Friday, October 30, 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-overish: Where do you itch --- all-overish? --- or, did you just get those chiggers on your ankles (all over)?

Belittle: Somebody need to tell that Preacher in Aberdeen to don't belittle folks just because they live in the hill country (treat as of small importance; to depreciate. Word said to have been coined by Thomas Jefferson).

Calaboose: The authorities busted Charlie's still in Weaver's Creek Bottom and threw him in the calaboose (jail or prison). When he got out he jumped bail and had to go to Georgia.

Dead wood: I have the dead wood on him (know exactly what he did; good evidence). A more modern use of the phase would be "Let's use the downsizing of the company as a means to get rid of the dead wood (unproductive workers).

Fill the bill: At the antique mall the other day I found a twenty gallon pottery crock that filled the bill (met all the requirements). So I bought it. Besides, the price was right.

Gewhilikins: Gewhilikins! What a rain storm (exclamation of surprise)!

Hefty: I looked at all the kids who showed up to try out for high school football --- and didn't see a hefty one in the bunch (heavy or bulky; large).

Johnnie on the spot or Charlie on the spot: Always be Johnnie on the spot (punctual or one to be depended on).

Make a place: The new student seemed to have made a place for herself at high school despite being a transfer student (be fitting in; also to arrive at; to reach).

Not worth a hill of beans/Won't amount to a hill of beans: He won't amount to a hill of beans unless he changes his way (will not be successful).

Preach a funeral: The dead child's grandfather preached the funeral (a funeral sermon).

Shade-tree mechanic: He was a very good shade-tree mechanic (one who could make mechanical repairs in the yard under the shade-tree; a mechanic without a garage).

Sour on: Before the evening was over, he soured on Miss SusieMayBelle 'cause of the constant high pitched whine she affected when she talked --- and she talked non-stop (to abandon).

Ugly: As there were no ugly girls in all of Parham, we were amazed to learn than in Aberdeen there were lots of them --- but most of them were not true natives to Monroe County (cross, ill-natured, and vicious). After one encounter I decided that that Aberdeed gal was right down ugly but my friends who witnessed her outburst said she was double ugly.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I'm sorta tired all-overish and am not worth a hill of beans so I'd better skedaddle outa here before I turn ugly and sour on doin' any more writin' today. 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.


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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