Speech” is the official term given to the dialect spoken in Southern Appalachia.
It is a unique subset of the Southern accent, with many similarities in
pronunciations but with a lot of differences, as well (there are also a lot of
similarities with many African American dialects.) Some have called it the
oldest spoken form of English –there are many elements of Elizabethan English
as well as Scots-Irish dialect. Early settlers in the mountainous regions of
western Virginia and North Carolina were very isolated, and their speech
patterns remained the same or similar over the generations even as English
continued to evolve (even in England.)
The first thing to
bear in mind when examining this dialect is to remember that it IS a dialect,
an accent, a different way of saying things –not something inferior, which is
how it has usually been portrayed. Its speakers continue to be assumed to be
ignorant, backward, and lazy. This stems from the hillbilly stereotype, which
is a subject for a different day.
"There can be
no doubt that it's the most heavily stigmatized regional speech in the
country," South Carolina author Michael B. Montgomery told National Geographic. "I can't think of any other region
where five words out of somebody's mouth will completely affect another
person's evaluation of their intelligence, their reliability, their
truthfulness, and their ability to handle complex tasks.”
A Southern mountain
dialect is no more “inferior” than Scottish, Irish, Cockney, or New York
English accents. Many aspects of the dialect that are considered improper in contemporary English were considered culturally and grammatically proper in the 1700s. It is also worth noting that there are regional differences within the dialect: while many of these terms are used throughout Appalachia, some are location-specific. For example, calling a soda pop a "dope" is rarely done outside western North Carolina. There are even variations from county to county. My own home county, White County, TN, has words and expressions (such as rullick and yert) with which people native to adjacent counties are totally unfamiliar. Also, I have not included some words and phrases that are more generally rural or Southern than specific to Appalachia, such as "pole cat" for skunk.
It is also worth pointing out that -as you will see -this pattern of speech is not a random selection of "improper" or "uneducated" words. It HAS RULES, including pretty consistent rules for vowel pronunciation and grammar. This is what makes it a legitimate dialect and not just a collection of slang. They just aren't necessarily the rules to which you are accustomed.
With all that in mind, let us look at some of the speech markers
of Southern Appalachia… and if I missed anything, please let me know.
The word Appalachian itself: Southern
Appalachian natives usually pronounce it App-a-LATCH-un, while outsiders tend
to pronounce it App-a-LAY-shun.
The SUFFIX –ing (e.g., winning,
spinning, twisting) drops the g,
becoming winnin’, spinnin’, and twistin’. However, words ending in –ing but not
as a suffix (e.g., thing, bring, sing) do NOT drop the g. instead the vowel becomes a nasalized a: thang, brang, sang. The
same thing happens with words ending in –ink (think becomes thank, stink
becomes stank). It is similar to the in/im in French (wherein the word vin, or wine, is pronounced as a
nasalized van.) Therefore, anythin’ is incorrect; anythang is correct. "Nothing" is an exception. “You thank it don’t
mean nothin’, but it means ever’thang.”
Sing = sang
o Single = sangle
Bring = brang (past tense: brung) Sometimes this becomes prang/prung
Fire is pronounced the same as far. In
fact, all words with the –ire sound are pronounced –ar.
Exceptions: liar, buyer, flyer, or any other word where the -ire sound is created by adding -er or-ar to a verb that rhymes with pie
Flower is pronounced the same as flare.
All words with the –ower sound are pronounced –air (including the words "our" and "hour".)
Pronounce royal as if the y were not
there: hence, ro’ahl. Do the same with all words that rhyme with royal.
Coil = co’ahl (unless it is a verb, in which case it is quile)
Want is pronounced the same as won’t. On
is pronounced the same as own.
Can’t rhymes with ain’t.
A long o sound at the end of a word
Tobacco = ‘backer
If this sounds "uneducated", bear in mind that, in modern British English, when a word ending in a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, an R is inserted between them (much like in French a T is inserted in such circumstances.) Thus, a 21st century Englishman might say "Pizzer is my favorite food, but a bananner is nice from time to time."
An -a at the end of a word often becomes
a –y / -ie. Thus the names Lula and Sara become Lulie and Sary, and the town
Sparta is sometimes Spartie. Extra becomes extrie, soda becomes soadie. Noah becomes No-ee. In a few rare cases, though, an r is added at the end of the word instead of changing the a to ie/y: Cuba = Cuber Jonah = Joner
· The sound –or sometimes becomes –ar. The
actual word “or” can be pronounced either “er” or “ar”.
