This Speech of Ours
Many of our ancestors lived, at one
time or other, in isolated regions of the the Appalachian
Mountains. Their forbears had originated in Scotland, Northern
Ireland (the "Scotch-Irish"), and from England. Later
generations moved west to Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas,
while others migrated south and settled in Georgia, Mississippi
and Louisiana. The "Southern drawl" of the Deep South is well
known, but those who settled in the Ozarks were, for the most
part, semi-isolated for a hundred hears or more. Away from the
mainstream of western movement and the American melting pot of
cultures, their descendants retain many characteristics of
Elizabethan and older forms of English grammar, pronunciation,
and vocabulary, long after these forms were discarded elsewhere.
It is still possible to hear old-timers say "hit" for "it," "et"
for "ate," "rid" for "rode," and "hep," for "help." These, as
well as many others, were once forms of "correct" English.
This archaic English helps make an
interesting dialect, and when combined with the country humor
and imagination of Ozarks area people, it became one of the most
colorful in the United States. No longer isolated, the Ozarks
speech is rapidly becoming standardized, but if an outsider
listens closely, he or she may still hear some of the old terms
Following are a few old-time
sayings and expressions that our parents and grandparents may have used, and
perhaps you use one or two of them as well.
She talks ever which
stories change often.
This thang is plumb
This thing is out of
alignment, or not straight.
Iím between the
devil and the deep blue sea:
I can't decide what
Give him time and
heíll come to his milk:
Give him time and
he'll come to his senses.
Sheís as common as
She has a bad reputation.
Heís lowerín a
He's a very disreputable person.
He wuz grinniní like
a jackass in a corn patch:
He was pleased, and
has a wide grin on his face.
She was madderín an
old wet hen:
She was very angry.
She wuz rode hard
and put away wet: She has had a hard life.
Heís like a dog with
Refers to someone who won't let a subject die.
Heís as busy as a
one-eyed man at a burlesque show:
He's very busy.
Lord williní and the
creek donít rise:
If all goes well.
Well, I canít dance
and itís too wet to plow:
I don't have
anything else to do.
That dog donít
don't believe that.
Thatís too much
sugar for a dime!:
Iím as happy as a
pig in slop.
I'm very pleased
Straighten up or
Iíll slap you bald-headed!:
She can talk the leg offení a chair:
She is very
Her tongue wags at
She tells different stories to different people.
Heís as tight as a
frogís hind end:
He is very careful
how he spends his money.
Sheís heavierín a
ton of lard in a molasses can:
Heís mad enough to
He is very angry.
Sheís as busy as a
stump-tailed cow in fly time:
She is very busy,
and is concentrating on her task.
Heís so tight heíd
skin a tick for its tallow:
He is a very
conservative with his money.
Itís as cold as a
well diggerís hind end:
A comment used when
it is very cold outside.
Heís too lazy to
yell sooey if the hogs wuz eatiní him:
Itís just a hoot and
a holler down the road:
It's just a short
distance down the road.
If it donít rain
itís agoiní to miss a good chance:
It looks like it
Beggars can't be
choosers: Be Thankful for anything that you get free.
Don't count your
chickens before they hatch: Don't make assumptions.
Don't cut off your
nose to spite your face: Think twice about what you're about
Don't let it
rattle your bones: Don't let it bother you.
If wishes were
horses then beggars would ride: Don't just wish for
something, go out and get it.
A new broom always
sweeps right: A new thing is always good at first.
He/she is older
than dirt: He/she is very old.
His head's wore
out two bodies: He looks old for his years.
He's long in the
tooth: He is very old.
I'm finer'n frog hair and twice as fluffy:
I'm very fine.
I feel like snake
shit in a wheel track: I don't feel well at all.
He couldn't fall
offen a fence in a windstorm: He's useless!
He's as crooked as
a dog's hind-leg: He's dishonest.
He'd rather wait
till the cows come home: He's a procrastinator.
It don't make me no never-mind:
I don't care.
Could you carry me
over there?: I need a ride.
Aincha' got no fetchins' up?:
Didn't anyone teach you manners?
Itsa' comin' down like a cow pissin' on a flat rock:
It's raining very hard.
Shit-fire boy, you ainít got the sense of a rock:
Dimwitted or slow.
