Thursday, September 3, 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 big dog under the wagon: Having Paul Ray in our group was like having a big ole yellow dog under the wagon (secret weapon; loyal protector).

Banjo and picking and grinning: Picking the five-stringed banjo, Bobby started grinning when he got past the difficult part (musical instrument). Oh, those Carter men are good at picking and ginning (playing music).

Cause: They made fun of me cause I talked like someone from the Hill Country (because).

Cord: The hardest work I ever got into was when my brother and I decided one fall to sell firewood by the cord (a measure of cut and stacked wood 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet).

Crazy as a bed-bug or crazy as a loon: I don't know if'n he is as crazy as a bed-bug or is as crazy as a loon --- he is one more peculiar person (degrees of craziness).

Duster: She wore nothing but a thin duster made out of cotton feed sacks (a house coat long favored by Southern women; the garment was more than a sleeping gown but not a house dress and certainly not a dress to wear in public; the duster was a one piece covering which was cool and modest).

Frosted: During that harsh Winter of 1902, Grandpaw got frosted on both hands (frost-bitten).

Guess: I enjoyed my dinner at the new restaurant so I guess I'll go back there again (think). I guess is one of the best of all Hill Country hem/haw phrases; it provides a response when one is required without committing to a course of action, I guess. Combined with a generous use of "maybe" and "I'm fixing to," a skillful user of "I guess" can maneuver his way through almost any minefield of social intercourse.

Jaw-cracker: He was fond of using jawcrackers in his speech whether he knew the meaning of them or not (long and difficult word).

Mugwump: She acted like she thought we should consider her one of the high mugwumps (leaders; from Indian word for chief). As with many self-appointed bell cows, however, most of the others paid her no never mind.

Pantalettes, Bloomers, and Pantaloons, Pants: Pantalettes, underpants worn by females gradually became known as bloomers whereas pantaloons became known as pants or trousers which males wore. Today pants can be under- or outer-. And to go without under-pants is said to be going commando.

Sabbaday or Sabberday: Between Saturday and Monday is Sabberday (corruption of the words Sabbath day used instead of Sunday).

Slop over: I do wish Miss SusieMayBelle would stop slopping over me (gushing). She is right disgusting --- and she keeps on battenin' her eyes and a'grinnin' at me. [The phrase also means to be overly sentimental as in this example: Everytime he reads about Hill Country and his old stompin' grounds, he would write a comment to the author in which he would go on and on slopping over about the old country.]

Toe the line: If you don't make that kid toe the line, he's gonna get completely out of line (follow the rules). I suggest you take a look at a Google search for the phrase "toe the line." This old phrase has seen a lot of use in both the old country and here in the new country.

This completes today's list of words and phrases. I guess I better get outa here and go see what my Mugwump is calling me about. Next time I'll be back with some more words and expressions which may help you to talk with ease amongst us Hill Country folk. Meanwhile I'm trying to figure out how a body can get her knickers in a twist if she going commando.


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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