Florida = Flahrida. Sometimes Flardy.
· Where is pronounced whur
Scared = skeered Care = keer I don't care = I-oant keer, which to the untrained ear can sound like "ount-keer". Are ye skeered? I-oant keer.
“Right” can sometimes mean very. “That’s
right kind of ye.”
Right smart = a large amount. “You could
fit a right smart of people in that room.”
Clean / plumb = completely. “He knocked ‘att-un
clean outta the park, it was plumb awesome.”
Southern Appalachians are apparently one
of the few groups that pronounces the l
in walk and talk.
It is very hard to explain the Southern pronunciation
of the long I, because there is no
other sound in American English to which it can be compared closely. Normally an
English long I is pronounced like the
–ai in Japanese (as in hai, for yes.) If you think about it,
in that diphthong you are pronouncing both letters separately, but really,
really fast: Ah-ee. So imagine dropping the –ee part. But that’s not exactly
it, either, because the Southern I
does not sound like “ah”, which is how I have often seen it portrayed. It’s
sort of like saying ah but while
smiling real big. I think that’s the best I can describe it.
Many monosyllabic words are drawn out
into two syllables. Hence Troy becomes Tro-ee, Carl becomes Carr’uhl, and
sometimes Bill becomes Bee’ahl. Red becomes rayud. Shit becomes shee-it.
Some grammatical practices which exist
(and are technically considered incorrect) all around the country are used with
far greater frequency in Appalachia
Dropping g’s, as mentioned above
Past tense of “to be” always used in
singular form regardless of number: He was, they was
Past tense often differs from standard
I saw = I seen Sometimes seen and saw are reversed: "Oh, I seen him. He was the meanest man I'd ever saw.
Double negatives are employed, often for
emphasis. “I ain’t got nary’n.” “He ain’t got no sense a-tall.” This was considered standard English until the mid-18th century; Shakespeare often used double negatives.
Southern Appalachians still use the word
ye, and often. Whether ye or you is used often depends on the emphasis in the
sentence: “Should I GIVE it to ye?” “Should I give it to YOU?”
Toys are called purties (pretties), or play purties.
Strew is pronounced stroe. Strewn is
stroe’d. “That dadgum young’un done stroe’d his play purties ever-whur!”
Sip is pronounced sup. “Give me a sup of
The words yonder and reckon are still
used often (oddly enough, they are also used in British English but not
non-Southern American English.)
Ary and Nary = Any and None. They come
from the Elizabethan terms “e’er a” and “ne’er a”. “Do ye have ary batt'ry for
this thang? I ain’t got nary’n.”
Y’uns (“you ones”). This is an Appalachian
word that is interchangeable with y’all. Northern Appalachians (in
Pennsylvania) also say it, but they pronounce it yinz while Southern Appalachians pronounce it like a German umlaut u, or yünz.
Lack is pronounced “like”. “All we like
now is four more dollars.”
“Like-ta” or “like-to-of” = almost. “I
like-to-of died.” It is only used when speaking of the past, up to the immediate past.
Aunt and Ant are pronounced the same as
Ain’t. Hence Andy Griffith spoke of his “Aint Bea.”
Tobacco is called either “tobackuh” or “backer.”
Borrow = Barr. Borrowed = Barrd. Sometimes borrow = bahrry. Also, sometimes borrow means to loan: Can you bahrry me five dollars?
Be-in’s (sometimes also “bezun”) = being
as =since. “Be’in’s y’all are goin’ that way, can I get a ride?”
This, that, them: the th is often dropped. “Say hey to your
mama and ‘emm!” “Those” is very rarely used. “Hand me ‘emm nails.”
Right here and right yonder sometimes
become ri-cheer and ri-chunder. "Over there" is o'vair.
Might could =might be able to
Haint = haunt (ghost). In some parts of
Appalachia ain’t is pronounced hain’t. In those areas, it is pronounced hit. An unruly person is wild as a haint.
“Reach me” = “hand me.” “Reach me ‘att
The leg of your britches = your
Corn = roas’n’ears (roasting ears), but
Col’drank: not just any chilled
beverage, specifically a carbonated one (i.e., soda pop).
