Thursday, October 8, 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.

All out doors: Those horses for sale down at Lackey were as big as all out doors (the whole country).

Beans: He doesn't know beans and he doesn't care beans either (anything).

Cahoot: "Oh, him and Jack are in cahoots to dig that well in Parham (in partnership with; sometime a partnership up to no good).

Chain-man: One summer he worked as a chainman for the government cotton field surveyors (one who carries the surveyor's chain).

Dangersome: The old footpath through the hills was a dangersome trail to walk at night (dangerous).

Fat pine of fat lighter: Each time we went for a walk in the woods, we watched for large chunk of fat lighter. A big chunk of fat lighter split into dozens of little splinters makes starting the fire easy all winter long (pine-wood full of pitch). Children once were always reminded that when they were playing in the woods to bring home any chunks of fat lighter they stumbled upon.

Garden sass: Some finicky eaters just don't eat enough garden sass (vegetables).

Hard-pan: Some of the land is poor because the top soil is thin and the hard-pan is thick and hard to break up with a plow (layer of clay beneath the top soil which prevents root growth as well as proper drainage of the soil).

Knee-high to a spider: He has been telling whoppers since he was knee-high to a spider (ludicrous description meaning of very short stature). Actually the kids in Parham rarely said this --- we said "knee-high to a pissant" as we all knew about those little ants so-named because of their odor. For some reason, Hill Country folk seem to enjoy describing other states' elected officials as just a bunch of "pissants," a characterization I heartedly endorse if used to describe that bunch of liberal pissants currently in Washington. See pissant at Wikipedia.

No-account: Why he just up and married that no-account woman (worthless).

Pester: Make Johnny stop pestering those little kids (aggravation). The word is also euphemistic for unwanted sexual advances as in "Every time they were left in the same room together unsupervised, the boss would start pestereing the secretary."

Scalawag: In the third grade, our teacher Miss Fuqua got mad and said the entire class was just a bunch of scalawags (worthless fellow).

Snapper: If that snapper bites your toe he won't let go till it thunders (snapping turtle).

Tree-nails: Great-grandpaw built a table which was held together with tree-nails (large wooden pegs). The huge large log barn that once stood on Thornton Farm at Weaver's Creek was held together by tree nails.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and try to figure out why my eight-sided bench wouldn't fit together around that tree trunk --- it is all angles and nothing fits. Next time I'll be back with some more words and expressions that may serve to pert you up and to enthuse you into studying more about the words we use. Meanwhile don't walk in the grass barefoot or else you'll catch the toe itch.


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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