An old mountain term and other expressions
by LUCIE R. WILLSIE, Associate Editor
Sep 16, 2012 | 431 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A couple of weeks ago, I asked someone how she was doing and she answered me by saying, “Tolerable.”

OK, I said. I guess that’s OK.

Well, it’s neither good nor bad, my friend said. It’s just something her grandpa used to say when asked how he was doing.

“Tolerable,” she said he’d say. “It was an old mountain term.”

I’ve got my own colloquial expressions I tend to use, off and on, at least. I’ve lived a fair amount of different places, with a fair amount of different accents and expressions. They’re not all from the South, but I think they do make people take pause, at least judging from the sometimes quizzical expression on their faces. This expression is much like the look I must have had on my face when I have heard some of the Southern expressions listed below.

But, first ...

For example, the word “katywampus.” I thought the folks in Wyoming told me it meant “diagonally across.” Come to find out, through Internet research, supposedly it means disorganized instead. Who knew?

Well, someone else knew something similar. In my research for this column on Southern expressions, I came across this listing: “Catty-wumpus meaning cockeyed, as in, the picture on the wall is all catty-wumpus." Maybe that means that some Southerners moved out to Wyoming at some point in time? Whatcha think?

To continue ...

There is also a severe regional difference when it comes to soft drinks. My Aunt Edith used to call them sodies, especially white sodies when she was referring to, well, white sodies, like 7-Up or Sprite and the like. She lived in Missouri, but she was German. I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. I’m just saying.

Oh, slight detour here. In my research, I have discovered that the saying “I’m just saying” is a Southern expression. Now, I remember Jan, a co-worker from Missouri, saying “I’m just saying” all the time ... at the end of just about every conversation. I just don’t know if she spent any time in the South or not, but she’s the first person I ever knew to repeatedly use this phrase in regular conversation.

I’m just saying.

OK, back to the sodie pop issue. My friends from the Chicago area used to call the drinks “pop.” And, although I too was born and lived in Missouri a bit, I call it soda. However, I have been told that folks in the South just call the soda by its name — i.e. Pepsi, etc. — or some always say they are getting a Coke, even if they come back with an Orange Crush.

Go figure.

Anyway, it got me to thinkin’.

I don’t think it comes as any great surprise that there are some expressions used mainly, if not exclusively, in the South. So, I started getting curious. What were some of these expressions? What did they mean, exactly? So, I Googled, and here’s some of what I found. I gotta tell ’ya, I really wasn’t familiar with most of these, but see if they sound familiar to you.

— “Hunky-dory” means everything is good.

— He was shaking like a wet dog.

— It was so bad, it made my hair hurt.

— That youngun’ is cuter than a sack full o' puppies. In other words, she’s really, really, REALLY cute.

— God willin' and the creek don't rise. In other words, I’m a fixin’ to do it, or I hope it will happen.

— You’d better sweep off your own porch before your mouth overloads your teacan.

— I haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays.

— He was meaner than a crippled snake.

— He’d talk the hair off a dog.

— Reckon so means “Yep.”

— If someone is extremely mad, they’re madder than a wet hen.

— Getting the heeby-jeebies. I think that means someone got scared.

— It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

— That cake was so good it’d bring a tear to a glass eye.

— Down yonder. A fer piece.

— Good for nothing and no count. Translations: Worthless, no good.

Now, this one coming up sounds familiar, but I think it sounds familiar because it’s in a song or maybe even in a commercial. Something.

— He couldn't carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it.

Some of these next ones do sound familiar to me as well.

— Piddlin', which means it’s a waste of time.

— And the word tarnation. Apparently it is a polite form of many other less polite forms of cursing. You get what I mean, I think.

— And how about the phrase, “That dog won't hunt,” which means that something just won’t work.

Oh, my friend just walked by and I decided to ask her about some Southern expressions. She’s from Iowa so she really shouldn’t know any, but she’s lived here for decades and told me what expressions really stood out to her when she first moved here.

Poke, for example.

In Iowa a poke is, well, a poke, as in, “I poked him in the shoulder with my finger to make my point.” However, here in Tennessee a poke is, well, a poke as well. But this Southern poke is a bag to carry something in. And, at that moment, I suddenly remembered that others used other words, like sack, in the same way. I first heard the word sack used in Texas to describe a bag, like one of those grocery store bags.

You know, I also just remembered that those folks in Texas also told me that they are really the Southerners. Those folks in North Carolina, for example, and, yes, even in Tennessee, aren’t really “Southerners.” Nope, they’re ... I mean, we are not Southerners but Easterners. Yep. That’s what they think. Texans are the true Southerners.

Well! Doesn’t that just make me madder than a wet hen!

I almost feel like throwin’ a hissy fit!