Coke = absolutely any kind of carbonated
beverage, regardless of brand or flavor. “Gimme a coke.” “What kind of coke do
ye woant- Mountain Dew? Grape?” Coke and col'drank are interchangeable. "Pop" is used in Eastern Kentucky and some other areas, whereas in East Tennessee saying pop would immediately mark you as an outsider.
Kindly = kind of. “That road over yonder
is kindly narr.”
Every = ever’. Ever’body, ever’thang.
You don’t say “everyone” at all, just “ever’body”. Same with anyone/anybody.
Once’t, twice’t. Adding a t to the end of
these words is also an Elizabethan convention.
Directly = later. It does NOT mean
directly as in immediately. Pronounced dreckly. Sometimes: “here dreckly.”
Puny = sick
· Poor (pronounced "pore") = skinny, sickly. "You're lookin' real pore -are you feelin' puny?"
Fixin’ to: preparing to. This is not as
weird as outsiders make it seem; after all, if you are preparing dinner, you
are FIXING dinner.
Three meals of the day: breakfast,
dinner, supper. Dinner is the midday meal. If someone tells you to meet them
around dinner-time, they mean around noon.
Far = fur. “Hey dispatcher- how fur to
that far?” Sometimes "for" is fer, sometimes it is far: "Fer petesake, what'd ye go 'att fur far? Ye goin' to a far?" Also: furthest can be "futherest."
Yoant-to = you want to?
Ort = ought “Yoant-to? Y’ort to!”
Goozle = that funny thing in the back of
your throat. “I ort to choke your goozle!” Sometimes goozler.
Goober = peanut, but in many parts of
One t’other = sometimes just “one” for
short. “I’m fixin to go to Nashville or Knoxville one.”
Hi’dy. Appalachian for howdy. It’s probably where
our contemporary word “hi” comes from.
Light bread = white sandwich bread
Sweet milk = regular milk, as opposed to
Ah’ Law! An exclamation meaning Oh Lord.
It’s not pronounced “ah”, but rather like you were going to say “at” and never
said the t.
They Law! An exclamation meaning The
Lord. This one can be shortened to just They. Andy Griffith could often be
heard saying They or They Law.
mite = a little. “Well, that’s a mite harsh, don’t you thank?”
Pert near’t = pretty near it, or almost.
Nigh on to = nearly
Ill = always means ill-tempered. It does
NOT mean sick, puny means sick. Or just sick. “I don’t like that man- he’s
Rainch = ranch, but also wrench and rinse.
“After ye warsh ‘att, remember to rainch it.”
Mock = to imitate. Like a mockingbird. It does NOT mean deride or laugh at, it always means to imitate scornfully. (Think of things like mock fur, for example.)
Sairdy = the day after Fridy.
Show = the movie theater
Sorry = no good and low-down (as in a
sorry excuse.) “I’m sorry!” “Good, now apologize!”
Stob = a stick, usually one poking out
of the ground. “Festus got jobbed with a stob”.
A story = a lie. “Don’t you tell me no
Study on = think about for awhile
Thoe = throw. “I seen Bill at the show
and he never even thoed up his hand at me!”
Done = finished. "That's it, I'm done." Also substituted for “did” when that verb has
an object, but not when it is used alone:
“I done painted that! I done it! I swear I did!” Also: Done = already. "I done fixed that door once!" Hence, one can say "I done done that." For emphasis: I done already done that.
Pen is pronounced pin. In fact, -en and –em
usually become –in and –im. Thus an encounter with the Empire becomes an
incounter with the Imparr. Ten and tin are both pronounced tin. This is why Appalachians use the terms stick-pin and ink-pen (ank-pin), to distinguish which kind of pin/pen you mean. Also, depend is pronounced de'pinned. Yet is yit. Get is git. As noted, however, with set/sit it is the opposite: "If ye woant to write a letter, set down and git ye an ank pin."
Catty-corner = what in other regions
would be called kitty-corner.
Si-gogglin, or cy-gogglin = lopsided,
especially as in a leaning building. Some have speculated this comes from
side-goggled, with goggle as in askew (like “goggle-eyed”)
Towns ending in –ville are not
pronounced “vill” but rather “vuhl”. Nashvuhl, Knoxvuhl. In Cookeville the k
is often silent, making the word “Cuh’vuhl.”
Towns ending in –boro are pronounced
burr. Hence Murfreesboro = Murf’sburr, and Gainesboro becomes Gainesburr.
Many words have emphasis on different
syllables than in other regions.
A-verbing: adding the prefix –a to a
verb, pronounced as a schwa and usually to a verb indicating progressive or
continuing action. “We was a-walkin’ and here come a bear a-runnin’ right at
us.” The form is most often used in the context of recounting a series of
events or telling a story. This was common in standard English in the 1500s,
and until the 1700s was considered not only acceptable but literate and
-ever is sometimes reversed to the
beginning of a word. “Everwho done that is ignernt.”
Woman is sometimes pronounced “woe-mern.”
Kyarn = carrion, and the smell
associated with it.
To carry someone = to give them a ride
Boggan, or sometimes toboggan = a knit
cap, such as some would call a beanie or a stocking cap.
Airish =chilly or windy
Cathead = a large biscuit
· Sometimes the sound -ay
becomes almost a long I, similar to some British accents, so that today sounds
almost like to-die (this is the standard long I, not the Southern one.)
· Vomit =
vomick, and diarrhea = di'reer. Virus = varse, and is almost always used to
mean an upset stomach. "I've been vomickin' all day, I thank I got the
= wadn’t; doesn’t = dudn’t isn't = idn't isn't it = idnit isn't that = idn'at
do you live = where do you stay at?
= consumed. “I’m eat up with love.”
= late afternoon, around dusk. Once it gets dark, it’s night.
= the Saturday of next week. If it is Thursday and I say “next Saturday”, I don’t
mean two days from now, I mean nine days from now. On Thursday, two days from
now would be “this Saturday.”
out = leave. Also sometimes “light a shuck.” As in, lighting a corn shuck so as
to see the road as you travel.
obey. “You mind me, child!”
= a pimple. “I got a risin’!”
rern. Past tense: rernt.
sit. “Set down and stay a spell.”
whup. This is NOT pronounced “whupp” or “whoop”, but more like whüp
cheer. Set in this cheer!
= a while. Also, a dizzy spell- but you don’t always say the “dizzy” part.
are dizzy, you might say you are light-headed, or that your head is a-swimmin’.
Or you’re having a spell.
care to” = I don’t mind doing it. This leads to confusion with outsiders, who
think “I don’t care to” means “I don’t want to.”
The t is silent in slept.
words have added syllables: drowneded, for example. Or breasts, sometimes
pronounced breastiz, or nests becoming nestiz. Sometimes the extra syllable comes in the middle: realtor = real-a-ter, athlete = athalete, nuclear = nukular. If this sounds similar to Texas Southern, it is because a large number of people who settled Texas were Appalachian.
= injured. If you just feel kinda sick, you’re peaked, pronounced peekid.
= shy. “His daddy was always kindly backwards” (pronounced backerds.)
get above your raisin’ = don’t be stuck up. Also, don’t put oan airs. Don't be biggity, or uppity.
sausages = vye-eenies.
you go = Air ye go.
yours. Also: his'n, her'n, our'n, their'n. You can also get out'n a scrape. If'n ye try hard enough.
Bedroom suite is not pronounced “bedroom
sweet” but rather “bedroom suit”.
Chest of drawers is pronounced chester
This one is not often used anymore by
folks under 70, because of the sexual connotation: quarr, for queer, as in
strange (not as in homosexual). “He always was a mite quarr.”
Brung up (or prung up) = raised, as in
If something tastes good, it will make
you slap your granny.
Give out = exhausted. “Lordy, I’m plumb
Gulley warsher = heavy rain
Rullick = a low person of questionable
character. People outside of White County, TN, seem to be unfamiliar with this
Go on = talk at length, or sometimes
behave foolishly. “Lord, that boy does like to go on.” Or, "Oh, he's just goin' on."
Count = good. “Is Bill any count?” “No,
Bill ain’t no count a-tall.” Short for "of any account."
It is not a shopping cart, it is a
It is not a hand-truck or a dollie, it
is a two-wheeler.
“Home-made sin” =something very
disturbing or ugly. “That feller was uglier’n home-made sin.”
“Well, bless your heart” can mean either
“you poor, unfortunate soul” or “you poor, ignorant person,” depending on
Duns = bills. “Nothin’ in the mailbox
but duns, as usual.”
It’s not an electric bill, it’s a light
If you play hooky from school or work,
you are laying out.
· “Chance” is pronounced “Chaince”, or “Chaince’t.” Similarly, "branch" is pronounced "brainch" (a branch is a small stream or creek.) "Dance" becomes "Daince."
“Fell off” = lost weight “Flesh out” = gain weight. You’ve fell off,
you need to flesh out.
Towel, trowel, foul, owl, etc. all rhyme
· “Stout” = physically strong. It does NOT
necessarily mean large; a thin person can be stout.
The L is usually silent in “help”
“Ready-roll” = a store-bought cigarette
Sweetenin’ = dessert food, candy,
etc. “I ain’t had no sweetenin’ today, I’d
shore like some pie.”
Some people –especially older folks –call
a motorcycle a motor-sickle.
Daughter is sometimes pronounced “dorter”;
water is sometimes “worter.”
Brother is sometimes shortened to Br’er
(just like Br’er Rabbit), which is pronounced “Burr.”
Play like = pretend. Also, “let on” =
pretend "You thank he's seerce?" "No, I thank he's just lettin' oan."
Favor = to remind a person of someone;
also, “puts me in mind of.” “Ol’ Jeff
favors his Daddy.” “He puts me more in mind of his Grandpa.”
Hull = to shell, as in beans or peas.
Skift = a small amount, as in “a skift
Fireboard =mantel over a fireplace
Dog-iron (pronounced dog-arn) = an
crossbar to either end of which the traces are fastened when yoking a horse or
mule to a plow. Pronounced sangletree, of course.
Backset--a reverse, a
relapse in illness.
· Blink--exercise an
evil influence, bewitch, turn sour. "Blinky milk."
To be marked by = for a child to be born
showing, in some fashion, the influence of someone the mother knew. “Junior is
always tellin’ stories, I must’ve marked him by my brother Bill.”
Learn = both to learn and to teach. ‘At’ll
learn ye! I’ll learn you to sass me!
Coil = quile “That copperhead was quiled up.”
Rear back/ rear up =rare back, rare up
If someone is very hungry, they may say “my
stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.”
· Just like in Elizabethan English, gentlefolks
who would never dream of swearing still use the words shit, ass, and piss,
which they don’t consider vulgar. (vulgar words, to them, would be Goddamn –which
is “taking the Lord’s name in vain” –or anything pertaining to genitals or
their sexual use.) I can attest to this. I have seen Appalachian mothers smack
their children for saying “dirty words” and telling them “we don’t say shit
like that around here.” Which makes sense; after all, “piss” occurs frequently
in the King James Bible because it was not considered vulgar in the 1600s.
Ears are sometimes called years.
Leg can be pronounced lag or laig
If you don’t like someone, you might
call them a shit-ass. Or a peckerwood. Maybe even a sumbitch (accent on the first syllable).
If you want to say the f-word as an
exclamation, but you don’t really want to say the f-word, you can say:
foot! “Well, foot! We’re fixin’ to lose
If you are behaving in an
inappropriately mean manner, you are “being ugly.” “Quit bein’ ugly to that
girl!” synonym: Hateful, which can mean not just cruel but also rude or cross. "Ye don't have to be so hateful about it." Inappropriate sexual behavior can sometimes (disapprovingly) be called "actin' ugly" - they was out yonder in the bushes actin' ugly.
Giving someone a kiss is “giving them
If you suspect someone was saying bad
things about you behind your back, your ears are burning.
If things are going well, they are finer’n
frog hair. If they are going real well,
they are finer’n frog hair split four ways (sometimes three ways).
A booger is an evil spirit or monster. “Be
keerful out yonder, a booger might git ye!” Of course, as in the rest of the
country, a booger is also a piece of dried mucus. In some parts of the north, a
piece of dried mucus is also called a “goober”, but bear in mind that in
Appalachia goober can mean penis. So if you come South and tell people you woke
up with goobers in your eye, and they laugh hysterically, that’s why.
Gaunt = gaint. Synonyms: pore, puny
Sometimes, with demonstrative pronouns, “there”
becomes “they”. “They’s a lot of thangs I ain’t told ye.”
Jasper = a stranger. “They’s some jasper
out yonder pokin’ around.”
Chow chow = home canned relish
Glom onto = take hold of
Someone with a pleasant personality has
a good turn; someone ill-tempered has a bad turn. Someone very strange has an
odd turn or a funny turn.
If you pull someone’s hair in a fight,
you done jerked ‘em up by the hair of the head.
