Friday, August 28, 2009


Words and Phrases from the Hill Country

by Terry Thornton

Today continues a twenty-two part series of words and phrases with Hill Country examples. Each week 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.

A caution: Just look at those Thompson grandkids --- isn't that oldest one a caution (an example -- may be positive or negative).

Back load: He slung a huge sack over his shoulder; his back load was twice what most men could carry (load carried on the back).

Bottom dollar: I'll give you my bottom dollar (last dollar)! Today the phrase is often heard as "That is my bottom dollar offer" meaning that is the lowest price to be offered.

Catch-all: Look in the catch-all drawer for one of those little do-hickeys (a receptacle for miscellaneous items). Our kitchen cabinets have catch-all drawers full of the oddest assortment of un-necessary items which I'm afraid to toss out.

Considerable: He sure is a considerable man (large).

Drawbars: Instead of a gap or a gate that would swing open and close, the opening in the fence was a pair of drawbars (bars that can be drawn back to allow passage and then repositioned to close an opening; used in both fences and barn stalls).

Green corn: We didn't have anything to eat except green corn (fresh corn; sweet corn before it is ripe). And in the Hill Country if someone offers you a "mess of roasting ears," they are offering you some ears of green corn ready to be cooked as corn on the cob or cut off and made into cream-style country corn or made into gritted bread.

Have a mind: I have a mind that maybe tomorrow I'll feel like mowing the yard (to be willing). But on the other hand, I'm of a mind that I just might not feel like mowing till early next week.

Indeedy: Did you finish chopping the stovewood? Yes, indeedy, I did (variation of indeed).

Mill-seat: I've never been able to figure out where on Weaver's Creek the first mill-seat along that stream was located (site of a mill). Frederick Weaver, my great-great-great-grandfather settled along that creek near the Tombigbee River and the creek has been called Weaver's Creek ever since.

One horse: I guess at one time you could have described the little village of Parham as being a one-horse sort of town (small). And to be perfectly honest, I guess that would be an apt description. But some folks say "one-horse" can also mean inferior --- but that don't apply "none" to Parham.

Running like a sewing machine: After the shade-tree mechanic worked all day on the old truck's engine, he got it to running like Ma's Singer sewing machine (operate very smoothly and efficiently).

Till the cows come home: He vowed he was going to drink and party till the cows come home (an indefinite period of time). 'Course he got so corned beforehand that the cows could have come home and gone twice without him knowing it.

Year in and year out: By attending the university year in and year out, I graduated in three years rather than the usual four years (continuously; in this example by attending classes during all of the sessions and not taking a summer break). This phrase also has the meaning of exaggeration as in "I am ready for a vacation! I've been working year in and year out and I'm ready to do something besides hoe cotton, chop cotton, pick cotton, and think about cotton!"

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. Indeedy, this is all for today. I will, however, leave the drawbars down so that the cows can all get in the barn if they ever come home. Next time I'll be back with some more words and expressions that may make you of a mind to learn more about the words we use.

But right now I'm trying to figure out what this phase means: "A small mosquito would be of no more use in the Hill Country than preaching in a cane-brake."


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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