Thursday, October 1, 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.

Air line [before airplanes were invented]: The air line from Parham to Splunge is a lot shorter than going on the roads (a "bee" line or a straight line between two points). Same "as the crow flies" in this example: If you could go to Splunge as the crow flies rather than on this crooked Thornton Road, it's not far at all.

Basket of chips: The first time he was sitten in the amen corner he was smiling like a basket of chips (with a pleasant appearance). This old expression has been replaced with a more sinister one --- "looking like a possum eating saw-briars." Now that is a sight to behold!

Cache: More than sixty years ago, Monk hid the copper worm in a cache on the top of Ole Smokey (hole in the ground where provisions or treasures are concealed; any hiding place for valuables). And the worm to the Thornton whiskey hasn't been found yet --- but not for lack of searching.

Center-table: The parlor was filled with such a large center-table on which Mrs. Smith displayed her hand-painted pottery that the room was over-full and uncomfortable. Compare to: kitchen-table, eating-table; work-table found in other rooms of the house. Some Southern kitchens to this day have a work-table separate from the eating-table (and the meanings are fairly evident: an eating table is where the family takes informal meals; a work table is for food preparation).

Cut dirt: He cut dirt on his little pony (to depart rapidly). A more modern expression is to "burn rubber" as most of us depart rapidly nowadays in an automobile rather than on a horse.

Face the music: I really wanted to face the music like a man but when that dentist showed me the needle and pliers he was gonna use, I became a quiverin' mess (to do one's best, usually with bravery, in adverse circumstances).

Gander pulling: There are various descriptions of gander pullings in the literature --- but basically it was a game of chance where the winner got a goose (sans its head) to cook and eat. A large gander was tied upside down by its feet to a crossbar; its neck and head was soaped or covered in grease (to make it slick). Individuals who wished to buy a chance to win the gander would pay the fee, climb on their horse, and at full gallop, attempt to grab the bird by the throat and yank its head off. One chance; one gallop to try. Winner gets the gander. See the painting by Frederic Remington for a good representation of this old sport. This popular past-time and fund-raiser was eventually replaced with the turkey shoot --- again, the winner got the bird.

Hard cash/money: I was paid in hard cash at the end of the day for the cotton I picked (gold or silver money as opposed to paper money). Many times during the 1950s, some of the local factories would pay in hard cash so that the community could easily see the dollars being earned and spent --- they would pay in silver dollars (yes, the old-fashioned ones) and everywhere you turned in the Hill Country were silver dollars being spent.

Kinder or Kind of: You look kinder peaked to me (rather or somewhat).

No two ways about it: "You just listen to me little mister, there's no two ways about it! You are going to school today for sure" (no alternative; no room for a difference of opinion).

Perten: When I spied Miss Goodbody sitting there with her wine glass to her lips and laughing, her presence peartened me up tremendously (enlivened; cheered).

Scads: I see you got scads of pullets running loose already (lots, a large amount). Any of them laying yet? Some evidence that the original meaning of the word scads was money --- example: I bet he is loaded with scads.

Snap: It's a snap to churn butter (easy job). Come here and I'll show you how. Children were usually taught to operate the churn as well as many other chores around the farmhouse.

Tree or Treed: Will that little ole dog tree squirrels? Naw, all he wants to do is chase rabbits (to drive up a tree; to corner).

This is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle --- and besides, that Miss Goodbody took one look at me and decided I had scads of hard cash on my person. No two ways about it, I'm kinder in a mess. I've got to cut dirt for home and face the music. Next week, if I survive what I know is coming, I'll be back with some more words and expressions.


Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted by email at


1 comment:

Dorene from Ohio said...

I can recall lots of adults using that phrase "no two ways about it"!!

Very interesting post!