If something is stuck fast, it is
tighter’n Dick’s hatband. The same phrase can describe someone who is cheap
(therefore tight with their money.)
If something is flatter’n a fritter…. it’s
pretty flat. People often pronounce it “flatter’n a flitter.”
Catawampus = askew, awry. Also pronounced catty-wampus.
Different = differnt Ignorant = ignernt
Sometimes the G is dropped in “I’m
gonna,” becoming “I’m oanna.” This only happens in first person, not with he’s
gonna, she’s gonna, etc. “I’m oanna catch up later.” Also, the W is often dropped in "you want," becoming "yoant."
Stupid is often pronounced styupid. Here can be hyere. Not that "styupid" is more in line with the modern British pronunciation than the American.
A common greeting, which is impossible
to spell accurately, goes something like this: “O hyanh.” The second word is
something between a snort and a sneeze, and the phrase approximates “Oh, here”
or “[Hell]o here.”
Garbage collectors are sometimes called “dobie
boys” in White County, TN.
Yert: this is a word that is unique to
White County, TN. It has been used (primarily by teens) for decades –at least
since WWII and possibly before –and its origins are unclear. Basically, it can
be used as a positive exclamation/affirmation or greeting, and is sometimes
accompanied by a gesture approximating the pulling of the cord of a train or
big rig air horn. “Yert, good buddy!”
Remember = recollect. However, in a command, you always say remember- you would never say "Recollect to do that!" But you MIGHT say: "Do you recollect how I told you to remember to do that?"
Common people = NOT a compliment. Rather,
denotes low quality. “I ain’t bein’ prung down by all these common people in
Southern waitresses aren’t the only
people who call everyone sugar, honey, and darlin. It is common for older women to use those terms when addressing anyone younger than them, regardless
of gender, and for older men to use them when talking to any women and to males into their 20s.
Shorts = short pants. It has only been
in the last couple of decades that I have seen local Appalachian males of
middle age or older wearing shorts in public (or sandals.) Traditionally, “short
pants” were for young children (boys) who graduated into long britches, so for
a grown man to be seen in short pants would be humiliating. Traditionally,
adult male attire was usually overalls, work boots (clodhoppers), and a hat of some kind; a
pork pie or something similar before the mid-1970s, a John Deere or Ford ball
cap since. Until the 1990s, one could walk around the local Wal-mart or grocery
store and tell which of the senior males were local, and which were move-in
Yankees, just by their attire. This is still true to some extent, but is no
Being tickled by something means to be
either pleased or amused by it. “I’m plumb tickled to hear that!” “The way that
Bill goes on, it really tickles me.
You don’t leave things on the floor, you
leave them in the floor.
Gas station = fillin’ station
Shitfire is a common exclamation, as is
hellfire- pronounced shee-it-far and hail-far.
Slew = a large amount. They’s a whole
slew of words I ain’t even thought of yet.
Clodhoppers = farmers’ heavy work shoes.
Someone who is just a mite too pleased with
themselves might be grinnin’ like a possum.
If you are a bit too optimistic, someone
might tell you to wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one
gets full first. Their implication: you’re dumber’n a box (or bag) of hammers.
Or as useful as tits on a boar hog. However, you might know that you’re smarter
than they think- you’re slicker’n snot on a doorknob.
Keith Richards looks like he has been
rode hard and put up wet.
If I want you to repeat what you just
said, I might say: Do what?
If someone has a stroke of bad luck,
they might say “well don’t that beat my hat blowin’ down the creek.”
If you want your young’uns to mind, you
might threaten to tan their hide. Or to jerk a knot in their tail.
Just as “foot” can substitute for the
f-word, you can avoid another four-letter word by saying “Well shoot a monkey.”
Riled up = roiled up; angry
When you meet a stranger you might ask
them: “Whose boy are you? Who’s your mama’s people?”
Looks to me like = a statement of
agreement. Bob says, “I reckon winter’s here, Joe.” Joe says, “Looks to me
Young’uns are on their first legs.
Daddy Longlegs = Granddaddies
When visitors come to your door you say “Why
don’t you come in and stay awhile?” and when they leave you say “Why don’t y’uns
just stay with us?” Even if you don’t actually want them to do either of those
If you show physical sensitivity when
getting a haircut, you might be known thereafter as “tender-headed.”
