindy’s comment that I couldn’t hardly stop to type my comment…I was always a’usin’ was that-a-way and most certainly use Hells Bells the same way…First I ever heard or seed anybody else use Hells Bells in many a full moon!
    Thanks Tipper love this post today!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 24, 2017 at 11:56 am

    First off, I love that picture! Now then, was was always my choice and still is. It’s pronounced “wuz” here though. Were is a word out of the reading book (actually off the cover if you had the “If I Were Going” reader. I use “were” when I write every once in a while just so I don’t forget it.
    “One thing and another” grabbed my attention and gave me pause. It’s a many a time I have heard that phrase as part of a casual greeting;
    “Well what you been up to?”
    “Oh, first one thang and then anothirn!”
    Then “had to work the roads.” That reminded me of the time when people “was sent to the road” as punishment for their misdeeds. You know if we could go back to them days, the crime rate would probably fall dramatically and the roads would look a sight better, don’t you think?

  • Reply
    Betty Louise Saxon Hopkins
    March 24, 2017 at 11:24 am

    My mother used “wuz” instead of was … “We wuz working in a cane patch over there, and he come over wantin’ to know how we could slip off and get married.” 🙂

  • Reply
    Tamela
    March 24, 2017 at 9:10 am

    All that was ( and is) everyday talk.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

    We was a grubbin a hillside when I hit a yellow jacket nest with my grubbin hoe. I ran over the hill and jumped in the pond. I never got stung.
    A grubbing hoe has a heavier blade and stouter handle than a garden hoe.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

    We was a grubbin a hillside when I hit a yellow jacket nest with my grubbin hoe. I ran over the hill and jumped in the pond. I never got stung.
    A grubbing hoe has a heavier blade and stouter handle than a garden hoe.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

    We was a grubbin a hillside when I hit a yellow jacket nest with my grubbin hoe. I ran over the hill and jumped in the pond. I never got stung.
    A grubbing hoe has a heavier blade and stouter handle than a garden hoe.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    March 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

    We was a grubbin a hillside when I hit a yellow jacket nest with my grubbin hoe. I ran over the hill and jumped in the pond. I never got stung.
    A grubbing hoe has a heavier blade and stouter handle than a garden hoe.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 24, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Sounds so familiar to me. I’ve got to stop and think who my audience is before I say was. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone say “one thing and another.”

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    March 24, 2017 at 8:40 am

    That usage is spot on. I’ve also heard and used it as a response:
    “Were you in town last night?”
    “Was.”
    Although I haven’t heard it so much lately. But, I’m going home today with the kids, so we’ll here some good talking this weekend.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    March 24, 2017 at 8:25 am

    I hear this almost every day. The other word that sticks in my mind is “seen”.
    I had an English teacher who impressed this on us because it was so often mis- used in our community. We would say I seen that instead of I saw that.
    She broke us of that habit in a hurry.
    Every time I hear someone say that I think of my teacher saying if there was one thing she would do that year was break us of that habit.
    She was successful.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 24, 2017 at 8:14 am

    This is one of the very few times my memory is not stirred and it finds nothing to catch hold of. Looks like there was a regional use of ‘was’ with a plural subject where we have now been taught to say ‘were’ but was also used with a singular subject. I have no specific recollection from childhood of the use either way. One of the things that indicates to me is that I did not become a word policeman as a result of going to school, thank goodness.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 24, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Was you meanin that’s not the correct usage of the word? Well hells bells that’s all I’ve ever knowed.

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    March 24, 2017 at 7:44 am

    This is so familiar and I love hearing about it. My education wiped this right out of my life. I am sorry for that.

  • Reply
    Candy Davis
    March 24, 2017 at 5:38 am

    I also loved that comment about tasting the gal’s feet that hoed the corn. That brought a smile to my face. That’s a good way to start the day.

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