Thursday, December 17, 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.

Attackted: The bees got mad and attackted me, chasing me plumb away from the hive (attacked).

Bishop: Her stern reality was made the more so by the large bishop she wore (bustle).

Carpet-bagger: While the earlier meaning of the phrase was applied to those who travel without much baggage carrying most of their items in a carpet-sided piece of hand luggage, a later meaning was applied to those from the north who came into the south after the Civil War and attempted to get rich off the conquered states with the assistance of the military occupational forces.

Common doings: No common doings were served at our house when the Preacher came to eat (ordinary everyday foods).

Do tell: Do tell! When did that happen? And do you think those revenuers are still around? Do tell! They really smashed Uncle John's still (exclamation; surprise)?

Fleshy: Our neighbor's daughter is a right fleshy woman well past the prime of life (stout; more or less corpulent; fat; obese).

Gouge: He was thoroughly beaten; his left ear was bitten off; and his right eye was gouged (to squeeze out an opponent's eye with one's thumb and finger).

Hot cakes: At the art show, Rita's paintings were selling like hot cakes (rapidly).

Meeting-house: The Presbyterians were among the first in the newly formed United States of America to start calling their meeting-house by the name church (prior to the American Revolution, the Colonials called their places of worship meeting-houses. During the 1770s, the Presbyterians began calling their meeting-houses a church.) Compare to camp-meeting, religious services held in the woods at a camp).

Offish: Most Southern belles know the degree of offishness they can manage and still twist their beaus around their little fingers (distant and shy). Often used as stand offish --- She was so stand offish that nobody would ask her to dance.

Reckon: I reckon Parham is now in the modern world since Google Map shows it clear as a bell right where it ought to be (guess, think). This old word goes back to England of at least 400 years ago but seems to have survived wonderfully well in the South of the United States. I reckon we know a good word when we find one. And I reckon I ought to stop misspelling this old word --- I generally end up typing "recon" when I mean "reckon."

Shucked: We ran to the edge of Splunge Creek, shucked off everything, and went skinny-dipping (to undress).

Teetotally: I am teetotally confused about what the Democrats are trying to do to this country (completely).

Wading in deep water: Sometimes when doing family genealogy research, I get the feeling I am wading in deep water (approaching problems of great magnitude; danger).

This is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and get busy. Next column I reckon I'll be back 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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