Thursday, November 5, 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.

Almighty: This reducing diet is making me feel almighty hungry (monstrous).

Bench-legged: He was a bench-legged critter and he looked like he would make a good dog to stay under the wagon (a dog with a square chest and front legs wide apart). The "stay under the wagon" phrase means to be a force in the background to be reckoned with if the situation warrants it.

Calculate: Let me calcuate on that a minute (think about something; sometimes spelled "kalkilate").

Chicken fixings: I always loved it when the Preacher came for Sunday dinner at our house 'cause Mother always served up chicken fixings (chicken with dressing and dumplings, or if fryers were available, fried chicken with biscuits and gravy). Today the best "brought-on" chicken fixings I find in the Hill Country is a carry-out barn bucket from Atkinson Steak House on Parham Store Road near Smithville.

Fine as silk: She said she was fine as silk when I asked how she was feeling. I thought she looked even finer (in excellent condition).

Gibe: Although they were a pair of beautifully matched Tennessee mules, they never would gibe with each other (work in harmony). Same thing happened with Uncle Jake and his first wife; they never gibed, did they?

Hellyon or Hellion: But old Uncle Jake was something of a hellion himself, wasn't he (a rascal)? I guess it served him right that the no-count woman he married for his second wife turned into a real hell-kicker.

Make a poor mouth: On a few of the old 1870 government documents I've examined, it appears obvious that some locals were making a poor mouth in order to qualify for a pension (to pretend poverty; to plead poverty). In more recent times, after Katrina in South Mississippi, I observed folks making a poor mouth in order to "get their FEMA."

Not worth the salt in your butter/beans/bread: After watching that worthless so-and-so do nothing for a month, I decided that he wasn't worth the salt in his beans (completely worthless).

Preaching to the choir: I wish he'd do a sermon and preach to them in the back of the church and stop just preaching to the choir (talking to those who are already convinced). He either preaches just to the choir or else he is preaching to them who ain't even here.

Shade-tree: When a boy he staked out a house building site and planted shade-trees (tree planted for shade). By the time he made his fortune, the site was already well shaded, cool, and lovely. All that was needed was a bride and a house.

Skeer: When the storm started roaring like a freight-train, it skeered that man to the point that he later said he started praying like a sissy (to scare).

Stop off: On the way to Aberdeen, I stopped off for a spell in Becker (stepped off and interrupted my journey temporarily). I didn't find any ugly girls in Becker either.

Underpin: Most of the houses in Parham were not underpinned when I was a child and all that space beneath the floorboards was a wonderful environment for children and dogs and chickens and cats and no telling what all else (the house was set on piers and the foundation not enclosed). Also, what you get in your raising up, rearing, or fotching up is the underpinning of your life --- the foundation upon which your personality, beliefs, faith, and worth are based.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and head to Adley and Parham and then on to Hatley. I just might stop off in Smithville if the antique store is open. Next time I'll be back with an attempt to sort out the difference in hisn's and hern's unmentionables so don't get your knickers in a twist just yet. Maybe those words will pert you up and enthuse you to study 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

1 comment:

BeNotForgot said...

I am SO enjoying this series -- this is the language of my childhood!

My 2nd great-grandma, Mollie Nettles nee West (1852-1939) grew up in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, and she was very involved in the raising of 7 of her granddaughters.

One of those girls was my paternal grandma, who lived right next door to my parents in Texas from the time I was born until her death in 1999.

As I read through this series, I can hear Granny's voice telling about the preacher coming to their house for "Sunday fixins" which was usually fried chicken (formerly a nice plump hen running loose in the "swept" yard) and fresh vegetables from their garden which kept producing only because the girls hauled water to it from the well -- in a little wagon they took turns pulling.

Thanks for jogging my memory.
Vickie Everhart
Dallas, Texas

P.S. Oops! I think I forgot to put my name on my comment about pawpaws -- sorry!