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Appalachian Vocabulary Test 100

Old words used in the mountains of appalachia

The Deer Hunter and Pap talking over the garden - 2012

It's time for this month's Appalachian Vocabulary Test. I'm sharing a few videos to let you hear some of the words. To start the videos click on them and then to stop them click on them again.


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1. Keen: to wail; sharp or high voice; sharp piercing eyes. "He has a keen voice. When he gets excited his voice just gets higher and higher!"


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2. Knob: a high point on a mountain ridge. "He said he jumped the biggest bear you ever saw up on Mary Mason Knob. I didn't even know there were any bear around here, but that's what he said."

3. Knotty head: small fresh water fish; same as a hornyhead. "Back in the day when I worked at Lake Logan in Haywood County a knotty head jumped into one of the row boats. It was making such a racket that the other girls and I were afraid to go see what it was."


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4. Kernel: a swelled lump underneath the skin. "I'm taking Tommy to the doctor first chance I get. He's got a kernel the size of your thumb under his arm. Hal says it ain't nothing but I'm worried about it."


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5. Kerslunge: splash; plunge. "She was going across the foot-log in them slick shoes and kerslunge! She went right off in the deepest side of the creek. I know it embarrassed her to death."

 My thoughts on this month's words:

  • Keen: I can just hear Pap describing somebody's high keen voice. I've also heard the word used to describe somebody's eyes, but probably the most common usage I've heard is a keen hickry.
  • Knob: This one seems so common that I can't believe it is used mostly in Appalachia, but it was in the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English so maybe it is?
  • Knotty head: hornyhead is much more common in my area.
  • Kernel: I've heard Pap and Granny use kernel to describe a growth that comes up under the skin, but not really anyone else.
  • Kerslunge: Pap is the only person I've ever heard use kerslunge, but what a word! It sounds like what it means. I was tickled pink to see it in the dictionary.

Did you notice this is my 100th Appalachian Vocabulary Test? Wow I can hardly believe it. I only share one a month, so that's quite a few years worth. Seems like I ought to do something special for number 100 so I think I will!

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Southern Mountain Speech by Cratis D. Williams. *Giveaway ends Sunday May 21.

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me how you did on the test!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday May 20, 2017 @ 2:00 p.m  at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center - Robbinsville NC and Sunday May 21, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. at Mount Moriah Baptist Church - Murphy NC. Their summer is schedule is filling up-to see a complete list of performance dates go here

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The term " knob" is a recognized geographic term meaning a rounded hill. The state of Kentucky has a region known on maps and in geography books as " the Knob region of Kentucky. So it is not just a folk term. Which came first would be an interesting little research project.
Maybe the English have the same term. I'll look it up.

Linda-thank you for the comment! So glad you enjoy the vocab tests : ) The usage of horny head or knotty head is used to describe a kind of fish. Watch this video and you can get a good view of the horns or knots on its head.

To Linda. I was fishing in Laurel Creek Gorge for small mouth bass and I caught a hornyhead fish. It had little knotty horns growing all over the top of it's head.

Here's my take on these.
Keen=cry, wail, sharp as in eyes, wit, intelligence, etc.
Knob=a rounded mountain top, drawer opening, channel changer.
Knotty Head=what you end up with if you sass your Grandma. LOL
Kernel=corn or anything resembling corn kernels in size or shape.
Kerslunge=must be the same as kerplunk.
God bless.

i've not heard "knotty head" or "hornyhead." Could you give examples of its usage? Thank you. Love reading about the local vocabulary.

I'm not familiar with hornyhead, knotty head or kerslunge. But all the others, I am. Hey, I was raised near Bald Knob Cemetery, in Lawrence County Alabama.

I waited for someone to mention "peachy Keen" but no one did.

Tipper, you've done nailed my hide to the side of the barn, this go-round! I knew what a knob was, when I think of 'keen' Bill Monroe comes to mind, so does Jerry (Pap) Wilson. Voices are also referred to as coarse and fine around here. As for 'kersplunge', that's for deep water moreso than most shaller creeks where folks just go kersplunk when they fall in, hm? Never fished enough in fresh water to learn what a knobbyhead was. Kernel? Nope, not in the case of a lump under the skin; that woulda been a lump.

That's what I get for being a feller with a mixed-up Flawda-South Georgia-Yankee-Appalachian accent. Mebbe if I was to win that book I'd learn to talk right...

Not familiar with knotty head or kerslunge…do know the other three.
Wow! 100….the vocabulary tests are what got me to sign up for Blind Pig. Have
shared blog info. with LOTS of folks through the years.
Keep up the wonderful work, dear!

I love books and Southern mountain speech. Hope I win! P.S. great words

The only ones I'm familiar with are "keen" (as first described and in describing a well-sharpened tool), "knob" (in these parts it's usually a hill out in the middle of flatlands - "Pilot Knob" south of here, as the name suggests, is a landmark which pilots used to orient themselves before modern navigation instruments), and kernel (which not only is used to describe hard lumps that form just under or on top of the skin but also to describe "corns" which often form on the toes from wearing ill-fitting shoes). When I was growing up, "keen" was also used to express appreciation or admiration of something as in "That's a keen sweater you're wearing" much the same as "nifty" or "cool" were the slang of the day - only "cool" seems to have survived the passage of time.

It saddens me, although I know it's true, that some people think the use of terms like these indicate a lack of education. It reminds me of a student (7th grade) I once had who had written a wonderful short story with just the right amount of local descriptors and vernacular to bring the story to life. I praised her skills, not only of observation, but also of expression and encouraged her to enter her story in a coming competition. Unfortunately, her English teacher had other ideas and thought it was "too common". The child never showed me another story - I was only the Science teacher. I do hope she found encouragement elsewhere and is writing today. Being able to use colloquial speech without mocking the speech and without being derogatory enhances the setting of the story and the understanding of the characters - she had that gift.

Our laurel on Aiken's steep, dry slopes is called Kalmia--looks just like mountain laurel only a little smaller and is called mountain laurel or ivy by some.

I called Donna Lynn at our Christian Radio Station today, requesting a Favorite by Chitter and Chatter, "
Angels Rock Me to Sleep." When she asked "anything else?" I asked her the name of the musical to "New Birth" and she played that one. Me and Don and Susan was there at Pap's Funeral and I thought that was most appropriate for the Family to march in by. ...Ken

I've never heard kerslunge (which spellcheck doesn't like) or of the fish. Heard KNOB all my life and there are marked 'KNOB' Gov signs all over our mountains. I didn't know it wasn't used all over America. I guess a 'knob' is different than 'Top' as in Fie Top ?
Never would have thought twice about 'kernel', would know exactly what it meant as well as corn.
Always fun, Tipper.

Kerslunge is my new favorite! I've never heard it, but it's so descriptive. I'm familiar with the rest, except 'knotty head'. My Mamma used keen a lot, especially when obtaining a switch for disciplinary purposes.
This 100th test is sure worth celebrating here on Blind Pig!

Knob and kernel, yes, all my life, but the others, no. I know keen as meaning sharp (like a blade) or super (like a keen tennis player) or to describe the shrill mourning cries of Arab women keening over a dead loved one.

I've never heard kerslunge. I heard kerplunge as a kid when someone fell in the creek or out of a tree.

I noticed all the females had to use their hands to help them talk. That seems to be a common trait among them. I see it a lot. Men can talk with their hands in their pockets.

Kerslunge is a new one for me! But I sure caught a lot of knotty heads when I was growing up, and I also lived up on the knob!

I know and use these words often, I guess City Folks think we don't have any education. Mama always called that thing on the side of my jaw, a kernel, but as I got older, it went away. And instead of saying "kerslunge" , we used "kerplunge". I've caught many a "hornyhead" in these creeks and seined many a different creature too. Love these Appalachian Word tests, and with this new computer I can hear the Appalachian pronunciation. Ken

Tipper--You've reached the century mark (in tests) and I get 100 on this one (if you substitute kerplunk or kersplunge for kerslunge). Here are some comments:
1. Keen--If you want to hear a splendid example of a keen mountain voice, google either Mark Cathey or Wiley Oakley, both of whom were interviewed by Joe Hall, the man whose pioneering work underlay the "Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English." You'll find links to short snippets of them talking as recorded by Hall.
2. Knob--I think this term in in widespread use, as Ed mentions. There's a Gobbler's Knob in Wyoming's Thorofare Wilderness Area, for example, and it's about as scary a place as I've ever been thanks to dropoffs from the trail on either side that must be a thousand feet. There are lots of place names in the Smokies using knob, with Coburn Knob perhaps being my favorite because the man who gave it the name was such an interesting character.
3. Knottyhead was in much more common usage that hornyhead when I was growing up in Swain County. It tells you just how a county of two can make difference. I've caught untold numbers of knottyheads over the course of my life. A really big 'un, say nine or 10 inches, will have a red tint to its head and gills.
4. I've heard kernel pretty much the same way you have, often for a benign cyst or maybe the hard core left where a boil healed.
5. Kerslunge--Like Bill B. and Br'er Don, I've heard this rendered a bit differently (the Swain County way, I guess). Again, an example of how just 50 miles or so can make a difference in pronunciation.

Jim Casada

I made a hunnerd!

Kerploosh, kersploosh, kersplat, kersplatter, kerpop, kerplop, kerflop, kerplunk, kersmack, kerchunk, and many more are variations of kersplung. It all depends on the sound you make when you hit. Spellcheck don't recognize any of them. It's a shame mainstream English is losing all its color.

Kernels - are swollen lympth nodes and they are something to worry about. You've got an infection somewheres.

Keen (hickory switch) - A little thin limb or piece of rabbit cane that makes you wail in the high pitched voice that Paul describes above.

Knob - An unincorporated place in Eastern Burke county. The town hall consists of a one room shed style building with a small half moon shaped, unglazed window in front. It also serves as a place of contemplative repose and library (byob - bring your own book). Knob has a convenience store also know as The Knob, a garage (open sometimes) and Frank Wilson's tire shop (closed permanently when Frank got killed when hisa boat slipped off the trailer while he was putting in and his son got killed when he rolled his fuel truck going home one night.)
Knob was named for the mountain (The Knob) behind it which is visible from many places in the areas of Burke, Catawba and Caldwell (maybe Alexander) counties. The Knob never got named for anybody so is known only as The Knob.

I think the name Knotty Head might have been altered in earlier years by our backwoods Baptist ancestors to dispel any sexual connotations that might accompany the words horny head.

Just an FYI, one of the girls' pictures is in the Blairsville paper this week. She is holding up a quilt.

I failed the test! Being from the hills of east Tennessee I thought I would know them all, but I missed them all! I thought "keen" meant eager, and I've heard it used in a slang reference like something being "cool" or "neat". I thought "knob" was the top of one's head; Never heard "Knotty head". (hoary head is one I knew that you don't hear anymore) I missed "kernel"; I was thinking kernel of corn. I guessed "kerslunge" from kerplunge which I used in my youth.
Thank you so very much for posting all the, well I would say "keen" stuff, but now I know you would think me illiterate, so I will say thank you for all the fun and interesting things you post. I really enjoy them!

Keen was usually Mama talking about a keen switch but to us it also meant a sharp edge like on a knife. We also called a knot a kernel--usually under the arm. Ron, we also called a "kernel" a risin'.

My mother had surgery on a broken arm and the doctor was removing the bandage to examine it. Mama asked him if it was "dreenin'". He had no idea what she meant!

Kerslunge and Knottyhead are new to me. Kersplash and Hornyheads are what I would use. I know all the rest but I haven't heard kernel used in that sense in a long while. I use keen in several ways as in, a keen sense of hearing, or having keen eyesight or not being too keen on an idea like the idea of my mama using a keen hickry on me for being bad.

Heard them all often when I was a kid. Except for knotty head. I had never heard this one. I don't often hear the others as much as I used to. Glad you are bringing them back.

I have heard them all used. Keen and Knob are the ones I use most often. Words are fascinating!

All but kerslunge. Like Bill B (glad to see him posting here again), we used kerplunk.

And thanks for the maple leaf slide into the branch memory, Miz B.Ruth ;-), from when some old boy was bushwhacking near the J.F. Teague home place on Durham Branch of Deep Creek. I didn't know it at the time, but J.F. turned out to be my 2nd cousin, twice removed, and his wife, Emma, is my 1st cousin, thrice removed.

Keen is also used to describe one's eagerness to do something. Mom would have said, if you hadn't been so keen to jump in that car, you might have remembered to put your shoes on. The keen peach tree switch sure could make my voice get louder and louder. It's been a long time since I heard anyone say kernel. My granny used to say it as if it was spelled qurnel. Knob was also common in my family.
I have never heard kerslunge or knottyhead.

I've heard two of the words used, keen and knob, and I kinda figured out kerslunge, but never heard knotty head or kernel used in that way.
Keen I've also heard used as in being something cool. That sure is a keen bike you've got there!
Have a blessed day :)

Only two for sure, keen and knob. We always used hornyhead minner. Don't think I ever heard kernel used. I recall hearing 'risin'. Unsure about kersplunge.

I've heard knob used in New Mexico. But, I think it is a more "old timey" word. But, I mostly hear it in Appalachia.

I'm glad you do these. It is always fun to hear the words, too, since there is also a difference in pronunciation sometimes. I love it.

My great aunt passed Easter weekend and her funeral was the following Thursday. So, I spent a lot of time home. Anyway, after I got back I was telling a co-worker about it and, being tired, slipped into my native tongue. I told him my aunt was "laid to rest in the cemetery in that holla what lies between Rattle Snake Knob and Walnut Creek." He looked at me like I was from Mars.

I'm teaching the History of English in the Fall and these vocab quizzes will be required reading!

I got them all except kerslunge, we had a similar word "kerplunck" which meant the same thing. It could refer to anything from a rock to a person hitting the water. I think both refer to the sound of an object displacing the water then the water rushing back into the void.

Tip, I've heard all these. I've also heard kerplunk in place of kersludge. Don't you wonder, sometimes, how these words came to be used!

I've heard them all but "kerslunge"!
We usually say, "He slipped on those slick Maple leaves while he was a'bushwackin' and near plunged all way down the mountain into the crick"! Sounds familiar don't it? Maybe It was on this very blog that I heard it!

I've also heard "knotty head" for "hornyhead" which is more common around here!
I've seen those land walkin' two-legged "knot heads" as well as the ones with fins!

Thanks Tipper,
Almost a "hundert"! That's mountain talk for a hundred! Ha

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