Thursday, September 24, 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.

Ain't any of your funeral or it's none of your funeral: What you fussing about? This ain't any of your funeral (not any of your affair; not any of your business). Also used as "I know this is none of my funeral, but you ought to be old enough to know better!"

Barefooted: Let me have that cup of coffee barefooted (without cream and sugar). And, of course, the obvious meaning of barefooted is well known in Hill Country. I used to hope that barefoot weather would soon arrive so I could shuck my socks and shoes.

Caboose: From the Dutch (probably) meaning a ship's cooking-stove or the ship's kitchen. Or, any small and crowded place as the narrow passageway/accommodations on a train for workmen. And finally, that lovely old "last car" in a freight train was known as the caboose. It was a sad day in the Hill Country when the trains started running without a caboose.

Corned: He was so corned that he couldn't walk straight (drunk). Nowadays most folks just say "he was so liquored up that he couldn't walk straight."

Extra doings: Yes, the Preacher always got extra doings at my Mother's table (foods prepared for company). She would usually served fried chicken and for dessert would whip out one of those fake cakes which she got such rave reviews about. [She bought the layers of the cake from the Tony's Bakery rather than to make her own --- but we were not supposed to tell. She could make great frostings but her cake baking skills left lots of room for improvement.]

Gallowses: Instead of a pair of gallowses, his baggy pants were held up by a single gallus. (braces; suspenders: usually worn as a pair, one gallus over over each shoulder) In today's Southern world, natives take much mirth in seeing folks from "Off" (usually Yankees) wearing both a belt and gallowses to hold up their britches.

Hand-fisher: Nowadays one who is hand-fishing is said to be grappling --- catching fish with his bare hands. Such a process requires the hand-fisher to get into the stream and to feel for fish in holes in the stream banks or in hollow logs and to grapple them out bare-handed. I never could get up my nerve to go grappling although several guys in Parham were said to be excellent at it.

Keep your eye peeled or keep your eye skinned: Keep you eye peeled for that road-sign that says "turn here" so we can go to the Hill Country (to be on the outlook; to be wary). My Sweetie has about teased me out of ever using what was once one of my most frequently used phrases.

No flies: There ain't no flies on Preacher Smith's preaching abilities (he is sound; he knows what he is doing).

Peaked: I lost so much weight last winter that Sweetie said I looked peaked (thin and angular). Also peaked can be used to mean "pale" and sickly in appearance.

Sauce, sarce, sarse, sass: Although we didn't have much meat, we had plenty of sass (vegetables).

Skinny-dipping: The Gentlemen's Pool was a secluded part along the creek where the men and boys of the community went to skinny-dip; the ladies had their own private skinny-dipping hole to swim in just up the creek but completely out of sight (to swim or to bathe in the nude).

Snake: Zack snaked out the logs with his mules (dragged out).

Trace: The Gaine's Trace, a horse path, was used as the boundary between the United States and Indian Nation at one time. That old trace cuts across the Hill Country (trail; path; road).

This is it for today's list of words and phrases. Maybe it will soon be warm enough for skinny-dipping down at the creek. Meanwhile, keep you eyes peeled like you were a member of the fashion police looking for offenders wearing a belt and gallowses. You'll get extra points if you spot someone who is belted, gallowsed, and wearing knee socks and dress shoes with walking shorts. If you spot such a creature, do not approach --- this ain't none of your funeral.


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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