Thursday, December 24, 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.

Aunty and Uncle: Aunty Lu McKinney lived in a little house near the church. Just up the road from her lived Uncle Bud (elderly lady; elderly man; term of endearment).

Board around: My Grandpa Hollingsworth, a widower, boarded around throughout the year --- a month with each of his twelve children. Some Southern teachers once were expected to "board around" with various families as part of their pay.

Casket: At one time, the word casket mean a small treasure box but nowadays it means a coffin.

Complected: He is a very dark complected white man (complexioned).

Done gone, done made, done got, done wrote, etc. I usually say I have done eat breakfast rather than a simple I've eaten breakfast. This is a type of redundancy much heard in the South as we all love to use more words than necessary to express an idea. Stop and ask --- which has the more poetic impact of these two statements, "My woman has done gone and left me," or "My woman left me." I think the first -- Southerners like to make an impact with their speech

Fly off the handle: Youall watch her carefully and see if she don't fly off the handle when I call her sissy again (loss of temper; flash of anger often disproportionate to the event).

Granny-knot: She tied the ropes together using a granny-knot which failed and the water-bucket fell with a splash into the deep well (a loose knot; not a square knot). We had to use grappling hooks on other ropes to recover our water-well bucket.

Huffy: Aunt Polly was all huffy when Uncle Mort was late coming home from lodge (offended; also means easily offended).

Mess: Thanks for the mess of fresh pork sausage you sent the other day (quantity of food to make a dish). A mess of turnip greens is just enough turnip greens to serve a family; a mess of fish is enough fish for a family meal; messes can be large or small. Thanks for the big mess of greens. I cooked up enough for supper and still have enough for two more meals.

Redd up: As soon as I redd up the kitchen, we'll go to the Christmas parade (to clean up; to set back into order). This is another old Scottish word brought to the New World which seems to have survived nicely in the Deep South. Red up is another spelling.

Siege: During that siege of flu, nearly everybody in Parham was home sick in bed (period of sickness or period of trouble).

The drop: As the squad of Yankees slowly walked down the trail, little did they know that the Rebels had the drop on them (the ability to shoot them down).

Walk the crack or walk the line: He was so corned he couldn't walk the crack (a crack or line in the floor). In more modern times, walk the line refers to the lines marked on roadways or to walk the straight and narrow --- to not let temptations pull you into trouble. Johnny Cash said it best in his song I Walk The Line:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.

I keep my eyes wide open all the time.

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds

Because you're mine,

I walk the line.

Worm: Bud's youngest boy went running off with their worm when the raid first got started and saved it from destruction (condensation oil, usually of copper, of a whiskey still). With the worm safe and ready to be used again, the family got set back up making whiskey within two days over on the other side of Ole Smoky.

That is it for today's list of words and phrases. I've got to skedaddle outa here and get busy. Next column I'll be back with the last installment of this series. Meanwhile, practice using these phrases on all your friends and redd up all the messes you've made.


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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