This one I remember well; it
was my Dad's usual retort when I required a repeat of
instructions on some particular task.
that we take for
granted have very interesting sources. For instance:
The name of
a prison which was on Clink Street in the Southwark area of London.
medieval England there were nomadic mercenaries who wandered the
countryside, selling their services to the highest bidder. These
were hardened fighters who lived solitary lives in the wilderness.
They didn't have the luxury of servants to polish their armor and it
would oxidize to a blackish hue, and they came to be known as black
knights. At local town festivals they would have exhibition jousting
matches in which the winner of the fight would win the loser's
weapons and armor. The local gentry, softened by the good life,
would lose to these black knights. The nomadic knights didn't have
much use for an extra set of armor and would sell it back to them
immediately after the fight. The losing nobility would be forced to
buy back their armor, and thus this after market came to be known as
the "Black Market."
Son of a gun:
sailors had crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, they would take
the native women on board the ship and have their way with them in
between the cannons. Some of the women the sailors left behind would
have boys, who were called sons between the guns.
After the Patten shoe which the young women wore in the buttery
(creamery) in England. When the cream spilled on their shoes, the
fat would tend to make the leather shiny.
through the red tape:
English solicitors (lawyers) kept their clients papers in a file
folder tied with red ribbon to prevent the papers from falling out.
Of course, when they wanted to get at the papers, they would have to
cut through the red tape.
your P's and Q's:
Ale was served at local taverns in
England and Colonial America out of a "tankard" The price paid for a
tankard of ale depended on the angle of your elbow... half-way up...
you drank a pint, all the way up... you drank a quart. Since the
quart cost so much more than the pint, you were warned to "Mind your
Ps & Qs."
someone drank too much out of the above "tankard" it was said that
he or she was "tanked." There were serious consequences if one got
"tanked" and passed out, for there was a chance that somebody might
think that the drinker had actually died. Back then they didn't have
experience with taking pulses, and it was possible for a "tanked"
person to be buried alive while in a drunken stupor or otherwise
jug treated with tar pitch to help it hold its shape.
Wet your whistle:
ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or
handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used
to blow the whistle to get some service.
Saved by the bell:
When our ancestors realized that they were burying a great deal of
people before their time had actually come, they came up with a
solution. They tied a string onto the "dead" person's hand, buried
them, and tied the other end of the string to a bell and then tied
it to nearby tree branch. If the person revived enough to ring the
bell, their survivors would rush out and dig them up. Hence...
"saved by the bell."
Getting the short
end of the stick:
Candles were expensive to make, so often reeds were dipped in tallow
and burned instead. When visitors came, it was the custom for guests
to make their exit by the time the lights went out. Therefore, if
your host didn't want you to stay very long he would give you a
Burning the candle
at both ends:
If the host REALLY didn't want his guests
to stay very long, he would light "both ends" at the same time!
Giving someone the
someone would wear out their welcome as a house guest, the host
would (instead of feeding them a good, warm meal) give their
too-long staying guest the worst part of the animal, not warmed, but
the "cold shoulder."
Getting a square meal:
Dinner plates were made of a square piece
of wood with a "bowl" carved out to hold the food. It was customary
in medieval England to have a perpetual stew always cooking over the
fire. The kettle was never actually emptied and cleaned out. New
ingredients were simply added to the muck. You always took your
square plate with you when you went traveling, thus the "square
Clean your plate
before you have dessert:
square plate (above) was never washed either. After your daily dose
of stew, you wiped your plate clean with a piece of bread. Then you
flipped it over which provided a flat surface for your dessert
portion (if there was any, that is).
Frog in your throat:
Medieval physicians believed that the secretions of a frog could
cure a cough if they were coated on the inside of the throat of the
patient. The frog was placed in the mouth of the sufferer and
remained there until the physician decided that the treatment was
put, as a raw lump of dough, straight into the bread oven. No bread
tin was used; it just sat on the floor of the oven. The oven, heated
by the direct flame of the fire in an open fireplace, was very hot
at the bottom. When the bread was done baking and taken out to cool,
the base of the loaf was overcooked, black, and also dirty, while
the top of the loaf was done just right, and still clean. The bottom
of the loaf was for the servants to eat, while the upper crust
was for the master of the house.
Rule of thumb:
An old English law declared that a man
could not beat his wife with a stick any larger than the diameter of
Getting your goat:
This refers to an old English belief that keeping a goat in the barn
would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk.
When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one's enemy, you would
abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less or
was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a
month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his
son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer,
and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called
the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon".