Mama And The Splinters
Say What - Colorful Language From Yesterday

Old Sayings

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in April of 2009.

Tore Up Jack

Every once in a while-an old saying bubbles up from my consciousness and flows straight out of my mouth. It leaves me wondering why I said it-where I heard it-and who was the first person to say it.

One day last week, I was describing a tornado that hit near Atlanta recently-I said "it tore up Jack". As soon as I spoke the words-I thought how long has it been since I heard someone say that-and why did it float to the top of my mind and come out? Tore up Jack-means total destruction. Leaves you wondering just who Jack was?

A few others that come to mind:


If you want to dance you'll have to pay the fiddler: I mean really-did some parent say "there'll be no dancing at this house unless you pay a fiddler to make music first!"


Save your breath to blow your coffee: You just know some little old lady came up with this one to hush her complaining husband.


For the love of pete

For the love of Pete: Just who was Pete-and who was in worse shape-Pete who needed love or Jack who was tore up?

Would gag a maggot: For anyone who has seen a maggot-this one is pretty much self explanatory.

Run like the Dickens

Run like the Dickens: Was the Dickens a whole family of fast runners?


I'll jerk a knot in your tail: This one is usually said to an unruly child-but how many children have tails?

Trust her as far as you can throw her 

I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her: It'd be hard to throw most folks-so does that mean you shouldn't trust any of them?

I could go on and on with the old sayings and the pondering on who started them and exactly what they mean. Most of the sayings have withstood the passage of time, staying in the mainstream lexicon. Others fall away due to changes in the social or commercial aspects of daily life. One that comes to mind from my childhood "what ever flicks your Bic" My girls don't even know what a Bic is or why you'd flick it.

Hope you'll leave me a comment about the sayings I shared-and please take a moment to share the ones you're familiar with.


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It's as broad as it is long...These are some from my momma... She would come out with something and i asked her where she got em.. She replied awwww ... Shit there just ole ettered sayins.. I asked who's ettered ? She said. I don't know they were just stuff she had grown up hearin... My momma was born i 1927.and passed in 2013. Let's see if i can think of somemore.
Well Shit Far ( fire) was her by word... That's the Only swearin she would ever say. Oh... Or.. Well ill be shit.
Well that's callin the kettle black.
That's just like ol farmer Brown... Just found his cow All at once. .. (As opposed to findind pieces.)
That's Black as Pitch.
I had to ask what pitch was.
That looks worse than an old sore eyed cat. There are So many and I've just gone blank.. My cousin used to write em all down and wanted to put em in a book... Maybe ill have a flashback..and put the rest on here...

From Arkansas he's so crooked he has to screw his pants on every morning.. if

She hit every branch falling out of the ugly tree....

What fer? Cat fur to make kitten britches......

Dad said his Papa would never cuss, but if he got aggravated he would say, "Swamp take it!" And if it was really bad, he would say, "Swamp take it to the Devil!"

Great fun to see expressions I grew up with in Mississippi, plus a few more from Appalachia. Momma was from the hills of Alabama and had some good sayings. She used to say, "If you don't want somebody to get your goat, then don't let them know where your goat's tied."

My Dad used to say you don`t know shit from Shinola

colder than a witches titty in a brass bra, hotter than a popcorn fart, slicker than snot

Eddie-thank you for the comment! The saying 'like Ned in the Primer' is in reference to the character Ned which was often part of the first books children learn to read. Sorta like those 'See dog run ones'. Saying like Ned in the Primer was usually said to someone who was being lazy. Example: "Don't just sit there like Ned in the primer get up and get those clothes hung out."

Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

Explain "Ned and the Primer"


Family saying from the Duttons of Pulaski Co, KY:

crooked as a dog's hind leg

dumb as a coal bucket

big as all outdoors

weak as branch water

fine as frog hair

tight as a the bark on a hickory

poor as job's turkey

mean as the devil's grandmother

busy as a cat with 9 tails

old as methusalem

you're not a biscuit of this morning's baking

not worth a hill of beans

singing out of the same song book

simple as falling off a log

there's no taters where he's digging

I know and use most of them. And I like a few of the new ones...."she's one fry short of a happy meal" and "he's not the brightest color in the box".

"saucer and blow"--yes, had heard this one before.
How 'bout--"busier than a one legged man in a butt kickin' contest"

Jim is right about not realizing we use these. That is till someone asks us what we mean! I used 'higher than a cat's back' one day in conversation with my daughter-in- law and she wanted to know what that meant. 'Course, I grew up in Okla. and she grew up in Calif.!

Another reference: 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to Song and Dance--by Charles Earle Funk. It had been previously publ. as four separate books.

I was glad to see Walter Lynn Douglas' entry, "Mights well. Ain't got no snuff and it's too wet to plow." Most sayings are still so much in use as to go almost unnoticed but I must say I haven't heard Lynn's saying since I was a kid ... many, many, many years ago.

Thanks, Tipper, for another fun article.

