Bless it, y’all (or you’uns). Here in the hills + hollers of WNC, we have more ways to say the same thing than you could shake a stick at.
DYK: NC is considered the most linguistically diverse state in the US? There are five linguistic, or dialect, regions in the state, and our corner is called the Southern Appalachian Highlands Dialect. The others, moving east, are the NC + VA Piedmont Dialects, the NC Coastal Plains Dialect, and the Pamlico Sound Dialect – which refers to the easternmost part of the state, including the Outer Banks.
One reason for that gorgeous diversity? Our geography, which ranges, literally, from the mountains to the sea. But while our linguistic diversity is unmatched, experts worry it’s also on the way out – as migration patterns bring new folks to the state, a process of leveling happens that reduces variety.
Other factors include urbanization, media, and the development of communication technologies. And while there’s often a sense of pride in using local terminology and vocabulary, it’s also been stigmatized by people who aren’t familiar with our rich linguistic traditions or who speak differently from us, making us locals less likely to use our unique voices.
Today, we’re sharing the Southern Appalachian words + phrases that you or your family uses, if you’re a longtime local, or that surprised you most when you arrived here. You might have run into one example last week, when Editor Brook penned a story about opossums – which many locals shorten to “possum.” Over 150 of you offered up your own examples here and on Instagram.
A- + gerund – “I was a-mowing.” – Chris L.
A might spell – a little while
A scosh – a little
Acting ugly – acting mean
All tore up – broken down or bereft; “as in the car is broke down or someone is all to pieces upset about somethin’” – @redheadedmtnwoman
All y’all – you and your extended group or family; a way to add emphasis to “y’all.” “Used interchangeably with, ‘you’ins.’” – Steve H.
Affrilachia – A term describing the history, culture, and traditions of Black Appalachians, coined by poet Frank X. Walker. Check out this page on Affrilachian poets, and read more about how the African and African American roots of Appalachian words (including several in this list) here.
Airish – breezy
Booger – a boogeyman or Bigfoot-type creature; also a Boojum
Bowed up – to stop suddenly. “He bowed up in front of me.” – Michelle S.
Branch – creek
Britches – pants
Buggy – shopping cart
Busier than a one-eyed cat watchin’ two mouse holes – Submitted by @redheadedmtnwoman
By and by – eventually
Come down to the house – Come over and visit
Cove – “Here, a cove is a small valley – like a holler, just from a different county, I guess. (Where I grew up, coves involved water.) “ – Barb M.
Cuss – use curse words
Cut on/off – turn on/off. “Cut on the hose pipe.” – Tracy W.; “Cut the lights off.”
Cypookus (sypookus) – “a really bad thunderstorm” – Frank K.
Dad dern it – “Kinda like Dad Gum it, sorta cussing but not really” – Jill C.
Dark thirty; dusty dark – just after sunset
The Devil’s beating his wife – “This means it’s raining but the sun is shining. Quite un-PC, but very colorful!” – Suzy A.
Dinner – used for “lunch”
Dreckly (Directly) – an indeterminate period of time; soon. “Heard it all my young life. Then much to my surprise I saw in a shop window in Penzance, Cornwall, a sign ‘back dreckly.’ – Martha L.; used by my grandmother…“‘He will be here dreckly.’” Meaning soon…..I was an adult before I realized the word was ‘directly.’” – Sharon K.
Everwhat – whatever
Everwho – who/whomever
Feelin’ froggy – not feeling well
Fixin’ to – about to. “The phrase I like best, that enchanted me, is ‘It’s fixin’ to rain.’ You can say it’s fixin’ to do anything, but I especially like using it this way.” – Darlene W.
Fixins – condiments
Fine as a frog’s hair, split three ways – “Not so much dialect as an expression I heard early upon moving to Boone. A barber asked a customer who just entered the shop how he was. The man said, ‘I’m as fine as frog’s hair, split three ways.’ I’ve never forgotten that and use it myself.” – Ron R.
Foundered on – to eat so much of something you get sick. “I got foundered on banana pudding when I ate three containers.” – Rita B.
Frog strangler – “It’s pouring rain.” – @catknitter24
From off – not from around here
Gander – look at. “Reckon I’ll take a gander at that ole hen house.” – David K.
Gap – “A gap is a low spot in a mountain ridge. National Geographic Society says gaps are similar to passes, but more rugged and difficult to navigate.” – Barb M.
Get a wheel – Drive fast
God-a-moddy – “For God Almighty (a cussword) – Carlee H.
God give me strength – Lord help me
Goin’ to the house – going home. “I moved to Waynesville 33 years ago from the West Coast. Big culture shock (but now going back west is a culture shock). I soon discovered that the y’all is Southern, y’uns is mountain. But the one that still gets me is “goin’ to the house,” instead of going home.” – Kathy C.
Guam (or gom) – gummed up; a mess. “2020 has been a gom.” – Becky W.; “Now dern it young’uns, Mamaw’s gonna whup the tar outta you’ns cause man did you’ns make a terr’ble guam in the front room.” – Vickie G.
Gully washer – “heavy downpour of rain” – Jack F.
Ha-u? – “When I moved to Asheville, after living in the mts in Southwest VA for most of my life, a regionalism I heard from the oldest locals was the greeting “ha-U?” not Howdy or the more common from places like Charlotte, NC “How ya doin’?” – Sylvia O.
Haint – A ghost (especially an angry dead spirit; or, generally something that scares you). The term may originate with enslaved peoples of the coastal Southeastern US, who also started the tradition of painting porch roofs “haint blue,” often observed in Appalachia.
Hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit – Submitted by @medleyslagle
Here’s you some _____ – said to someone when you give/gift them something
Hide nor hair – to describe when you haven’t seen someone or something in a while; “if you haven’t seen someone in a while you haven’t heard ‘hide nor hair of ‘em’” – @katgracee
Hit’s – “As in ‘what’s hit’s name;’ non-gender specific reference to a live thing, like a child, cat, or dog, who you don’t know the gender of.” – Patty W.
Holler – a small valley
Honchu – I want you. “Honchu look at that.” – David K.
I don’t care to – I don’t mind. “It took me a while to realize that if someone says ‘I don’t care to (walk the dog, take out the trash, attend a meeting, etc),’ what they mean is ‘I don’t mind to (walk the dog, take out the trash, attend a meeting etc).’ I’d never heard that!” – Denise MN
I reckon – I guess
I swanee – A mild oath or swear
I’ll get to it directly – I’ll do it eventually
I’m all covered up – I’m busy
Ill – angry. “Don’t make your daddy ill.” – Michael F.
It’s raining like a cow pushing on a flat rock. – Submitted by Kathy N.
Jeet – “Did you eat? or Have you eaten yet?” – William M.
Just a tidgh – A little bit
Kindly, kindly like – kind of; sort of
Let me hug your neck – “What your aunt says when she comes to visit.” – Mary Ann M.
Make a picture – to take a picture (with a camera)
Mash – apply pressure to. “If you want to pass that there truck you better mash down the pedal!” – Matthew J.
Might could – to suppose one could, “I might could do that.”
Mine – Watch out; pay attention; be on the lookout. “Mine. As in y’uns mine out for snakes. Meaning: watch, look. A neighbor’s mother who hailed from Sandymush would call this out when her sons and I went out to play. First time I had to ask what she meant. Does she really want us to dig up snakes?” – Chris B.
Momanem (mom an’ ‘em) – one’s family or someone else’s family. “How’re your momanem?”
More confused than a termite in a yo-yo. – Submitted by Lauren P.
My stars and garters – an exclamation; submitted by @ginianave06
Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs – Submitted by Kathy N.
Of the night – at night
Off kilter – not right
Oh my ‘lanta – “OMG.” – Felicia S.
Onced or twiced – “It happened onced or twiced.” – Michelle S.
People – “My family has always called our family and relatives ‘my people.’ – Brook B.
Piece (a fair/fer piece) – a unit of time, “generally longer than would be hoped, as in ‘That might take a piece.’” – R. T. Also used as a unit of distance. “You a-go a fer piece down yonder road and turn by the old oak tree.” – SM
Pipe down – be quiet
Pocketbook – purse
Polecat – a foul-smelling wild animal evoked when someone or something smells bad. Both the European and Striped varieties (the latter of which is native to Africa) are known for their strong scent. “You smell like a polecat.” – Rita B.
Pull yourself up a keg of nails – Pull up a chair; have a seat (Faye B.)
Put up – put away
Ratpurddy – “Lovely; pleasing to the eye.” – Steve H.
Right quick – next; sooner than later
Roastin’ ear – an ear of corn
Rode hard and put up wet – describing someone or something who has been through a lot and looks worse for the wear; submitted by @katgracee
Sack – bag
Scallywag – “Someone who misbehaves or doesn’t know how to act” – Michelle P.
Screaming bloody murder – “‘Screamin’ bloody murder’ for the absolute limit of the loudness and harshness of your scream, only to be used when someone is being violently murdered or when you feel similarly dramatic.” – Carlee H.
Scooter poot – to lollygag; dilly-dally; travel with no specific destination in mind
Sigogglin – askew; off-center. Synonyms: cattywompus; sackeyepoodly
Skinny as a summer hare – “‘cause we know what bunnies do all Summer” – Mary Ann M.
Spicket – spigot; outdoor faucet
Spittin’ snow – just starting to snow; snowing lightly but getting heavier
Spell – period of time. “She’s been a might ill for quite a spell now” – David K.
Staving – to run around
Stout – strong
Supper – used for the final meal of the day, especially when “dinner” replaces “lunch” – “Breakfast, dinner, and supper.” – Jessi N.
They was comin’ in two on a mule. – “The place was very crowded, very busy” – Laura S.
This un – this one
Toboggan – a winter hat
Tote a poke – Carry a bag; “When I was growing up, if you took your lunch to school, you toted a poke.” – MkN
T’ords – “In the direction of.” – Bruce M.
Vittles – food, usually cooked. “Mmm doggie ‘em is some good vittles.” – David K.
What time is it gettin’ to be? – What time is it?
Whole ‘nother – Another
Winder – window
Warsh – wash
Wreck – car accident
Wrench (wrinch) – rinse; “‘Wrinch it off’ for rinse it off.” – Carlee H.
You and yorn – you and your people. “As in – ‘I hope you and yorn are blessed.’ – Matthew J.
You uns – you all
Young’un – young person; child
You’re a mess – “Which is a compliment!” – Donna M.
We also loved these entries from folks that were specifically about pronunciation.
“I have too many and old sayings to list. I was born in Western North Carolina in Bryson City, my accent is so thick everyone wants to know how far south I’m from… I say ‘flower,’ and people ask..‘Do you mean flour to make biscuits or flowers in a pot?’! 😂” – Karen H.
“I moved here a year and a half ago from Indiana and I still don’t know how to pronounce Nantahala! Help!” – Laura H. (Say it with us: “Nanta-HAYla.”)