By words from appalachia
by-word noun A favorite expression of an individual, esp a mild oath or exclamation used to avoid profanity. Examples collected by Joseph Hall in 1937 include aye the gosh, by gosh, dad burn it, dad gone it, laws a massy, laws a mercy, Lord have mercy, Lordy yes, mercy, my country alive, why law yes, and yes Lord. 1937 Hall Coll. Emerts Cove TN By-words [are] slang, like "hell!", "Damee" [=damn ye]; not cussin', takin' the Lord's name in vain. (Nora Bell Vance) 1939 Hall Notebook 9:41 Saunook NC One of his by-words is "I grannies." (Bill Moore) 1940 Haun Hawk's Done 76 And it's a funny thing-his byword was, "God, He knows."

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


A few other ones that come to mind:

  • by ned
  • by gum
  • ding dang it
  • by the Lord
  • hell in the morning
  • confound it
  • dadjimit
  • dog gone

When Pap was growing up, a man that lived over in the next holler used "si hell" as his by-word. Another elder from Pap's childhood, was fond of saying "now I hell". 


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Twinkle = Pine Needle

Pine needles are called twinkles in appalachia

twinkle noun A pine needle.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 285 In some places pine needles are called twinkles. 1929 Chapman Homeplace 313 = pine or spruce needles; balsam leaves. 

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

twinkles: n. pl. pine needles. "I'll go git a load o' twinkles to bed the cow" (A). In some places pine needles are called twinkles 

~Smoky Mountain Voices A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech


I have never heard pine needles called twinkles have you?


p.s. The winner of Granny's Hat and Scarf is B.Ruth who said:

"Tipper, I've heard the sayings also...However, I'll just betcha that if you ask "Deer hunter" or "Pap" they will tell you that some trees have bark a lot tighter than others...Some you can just knock loose with a good whack of a "go-devil" others you couldn't get a razor blade between the bark and trunk... I remember my Dad picking out a little piece of 1/2 inch or so diameter twig, cutting around each end, shortening it too somewhat, and taking his hands and twisting it until it loosed around itself...He cut a notch on one end, and a notch in the loose bark piece. We watched as we wondered what he was doing with that pocket knife he carried faithfully...All of a sudden he put it to his mouth and blew and slid the bark on the little branch back and forth...he made us all a whistle that day...I tried to make one for my boys when they were little, when we took one of our walks in the woods. I told them they would just have to get their Granddaddy to make it...I just couldn't get the bark twisted off that little branch...It probably was birch...not sure! Love the hat...Great Job Granny! Thanks Tipper, PS....Jim beat me to the one about "tighter than a tick on a mongrel dog"....ha"

And the winner of the first issue Songs of Christmas cd is Ron Stephens who said:

"I had never really thought before about how people felt as they saw the Civil War drawing near. It must have been especially hard in the border states where the choice of which side ran through families, between friends, through church congregations and through communities. Perhaps it is a saving grace that's given that those who have fought can put away bitterness and live in peace with former enemies. I have only gradually come to appreciate Christmas as a time to look higher, think higher and reach higher than we do in the day-to-day."

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Appalachian Vocabulary Test 83

Appalachian language

It's time for this month's Appalachian Vocabulary Test take it and see how you do!

  1. Take on
  2. Tangle-foot
  3. Tore down
  4. Throw up to
  5. Thunder pot

Appalachian language matters

  1. Take on: to make a show of great emotion. "The way she was taking on you'd have thought she cut her whole hand off. Why it wasn't nothing more than a paper cut once I finally got her to quit screaming and let me look at it."
  2. Tangle-foot: homemade whiskey; moonshine. "He said he bought the bottle at the ABC store but I swear it liked to have killed me! I think he found some old tangle-foot in the barn and just poured it in a new looking bottle to fool us."
  3. Tore down: to get drunk. "I don't care nothing about going to no more parties up there. All everybody does is get tore down and then start arguing and fighting."
  4. Throw up to: to remind someone of something they did that was foolish. "Just because she took on over a paper cut and then got tore down up at the party one night don't mean you need to keep throwing it up to her every time you get mad at her. She said she was sorry now just let it be!"
  5. Thunder pot: a chamber pot. "When he was a little boy he always had to clean out the thunder pot. He's so weak stomached he'd gag all the way outside and back."

So how did you do? I've heard or read tangle-foot and thunder pot enough to know what they are, but I don't hear them in everyday conversation. I do hear all the others on a regular basis in my part of Appalachia. 


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Usage of the Word Cemetery

History of the word cemetery

I've been reading an interesting book recently, Tarheel Talk. It was published in 1956 by The University of North Carolina Press and was written by Norman E. Eliason. In the Preface of the book Eliason sums up his purpose in writing the book.

"Several years ago I began examining the manuscript material of the southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina to see what information was available there of interest or value to the student of language. Because some limitation seemed necessary, I decided to concentrate on the North Carolina material alone, which is much fuller than that of any other state, and to stop with the year 1860, for usage since then can be better got at by relying on living informants. Even so, the material was so abundant that I had to skim much of it hastily, and I have undoubtedly overlooked a great deal of worth-while information. This is a report of what I found."

Eliason goes on to explain that instead of looking at legal or government documents he focused on writings produced by every day people. Some writings were of a personal nature sent between family and friends while others were of a more business like manner. 

I found it fascinating that in 1831 Charles Pettigrew wrote his father to explain what the word cemetery meant. Apparently the word and its usage was unfamiliar to both men previous to this time. 

"At your request I have found out what that word meant and how it is spelt[.] it is spelt cemetery and means a burying place a church yard (July 14, 1831, Charles Pettigrew, Orange)"

Apparently the common name for cemetery prior to 1831 was burying place or/and church yard.

I use the words cemetery and graveyard to describe a place where people are buried - what do you use?


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing this Friday night, November 6 at 7:00 p.m. at the Hiwassee Dam Opry. Come if you can!

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Logging Vocabulary

Unique words used in logging

I often come across words related to logging in my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Most of the time its a word I've never heard before.

Logging words from appalachia

See if you're familiar with the words and their meanings.

  • Ballhoot: to roll or slide logs down a mountain slope to a point where they can be loaded onto a train or truck. 
  • Barker: a member of a logging crew who peels bark in gathering tanbark.
  • Buttcut: the first portion cut above the stump from a felled tree.
  • Chipper: a member of a logging crew. "It was the responsibility of the chipper to decide the most desirable direction in which to fall the tree." Mason Memoir.
  • Go devil: a heavy maul used for splitting wood, usually has a hammer on one side of the head and a dull wedge on the other. (Back several years ago I used go devil in one of my Appalachian Vocabulary test. I was surprised that not many people knew the word.)
  • Jack loader: part of a skidder that picks up logs and loads them.
  • Jay hole: a level side path cut into a hillside along a skid road, into which a logger and team can safely step to avoid logs being skidded down a mountainside.
  • Jayho: a warning yell to give alert that logs are about to be released down the mountain.
  • Jimmy car house: in logging a small portable house that can be placed on a railroad car (or jimmy) and moved to a new site. 
  • Molly Hogan: a loop of cable wire functioning as a temporary link. "They'd take a steel rail. They take a strand out of one of these big cables, just one strand. They'd roll it back in itself and they call it a Molly Hogan. This single strand would make a rope, as big as the original cable was." McCracken Logging
  • Night-growing hemlock: "[A night growing hemlock] is one that just got about two logs in it and that s.o.b., before you can get a saw buried in it, hit's a-bindin'. You can drive four wedges in it and hit'll bind all the way through. It's what we'd call a scrub tree, and I don't know what they is about them, but them old timber cutters, I don't know where they ever got the name of night growing hemlock, but that's what they called'em and every once in a while, you'd hit one, it'd take a half day to cut it in two." McCracken Logging. (The Deer Hunter and Scott ran into one of these night growing-hemlock devils. They practically wrestled that tree to the ground. By the time they finished it was dark-thirty and they were so tired neither of them could eat one bite of the supper I cooked.) 
  • Pea Vine Railroad: a short winding logging railroad, especially the one that formerly followed the Pigeon River from Newport TN to the Big Creek logging-camp near Mt. Sterling NC, used especially for hauling logs, but also having an open air car for passengers. 
  • Road monkey: a member of a logging crew whose job is to keep roads free of debris, brush, and obstructions. Also called a Chickadee.
  • Sarah Parker: a small car that runs on a railroad track to pick up logs and put them inside. It was used by the Little River Timber Company in Blunt Co TN in the early 20th century. "The rig was called a "Sary Parker," says Jim. To get the Sary Parker up and across that incline bridge from the main railroad, the engineer, who was Lewis Rhea, would let the drum unwind while a crew of men took hold of the end of the big steel rope and dragged it up the bridge to a large stump on the top of the hill." Weals Sary Parker.
  • Skid: to drag, slide, or haul logs from the place they are cut to a a landing for them to be transported or to a mill to be sawed.
  • Skidder: a powered machine used to drag logs. (When I was in elementary school, my cousin who is a year younger than I am, was logging with Papaw and my uncles. He got too close to the skidder and his britches leg was grabbed by the cable. Before anyone could stop it his leg was pulled in and broken in several places. Thank goodness he healed completely. The itchy full leg cast almost drove him crazy.) 
  • Swamper: a member of a logging crew who clears out undergrowth so that the rest of the crew can have better access to the trees. 

The only words I recognize are go devil and skidder. How about you? 


*Source: Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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Is Your Nose Clean?

Folklore about noses

"Tipper where did all those old sayings come about? England or Ireland or from the American natives, the Indians? I think some were hatched by the Appalachian mountain people on their very own. Folklore to make people laugh has been around for a long time. When someone knocks at your door, holler come in if your nose is clean."

~Mary Lou McKillip February 2015



p.s. My email has changed to please update your contact list with the new address. 

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Appalachian Vocabulary Test 82

Encouraging appalachian language

It's time for this month's Appalachian Vocabulary Test. Take it and see how you do!

  1. Take after
  2. Thataway
  3. Thick
  4. Toucheous
  5. Thickety

Preserving appalachias language

  1. Take after: to inherit qualities from a parent or other family member. "She takes after her daddy's family. They've all got that thick black hair and no matter how old they are not a one of them has the first gray hair in their head."
  2. Thataway: that way. "When I was a child we had gravity water. During cold winters it froze in the black plastic pipe that snaked its way up the holler to the spring. One winter in the late 70s it stayed thataway for along time."
  3. Thick: dense, numerous, plentiful. "Papaw could remember when the woods were thick with chestnut trees. I wish I had asked him more about them before he was gone."
  4. Toucheous: irritable or easily upset. "Pap used to caution me about being toucheous when he was trying to give me much needed advice."
  5. Thickety: a place full of thickets; overgrown with vegetation. "The yard of the old house is thickety but I reckon it'd clean up if somebody had the want to tackle it."

I hear all of this month's words on a regular basis in my area of Appalachia. Please leave a comment and tell me how you did on the test. 


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Appalachian Sayings - Not Fit For Man Nor Beast

Western nc weather not fit for man nor beast

I've heard the saying not fit for man nor beast used to describe bad weather-both the cold and the wet variety. Interestingly, while googling around I found that the saying comes from an old W.C. Fields comedy skit and was originally slightly different than the version I've heard. You can read more about it here.

The weather in the mountains of Western North Carolina is definitely not fit for man nor beast this weekend. The photo above is of the small pond that's developed at the greenhouse door. It's similar to the one in the middle of the chicken lot. The hens can stay dry under their house or in their house but apparently they like rain.

In other exciting news the Blind Pig family learned how fast water can flow into a basement when the gutters are stopped up. I'm thankful we noticed the issue almost the instant it started. A quick run up a ladder, a hastily dug trench to divert the water, and some furious broom sweeping had things fixed just in time for the next downpour. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks who are suffering from the flooding and to those dear souls who are working in this weather not fit for man nor beast for the good of others. 


p.s. The John C. Campbell Folk School has cancelled the fall festival scheduled for today and tomorrow due to the weather.

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Everwhen used as a conjunction

Everwhen you can, get this guitar so I can get my fiddle out.


everwhen conjunction When, whenever, at the time or moment that. Same as evern. Cf whenever.
1929 (in 1952 Mathes Tall Tales 105) Everwhen ye git to dostin' up on them pizin pills this here young whippersnapper of a sawmill doctor gives, ye're like as not to wake up a-layin' in yer coffin! 1939 Hall Coll. Cataloochee NC They run [the bear] off I guess for a half a mile before they got up with it and treed it. Everwhen we got there, Jack reached for his gun. (Steve Woody) 1942 Chase Jack Tales 14 "Well, daddy," says Jack, "just as soon as I can find a place to ketch a hold, I'm a-goin' to take the creek back up there closer to the house where your old woman can get her water everwhen she wants it." 1976 Dumas Smoky Mt Speech 26 I'll name it everwhen you say. 

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


All the Blind Pig Family uses everwhen do you?


p.s. Fall Festival this weekend at the JCCFS! We'll be performing on the Festival Barn Stage Sunday October 4 at 2:00 p.m. If you make it to the festival please come up and say HELLO! 

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Appalachian Vocabulary Test 81

Teaching children to be proud of their appalachian accent

It's time for this month's Appalachian Vocabulary Test. Take it and see how you do!

  1. Swipe off
  2. Sweet milk
  3. Stub up
  4. Stroke
  5. Stingy gut

Appalachian accent


  1. Swipe off: to wipe off. "Make sure you swipe off the counters before you go to bed. I seen a few ants in here earlier and if you leave a mess they'll be everywhere before morning."
  2. Sweet milk: whole milk. "Pour me a glass of sweet milk while you're up if you don't care."
  3. Stub up: to be stubborn over an issue; to become sullen. "She got mad about something he said and before I knew it she'd stubbed up and went and locked herself in the bathroom!"
  4. Stroke: to have a stroke. "He got so upset I thought he was going to stroke out on us."
  5. Stingy gut: a greedy person. "She's been a stingy gut ever since the day she was born. Wouldn't share with none of the other kids when she had more than they'd ever even seen before."

I hear all of this month's words on a regular basis. I use them all myself too except for sweet milk. Granny and Pap are the only people I hear say sweet milk in my neck of the woods.

Please leave me a comment and let me know how you did on the test!


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