Thursday, October 29, 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 to pieces: I loved that little gal from Tupelo all to pieces (completely). We got married and that was almost fifty years ago. I still love her all to pieces.

Beatenest: She is the beatenest quilter I've ever seen. I bet her stitches are the tiniest ones you'll ever see (beats all others completely).

Cake-walk: Some word experts say this is a walking competition in which the couple who put on most style "take the cake" or wins the prize. At Hatley School, cake-walks were popular means of fund raising when I was a student there. All the mothers would bake cakes and donate them to the school; chances to win a cake were sold; and the chance holders would walk on a numbered circular pathway to music. When the music stopped, a number was drawn and the lucky person standing on that same number won the cake. One time at my younger son's Alabama school, almost 200 cakes were donated to raffle off using a cake walk during one event. The school set up two different "walks" and the process went on for hours! The phrase "a cake walk" also means "easy or simple" as in "Sweetie said that the tasks she outlined for me would be a cake walk."

Chair-post: Sit with all four of the chair-posts on the floor or else you'll break off one of them. Uncle Tony's done broke down two of Granny's chairs by tilting back on the hind chair-posts (legs of a chair).

Dark as a stack of black cats: It was as dark as a stack of black cats on that old footpath (simile self evident). It was a dangersome place.

Favor: Look at that baby. He favors his dad so much (resemble). Why he is the spit and image of his father. At one time the phrase "spit and image" referred just to sons and fathers.

Get off: I've got to go get off a letter and a check to the utility company (to publish; to write and to post).

Knob or knob land: I spent a lovely day once driving about the knob lands of Kentucky (hills; mounds). Many folks would call the hills of our beloved Hill Country just a bunch of knobs.

Nohow, no way: As much as he tried there was nohow no way he could hide the mess he had made (not at all).

Pigs in clover: Why those two love-birds were as happy as two pigs in clover (supremely contented). Compare this phrase to "dead pig in the sunshine" as in the example "My cat Hattie lies in the doorway blocking it completely. Why she is as still as a dead pig in the sunshine.

Scrouge: You folks sitting down front need to scrouge up on the pew and make room for the late-comers (squeeze together). Why is it that late-comers always makes the early-comers have to scrouge up into uncomfortable spaces? I think those who arrive late should have to scrouge up together standing and in the back.

Snarl: I heard he got into a major snarl trying to manage a girl in Becker, another in Oak Hill, and seeing that widow-woman over in Gattman (entanglement). Indeed, he was so snarled up he was all tuckered out!

Tuckered out: Today Grandma had me helping her to hoe the garden, to rob the bee hives, to shell a mess of peas, to snap and can fourteen quarts of Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans, and to draw up enough water for the weekly wash and I'm plumb tuckered out (exhausted, completely worn out).

Wild and wooly: During the Hill County's wild and wooly days, one could go riding up to a saloon on a horse and buy a drink, talk with some of the lovely ladies, and then get on to the race track and place a bet on a favorite horse. Nowadays one has to drive off a-ways to find that sort of fun. (Term self-evident but considered a Western phrase --- however, the frontier was, at one time, in our lovely Hill Country.)

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I'm completely tuckered out and I've got some wild and wooly places to go before dark. I better skedaddle outa here and get with the program. Besides I've got a whole bunch of articles to get off. Next time I'll be back with some more words and expressions that may pert you up and to enthuse you into studying more about the words we use.


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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