Thursday, September 10, 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.

Absquatulate: My ole hound dog, Gabe, absquatulated but this time he had some help (disappeared). That dog loves to go for a ride and he went riding with that stranger from Smithville who "borrowed" him.

Bar: The large black bar crossed the road in front of us and I slid to a stop to look at it (bear). And the first large wild bear we saw in Alaska was so stunning that all I could do was to point and to cry, "Bar! Bar! Bar!"

Butternut: The butternut tree grew white walnuts from is extracted a dye for fabric (white walnut tree). Butternut is also the term for a color produced by white walnut nut dye.

Cave in: I don't like to sit in most antique chairs cause I fear they will cave in under me (collapse). I particularly like this example: I knew I was winning my argument with Sweetie when she caved in on one of her three objections.

Cuss: That little cuss was so cross-eyed that I couldn't tell whether he was looking at me or at something out the window (fellow).

Easy as rolling off a log: My Sweetie says crocheting is as easy as rolling off a log but then she has been crocheting for more than sixty years (really easy).

Fumble-foot: After such a wet Spring and wet Summer, Aunt Ludie's kitchen garden was full of fumble-foot and little else (weeds so thick they entangle the feet).

Gumbo: One of grandpa's largest fields in Weaver's Creek Bottom had a thin layer of soil lying over a gumbo of blue clay (hard-pan of clay lying beneath the topsoil). And, of course, there is a dish by the name of gumbo here in the South that is some more good eating.

Jerky: We rode the jerky to town, gave the mules a chance to rest and water while we shopped, and then we headed back home with the smaller kid sitting on top of a cold watermelon Pap bought at the ice plant (farm wagon without springs). At least one of us in the jerky was cool.

Nail-driver: Seth told me to bet on his nail-driver at the races at Buttahatchie last Saturday (fast horse). I did --- and doubled my money.

Paring bee: Last year's paring bee over at Quincy got out of hand when some of the crowd got frisky from drinking too much rum (apple or fruit paring bee --- social gathering to help prepare a crop of apples for processing). Those that got rowdy may have been drinking pupelo.

Sakes alive: Well, sakes alive, I never heard of such (meaningless interjection)!

Small potatoes: Oh, don't pay him no never-mind. He's small potatoes but he thinks he's the smartest duck in the puddle (person of no account).

Tote: I was trying to tote the picnic basket in one hand and two folding chairs in the other when Sweetie called to me and said don't forget the watermelon (to carry; usually to carry by hand or on the back).

This is all of today's words and phrases. I'm as busy as bee so I've got to skedaddle outa here and go have some fun. See you next week if the river don't rise and if the good Lord is willing. Now I've got to go tote that watermelon, two cakes, one pie, and a bucket of finger-licking-good chicken and get ready for the picnic.


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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