I heard, "She's no one's pretty child." (describing a homely lady) and "All the lights were on but there was no one at home." (describing a not so bright person)

I just yesterday used "tighter than Dick's hatband" with a person from Jordan and had to explain myself and who was

I loved reading this! I remember many of the things Pop used to say, including several that were mentioned, already.

Dumber than a box of rocks.

He'd rather climb a tree upside down and tell a lie rather than stand on the ground and tell the truth.

Gonna have a calf with a crocheted tail! (meaning someone was about to get mad and throw a fit.)

Grinning like a jack ass eating saw briars.

Those are the only ones I can think of, at the moment.

Thanks for the chuckles!


bronze the baby, keep the shoes for the next one.

pissing into the wind.

Like a fart in a whirlwind.

Hi Tipper,
How about "so ugly they would scare a haint up a thorn tree" and "if you fly high you will land in a cow dab" for those who were a little too proud of their acconplishments!

Fun to remember these.

The ones I remember from the 50s that are not mentioned above are:
Might as well, ain't got no snuff and it's to wet to plow.

that's the way it goes, first your money then your clothes.

Lynn Douglas
Kingsport, Tn.

We have similar sayings in Australia to most of these. We also have anotherone. If some one has a fancy car, home or clothes we call these items "flash" as in flash car, flash home, flash clothes etc.. So if some one has something new or fancy we tend to say "that is as flash as a rat with a gold tooth"!
As for the "freeze the balls off a brass monkey" I was always told the brass monkey was the tray on which cannon balls were stacked mainly on old sailing ships. The balls were iron, the tray or monkey was brass so in cold weather the brass would contract faster than the iron balls and hence the balls would roll off the now smaller tray...K.

Grandma said of her grandson, an extreme procrastinator: "He doesn't ride the horse the day he puts the saddle on"
Mom used to have comments while driving of "great grandmother's corset stays" and "stars and garters". I don't know if they were substitutes for naughty words or were just vintage expressions.

Miss Cindy ain't seen nothin yet! Guess this is why I'm known as Special Ed. It's my name and my Alma Mater.

Tipper--Just had to add a few about pretty and ugly.
Ugly as homemade sin.

So ugly she'd make a Greyhound bus take a dirt roat.

Ugly enough to make a train jump the tracks.

Beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone.

Pretty as a speckled pup.

Pretty as a bowl of butterbeans.

Pretty as a fresh-picked posey.

Pretty is as pretty does.

Jim Casada

Yep, I have used all of these at some time.

I don't think there is anything left after Ed's list. They are all just too funny.

As a child I was forever being threatened with getting a knot jerked in my tail. If we want to get really personal about it, I have a dimple on my posterior. I was told that was where they chopped my tail off soon after birth. I was actually part monkey. So I'm really not sure how they could have jerked a knot in the tail they chopped off.LOL
You know grown ups tell kids the darnedest things!

How about, "I'll be a monkeys Uncle". I have heard it and use it, but I don't know where it originated.
I have heard the term - cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. It turns out that there is a place on a boat with BRASS "ears" they tie to secure a boat to the dock. It is this double ring made of brass that is called a "brass monkey".
It's no wonder the English language is so difficult for foreigners to learn to speak.
A great page and topic Tipper.

Two that immediately came to mind to me was "That thing is tighter than Dick's hat band!" and "I'm so busy, I don't know if I'm washin' or hangin' out!"
I'm sure more will come to mind.
Good one Tipper.

Tipper, I am always using the following sayings up here in Indiana. "Fine as frog hair and twice as slick!"
and "Dumber than a bag of hammers." I think the the latter came about for under my breath. I taught for 35 yrs. and found a few students with absolutely no common sense. Nice blog post Tipper.

Kent Lockman central Indiana

You're gonna have to turn me off to shut me up. I keep on thinking of stuff.
My father in law wouldn't drink his coffee from a mug like I like to. He had to have a cup and saucer. He would pour the coffee out of the cup into the saucer, blow on it and then slurp it up. He called it "saucer and blow"
Have you ever heard of such?

I just know Granny's fried apple pies 'would make my tongue slap my brains out'. I heard that from a friend this week when she told about her chicken and dumplings. I had to laugh as it reminded me of the first time I heard dad say that.

Just remembered the best one I ever heard. I use I myself occasionally:

Ain't had so much fun since the wild hogs ate my little brother!

This is fun!!!

How About:
Whatever trips your trigger!
Well I'll be dipped in whipped cream!
Drunk as a skunk!
Drunk as a Whootie Owl!
You and whos army.
Does a cat have a climbing gear!
I'll knock you into next week!
Who licked the red off your candy!
Who peed in your Post Toasties!

I've got a million more when I can think of them.

Heard most of these I guess. There used to be this guy in our area that would say when something really amazed him, "Well if that don't beat a hen apeckin". The one that used to make all the young boys mad was when he would act like he was trying to cheer someone up. He would put his hand on their shoulder and say, "Now son don't worry its always darkest right before it turns pitch black, besides it could be worse it could have happened to me."

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