Thursday, November 12, 2009


Word 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.

Amen corner: He sat, as usual, to the right of the pulpit in the amen corner at Grubtoe Church (part of the church house where sat the ones who helped the preacher along with vocal outbursts).

Bender: Coming off a bender, his head ached but he had to go to work at Bigbee Bottom anyway (drinking frolic).

Calls for: I told the store-keep, "Mama's store-list calls for two pounds of fat back, not one, so you better send her what she is asking for" (a specified amount stated on a document).

Chipper: Just look at Sister Sally. She's so chipper today (cheerful, active, and lively).

Dead-head: The saloon at Weaver's Creek don't allow no dead-heads (one who does not pay). Another meaning I've heard all my life is the expression "I'm gonna dead-head those flowers" meaning to remove the old wilted flower heads from the plant.

Fine-appearing: Yes, she was a very fine-appearing specimen of Southern womanness (handsome or lovely).

Give you first-class hell: You keep talking that way 'bout me and I'm gonna give you first-class hell (beat or to scold violently). At one time the phrase was generally stated as "give you jesse."

Hern, Hisn, Ourn: I was introduced to their fourteen children. Three were identified as hern; four were said to be hisn; and the rest they called ourn (possessives). These very old words have been traced back to the 1300s --- and probably survived in the isolation of the Hills unadulterated by the influence of well-meaning Yankee School marms.

Make good: I doubt that Uncle John's and Aunt Susie's youngest son will ever make good as he is so lazy (succeed).

Nothingarian: When all the Nothingarians join force with the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, why this community can get done what needs to be done (persons of no religion).

Prickly heat: She was squirming as if she had prickly heat all over her body --- I mean she was twitching (a skin rash).

Shake a stick at: He's making more money selling whiskey that you can shake a stick at (large quantity).

Stove-wood: Papa told me, "Make sure your Ma's got plenty of split stove-wood while I'm gone" (small fire-wood for the cooking stove).

Unmentionables: The neighbors talked bad about her only fault of hanging her unmentionables out to dry on the clothes-line in full public view (undergarments).

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and make good on some promises I made to Sweetie. I'll be back in a few days with more words and expressions to pert you up and enthuse you into studying about the words we use. Meanwhile, stay chipper.


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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