PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cotton-Pickin' Language Tutor

I do love the South. It’s a land of history, tragedy, success, failure, total compassion, indifference, and hurts both inflicted and endured. Despite – or perhaps because of – its glorious and scarred past, it’s a region of storytellers with colorful language and social formalities that annoy hurry-up Yankees.

To prepare you for your next visit down here, I’ve compiled a few words and phrases for your further education.

Light bread – This is the “third” bread. If what you’re having isn’t corn bread or a biscuit, it’s light bread.

Sweet milk – Not buttermilk. When I was a tot, we lived for a while in St. Joseph, Missouri. After searching through the dairy section of the grocery store, mother finally asked the storekeeper where to find sweet milk.

He was insulted. All his milk was good and sweet. He thought she was inferring that the milk she found had gone sour. She just didn’t want buttermilk.

Speaking of colorful language, Mike’s dad had some wonderful expressions. Some of them are still mysteries to us.

Hercial’s perhaps most repeated was:
“What’d you rather do or drag a board?”
We still don’t quite know what it means.

If you were over there for breakfast, he might say:
“If we had some ham, we’d have some ham & eggs, if we had some eggs.”

And nobody but Hercial ever asked you:
“What’s the difference between a duck?”

A fellow at work who wasn’t doing it right was like “a lost ball in high weeds.”

If told an unacceptable excuse, Hercial and even former President Clinton would tell you: “That dawg won’t hunt.”

My mother’s older sister also had a flair for language. I only wish I had written down some of her masterpieces. This one’s my favorite.

Both mother and Aunt Mary were visiting me when I lived in Huntington Beach, CA. I took them to a beachfront restaurant for lunch and then drove them around to some of my favorite locations. One was a row of beautiful, new townhouses only a block from the ocean. They had zero lot lines, so yard work would never be a problem.

After seriously considering the development, my wonderful Aunt Mary observed: “Those houses are so close together, if the neighbor cussed the cat, you’d get fur in your teeth.”

I had to pull over to the curb to regain my composure.

If you saw Tiger Woods hit a long, long drive, you might say that he knocked it “from here to Sunday.”

Pert nigh – Close. It’s pert nigh suppertime.

Poor – thin – Only city folk think that means you don’t have money.

Poorly – sick – An important difference from just being thin.

My mother baffled me with one of her expressions some years ago. We were leaving on a trip, and she commented that she hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. The cause of her sleeplessness, she said: “I guess I was journey proud.”

And to close, here’s a really true story.

One day in the newsroom when I was a reporter, I heard an unfamiliar voice behind me greeting one of the male reporters on staff. Reporter Paul returned the greeting by commenting that the visitor’s expanded girth seemed to indicate that he’d made friends with a few kegs of beer since last they’d seen each other.

The visitor replied: “Oh, every man needs a little shed over his tool.”

As soon as a female reporter native to that area arrived back at the newsroom, I rushed over to ask her if that expression meant just what I thought it did. She rolled her eyes at me and assured me that it did.

Ya’ll come back now, ya heah?


Zehr_Family said...

I loved this one Diane. Especially the saying from Granny (Aunt Mary). I laughed so hard. Mom says it wasn't quite the way she would have said it, you were much nicer. We came up with a few of her other sayings for you.

Shakin like a dog s@*$ing (passing) peach seeds.

Knee high to a tall grasshopper.

Colder than a witch's tit in brass brazier.

If we come up with more we will let you know, so that you can write them down for future reference.

Scarlett said...

Kristi -
Thanks for adding more of Aunt Mary's great sayings! They just don't talk like this anywhere outside the South.

Anonymous said...

Another one of Dad's sayings came to mind the other night. When there was talk about the price of something, he'd always say it was "a dollar three eighty-nine."