Thursday, December 31, 2009


Words and Phrases from the Hill Country

by Terry Thornton


Today concludes a twenty-two part series of words and phrases with Hill Country examples. This column and the previous ones examines 308 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.

Axe to grind: She had her axe to grind and I had mine. We were loaded for trouble (purpose to serve).

Booky: In his youth, he was considered a most booky fellow but he turned out to be someone whose alphabet was short a few letters (bookish).

Catch on: Say that again and slowly this time so everyone can catch on to what you're telling (to grasp the meaning).

Conniption or conniption fit: If she doesn't get her way, she's liable to throw a conniption fit (hysterics or a fit of hysterics).

Draw a bead: If I could ever find a squirrel sitting still, I could draw a bead on it (to take aim with a rifle).

Fog-cutter: My fog-cutter is taken before breakfast everyday. On bad days I take a double fog-cutter (same as anti-fogmatic, a stout shot of whiskey or other spirits).

Greased lightning: He got out of there faster than greased lightning (faster than fast).

In over your head: I'm afraid that with your new job you are in over your head (too much scheduled; not enough knowledge/training/skills to handle a situation). When used in a financial sense, to be in over your head is to have so much debt as to be unmanageable.

Messing and gomming: It was after I married an Arkansas gal that I found out about messing and gomming (fooling around; making a mess). Izard County, Arkansas, natives use the words together or separately. Examples: You kids stop messing around. You rascals sure gommed up that table, didn't you? Now y'all get outa here and stop this messing and gomming around.

One horse extra: Darryl was such a good player that we always knew if he was on our side we were one horse extra compared to the other group (bigger than life; manly; complete).

Right smart or Smart: I think we are going to have a right smart cotton crop this year (large quantity).

Sitten: She had sitten down at her desk when her chair went flat on her (sat). She busted out the bottom of that chair but good.

The jig is up: We knew the jig was over when the flag was lowered (all was lost).

Whole-soul: I hope our new Ship of State is not powered by a whole-soul boiler (boiler without a safety valve which is doomed, sooner or later, to explode in a fury).

This is it for this series on words and phrases --- 308 southern expressions scattered over twenty-two articles. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the words we use as much as I did --- now youall go out and talk like Hill Country folk.


Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted by email at



Dorene from Ohio said...

When I was young, and at home with my five younger brothers and sisters, my mom often spoke of one of us having a "coniption fit"....what fun to find out that other folks use that phrase!

Terry Thornton said...

Dorene, My favorite from today's list is "messing and gomming" -- it is interesting how so many of these expressions which seem to be regional are really so widespread in use.

Happy New Year,