Friday, August 28, 2009


Words and Phrases from the Hill Country

by Terry Thornton

Today starts a twenty-two part series of words and phrases with Hill Country examples. Each week, beginning today, this space will be devoted to Southern Expressions That Will Take The Rag Off the Bush.

This series is dedicated to the anonymous reader of Hill Country who left a comment on one of my other articles about southern words and expressions. Anon exclaimed that the article "just takes the rag off the bush." The comment tickled me but good. In fact, I'd never heard that expression so I had to do some quick reading to determine if I'd been complimented or if I'd been insulted.

After discovering that "to take the rag off the bush" is a perfectly good old-timey compliment, I am using this expression for the title of this series. I hope these articles will capture the full meaning of the phrase "to surpass; to beat all" and maybe this series will be so good that it will also "snatch the bush right up out of the ground, roots, and all."

Here are some words and expressions you may wish to work into your conversations this week. Impress your friends and family --- and, at the same time, help keep these old sayings alive.

Artificials: She was wearing artificials (fake flowers). Oh yes, those were artificials that pretty gal from Caledonia had on.

Behaving parties: All of the socials I went to this month were behaving parties (everyone present expected to be on good behavior). Nobody, I mean nobody, was letting his hair down and having a rip-snorting good time. Heck, even that party Saturday night over on Parham Gin Road was a duller than dish-water.

Candle-lighting: It was well past candle-lighting time and the room was almost pitch black (time of lighting candles). I could hear her breathing and I could smell that dab of flavoring she had touched to her throat. It was a magic time there in the dark.

Dead pig in the sunshine: He looked as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine when she said, "I do" (supremely contented and happy).

Enthuse: She was slow to enthuse but once she got started, oh my, how that gal could dance (to kindle into enthusiasm).

Flyblowed before sundown: I don't think he is gonna make it. I think he will be flyblowed before sundown (won't live out the day).

Hard row to hoe: She has a hard row to hoe if she stays with that worthless bum (a difficult job).

Hell-kicker: Poor old Uncle Jake. His fourth wife proved to be a real hell-kicker (a depraved and furious individual).

Old man and Old woman: She is my old woman and I am her old man (husband and wife). Often heard when the spouse is absent as in: "So? Did your old woman let you go out by yourself today?" asked the men at the store.

Pert: After three glasses of wine, she started acting like she felt right pert (sprightly, joyous, happy, healthy). This old word goes back to at least 1500. Then it was usually spelled peart but the meaning hasn't changed much over time.

Rocked, Chunked, Sailed: When I was a child and playing with a gang of kids on the roads and in the woods and in the pastures at Parham, if we rocked someone, we threw rocks at him. If we chucked him, we threw pieces of wood at him. If we sailed him, we threw dry cow patties at him.

Skedaddle: You kids better skedaddle before your Ma gets back from milking the cow (scatter; to flee from enemy). Origin of word obscured but it came into widespread use during the Civil War. Hill Country folk love to tell folks to "Skedaddle!" meaning to "get along" as in this example: "I've got to skedaddle to Amory if I'm gonna get there 'fore the stores all close."

Slab-sided: After taking a spurt of growth, he lost his baby fat, had to start shaving, and became a tall, slab-sided young man (having long lanky-sides).

The old country: I got a note the other day from an Arizona reader saying he was happy that I was writing about the old country (place of one's origin). Originally the phrase meant the British islands or a specific foreign country --- the country of one's forefathers.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and get busy. Next time I'll be back with some more words and expressions that may serve to pert you up and to enthuse you into studying more about the words we use.


Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted by email at


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