Thursday, December 10, 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.

Asterisms: All of the names of those absent from the meeting at Oak Hill were marked with asterisms (asterisks).

Biggest toad in the puddle: He was all puffed up and thought himself the biggest toad in the puddle called Smiffle (the most consequential person).

Cantankrous: When Aunt Dorie couldn't find out what she wanted to know, she could be right cantankrous (ill-natured). Also applied to objects: a rough road can be called cantankrous; an engine what won't crank is cantankrous, etc.

Cock-and-bull story: That kid started telling the best cock and bull stories when he was in kindergarten (an improbable tale).

Do me: I've got enough sorghum to do me till next year (to suffice; to last).

Fit to kill: He had a fit to kill smirk on his face when he was caught red-handed inside the girl's dormitory late at night (immoderately).

Go-to-meeting clothes/hat/coat/dress/etc: His only go-to-meeting suit was a hand-me-down from his older brother (best clothes). The suit came from their grandpa who had used it for years.

Hornswoggle: Keep your eyes peeled if you gonna do business with him or else he will hornswoggle you (cheat or deceive). Similar in meaning to several older terms such as honey-fackled, honey-fuggle, honey-fuggled.

Meeting; preaching: I saw you at preaching this morning. Are you going to meeting tonight (service at church)? Churches were formally called "meeting-houses" rather than church which explains the origin of this expression.

Off: Those strangers must be from off as I've never seen them before (from away).

Quick as a steel trap or Smart as a steel trap, etc: Don't let that slow talking fellow fool you -- he is as sharp as a steel trap (very fast; very intelligent).

Shot-gun wedding: Four months after the shot-gun wedding at Oak Grove, the newly-weds had their first child (a "forced" wedding).

Tangle-foot: He drank so much tangle-foot that he had to have help getting back on his horse (whiskey).

Vamoose: Recon why they vamoosed without saying where or why they were leaving (depart rapidly)?

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to vamoose. I'll be back later with some more words and expressions to pert you up and to enthuse you into studying 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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