“Tennis shoes” is pronounced “tennie shoes”
Pry = prize. “Sometimes ye just have ta
take ye fangers and just prize thangs open.”
Y’all = you all, of course. I debated
even including this, since everyone knows what it means and it is used
throughout the South and parts of the West. I decided to include it in order to
emphasize that y’all is ALWAYS plural, at least in Appalachia. Someone using y’all
when speaking to one person is a non-native trying to imitate the dialect. In
the past when I have made this assertion about the use of y’all in general,
there have always been some people who swear up and down that they have heard
Southerners say y’all in the singular somewhere. I have still never heard it,
but for the sake of doubt, I will instead merely claim that it is always plural
in Appalachia. Y’all and y’uns are generally interchangeable, but when the second-person
plural pronoun comes at the very end of a sentence it is almost always y’uns. “If y’all woanna go, we’ll take y’uns.” When speaking of three or more people, it can
become “all y’all” or “all y’uns.”
Robe and slippers = housecoat and house
And = the d is almost always silent. Also, the f is often silent in "of", and to is usually ta/tuh. The 'th' in them/these/those, which is often dropped, remains in place when following o'. "I'm goin' ta one o' them stores down yonder an' git me a col'drank. I like 'emm col'dranks."
Cure = cyore. I thank ‘att risin’ is
startin’ ta cyore up. Or: You’re cruisin’ fer a bruisin’, an’ I’ve got the
cyore fer shore.
Horrible and terrible = harble and
Marry and merry are both pronounced “marry”.
Guarantee is gairntee, sometimes garntee
Gaumed up = smudged or begrimed. This
word was common in 17th century English.
What people outside the South call sweet
tea, we just call tea (because, duh, of course it is “sweet” tea unless someone
says otherwise.) I remember going to a restaurant when I first moved to
Illinois and ordering tea: I almost spit it out when I tasted it. “I didn’t
order unsweet tea, I ordered tea!” “Um, there are sugar packets on the table.” “Do
you mean to say you expect people to sweeten their own tea? That’s barbaric!” (note: this is not Appalachia-centric but applies to the whole South. I decided to include it because most folks who have not spent time in the South would probably not be aware of it.)
Always = all-the-time. As in: You’re
all-the-time askin’ me for favors.
Lawyer is pronounced Lah-yer, not
Law-yer or Loi-yer.
The L is usually silent in “help”: Let
me he’p ye with that. In some places, particularly NC, “help” can be pronounced
Spoiled (as in a child) = petted. She
always was kindly petted.
Yesterday = yesterdy. Similar with days
of the week: Sundy, Mundy, Tuesdy, Wensdy, Thursdy, Fridy, Sairdy.
Such = sich. “Do you believe in haints an’ sich?” “Ain’t
nary sich a thang.”
The PO-lice is also the law, used
interchangeably. “The law come by here earlier.” Law can also refer to
individual police officers: “How many laws was they?” “Three er four laws, I
reckon. Po-lice ever-whur.” Also, Sheriff is pronounced Shurrif or Shur'f.
Twilight is sometimes called dusky-dark. After
darkness has fallen, someone might say it is “about dark-thirty.”
Soon, aka d’reckly, can also be “here ‘fore
long.” “Here ‘fore long att’ll come back to bite ye.”
Ask is usually
pronounced "ast" in the past tense, and sometimes also in the present
(but not usually). "I done ast ye once't and now I'm fixin' to ask ye
“Puttin’ on” (pronounced
putt’n oan): pretending, in the sense of presenting yourself as something you
are not, and often in the context of trying to convey a higher social or moral
stature than you actually possess. “He ain’t all that –he’s just puttin’ on.”
Trespass is pronounced
A bar of soap
is called a CAKE of soap.
To my Minnesotan wife, “spatula” means both the
sort of single-bladed thing you serve cake with and the larger thing with long
vertical slits that you use when you fry things. The latter is NOT a spatula
where I come from, it is an egg-turner.
It is not a “stove cap”, it is a “stove eye.”
You do not change the “tabs” on your license
plate, you change the “tags.”
This list will grow over time, as I think of more
words and phrases or they are pointed out to me (again, let me know of any I
missed.) Meanwhile, bear in mind that the Southern Mountain Dialect is a
legitimate dialect of the English language, and not a marker of intelligence or
cultural inferiority. While it might seem strange (or exotic) to some, it is
not something to laugh at or deride.