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 Team, A Whole Team, A Team and a Half, etc: We were always glad when Darryl was on our side as he was a team and a half just by himself (bigger than life; manly).

Backbone: He has absolutely no backbone for those things he says he believes in, he only very loosely holds on to them (moral courage).

Brickbats: He stacked up three layers of brickbats to outline the flower bed (brick). Another use of brickbats is in this observation: "Instead of brains he's got brickbats in his head." The word brickbat goes back to the 1500s --- and is used to describe pieces of brick used as a weapon (to hurl at others or to use a broken brick as a club). Today the word is most often used to mean criticism as in "Wow! Did some of the commenters hurl brickbats at me over that article I published at Hill Country." But at Parham we called loose brick brickbats --- and we continue to outline our flower beds with brickbats and to even make walkways out of brickbats.

Cooler: He was thrown in the cooler where he spent the night thinking about his hot-headedness (jail).

Cow patty: Dry cow patties are easy to pick up and sail at someone but wet cow patties are to be avoided (cow dung). And the dry and wet of this example doesn't have a thing to do with the next one!

Dry (and Wet): I currently live in a dry county but I have lived in wet counties (each county decides by referendum whether it will permit or forbid the sale of beer, wine, and whiskey).

Frog-pond: Once after taking a double anti-fogmatic or maybe more, I fell into the frog-pond and got all wet (small pond with frogs; any small body of water). Even the gold-fish pond and fountain I once had in my back yard was called a frog-pond by some of my relatives.

Grubbing: My father's grubbing pick had a short but heavy handle (removing grubs: to root up the remains of roots, stubs, and stumps of small bushes).

Indignation meetings: More indignation meetings such as the tea parties of a few weeks ago are planned (individuals coming together to rail over public/political abuses). I'd go to an indignation meeting if I thought we could have one that would stop all these telemarketers and politicians telephoning my private number. Maybe I need to organize a telephone tea-party where everyone who joins swears they will never vote for any candidate who telephones them and swears they will never do business with any agency or concern who telephones them. That is what I do --- I vote for the one who doesn't call. And I never buy from anyone who calls me selling. And I never contribute to any group who telehones me begging.

Mud-puppy; Spring-lizard: The box spring where we stopped for a drink of water had a resident mud-puppy (salamander).

Own up: You might as well own up to eating that cherry pie as you're grinning cherry stains from ear to ear (make a full admission).

Row to hoe: The current business outlook indicates that we have a long row to hoe before we can rest easy again (some business to finish; phrase is often preceded by descriptive words such as hard, difficult, easy, short, rocky, grassy, etc to add even more meaning to the expression). Don't confuse "row to hoe" with the wonderful multi-purpose expression "short rows" as in the example, "I'm getting down to the short rows" meaning almost finished.

Slink: I'm not sure that guy is to be trusted as he is always just slinking around actin' like he is a peeping Tom. Yes, he is a little slink, that one (a contemptible person; coward).

To knock off the hindsights: We shouldn't have stopped when we did as we could have knocked their hindsights off if we had continued (to beat; to demolish; to destroy).

This is it for today's list of words and phrases. Thanks for all the comments --- you guys are a team and a half! I'll be back but right now I'm going to start thinking on the difference in grinning like a lusty fool compared to grinning like a pervert in an adult bookstore. There has to be a difference --- isn't there?


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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