Saturday, November 28, 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.

Anti-fogmatic: Uncle Jake kept the fog out of his throat by taking his anti-fogmatic first thing every morning before he milked the cow (rum or whiskey). Once I learned where he kept his supply in a bottle in the barn, I begin to sip a little of his medicinal spirits on the sly.

Best bib and tucker: I'm gonna put on my best bib and tucker and go to another behaving party tonight over at Sipsey Fork (best clothes).

Choke off: We don't cut out our yeast rolls; Sweetie chokes them off. Biscuits are choked off by some Southern cooks but ours are cut out (formed by hand from a mass of dough). An older meaning for choke off is to put a stop to as in the Republicans in Congress are having little effect in choking off the spending bills being passed by the Democrats.

Dicker: The salesman replied when I asked if he could take less for the machine, "We don't dicker" (bargain).

Fire-bug; fire-fly; glow-bug; glow-worm; lightning-bug (various names for the common lightning-bug): Where we once lived in Tennessee, the lightning-bugs were semi-synchronized. It was interesting to watch hundreds of them flashing almost in unison. My granddaughter called all lightning bugs "Little Mr. Toot-toot." No matter where she saw a fire-fly, it was the same one she saw at home or at our house --- it was "Little Mr. Toot-toot."

Go through: It didn't take him but three months to go through all that his father had acquired in a life time (plunder thoroughly).

High-falutin: Just listen to that old crone's high-falutin talk and watch her high-falutin walk. Ain't she puttin' on airs? (Pompous manner of speaking or pompous manner of behavior.)

Make tracks: I think I'd better make tracks and go tell Pap that his old grey mare kicked the bucket (be off in a hurry).

Notion: "What gave you that notion?" she asked, as she cleaned up the mess he made that resulted from his attempt to bake bread on a baseball bat (idea). [Some of you Boy Scouts may remember a suggested activity of baking bread on a bat/stick over a campfire.]

Protracted meetings: We used to have protracted meetings morning and night during revival week at Hatley. Methodists seemed to be fond of protracted meetings maybe because such reminded them of the old campground meetings (revival meeting extending over several days or weeks).

Shake-poke: My Uncle Aaron was the shake-poke of his family (last child in a family. Also called the "baby" of the family.) This phrase is also used to describe the last tad of cornmeal that could be shaken from the poke (bag or sack) in which the meal is stored. When the poke was getting almost empty, it would be turned inside out and the last bit of meal was called "shake-poke."

Stub: All those little stubs have to be grubbed out before we can plow this new ground (little stumps left when small bushes and small trees are cut down).

Up the creek; up the creek without a paddle: When the market crashed I found that I was financially up the creek without a paddle (ruined; in a bad situation with little hope of getting out of the mess).

Youenzes: I hope youenzes have a good time at the picture show (you all). This word is still much heard in the Cumberland Mountain area of Tennessee but only rarely used in Mississippi Hill Country. Locals once use the phrase much like "y'all" to mean more than one person. Unfortunately the phrase is slowly being eradicated from common usage except among friends as locals have been ridiculed so much by outsiders that they don't say youenzes until they know you are a friend.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and get busy. Next time I'll be back with youenzes some more words and expressions to pert you up and to enthuse you into the notion of 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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