#Answered: Southern Appalachian dialect in Eastern Tennessee

The sun shining over Chattanooga hills + mountains | Photo by Kelly Lacy via Pexels

Bless it, y’all (or you’uns). Here in the foothills of the Appalachians, we have more ways to say the same thing than you could shake a stick at

DYK: The Appalachian dialect varies depending on where you are in the region because the language evolved from many different influences — think the British Isles, German + African dialects, and some Native American. Some words you might hear more in the mountains of Western NC won’t be uttered as frequently in the Scenic City, and vice versa.

One reason for that gorgeous diversity? Our region’s 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

Last week, we asked you to share your favorite examples of our regional Appalachian dialect with us. Since editors Chloé and Trista grew up in Eastern TN and Western NC, respectively, and can talk all day about Appalachian lingo, we knew you – our fabulous readers – would know some unique words and phrases, too.

Many of you offered up your own examples, whether your family has lived here for generations or you’re a relative newcomer.

Anecdotes + observations:

🗣️ “’I don’t care to’ seems to have two opposite meanings. In the North, it is understood to mean, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ In the South, it is used by many to express ‘I don’t mind doing it.’”Bobette M.

🗣️ “In California y’all is two words. They talk funny out there”Buzz T.

🗣️ “Bet you haven’t heard this one! ‘Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.’ My dad said it all the time to express that he was in a great mood!”Ellen C.

🗣️ “When we first moved here in 2008, our realtor shared a favorite with us. ‘That man was happier than a dead pig in the sunshine!’ A bit morbid but as the pig’s corpse dried up its teeth always showed like a wide smile. 🤦🏼‍♀️” –Donna M.

🗣️ I was shopping recently and asked the saleswoman about an item. Pointing across the store, she said ‘It’s over yonder.’  She was immediately embarrassed. Realizing that I said ‘I’ll come over there directly.’  She beamed and added, ‘oh, you’re one of our people.’”Judith R.

Glossary

  • “Ain’t got a dog in that fight”“it’s none of my business” Tom N.
  • “Ain’t gonna get shed of her yet” – going to keep her (or it) –Tom N.
  • “Bless her lil pea-pickin heart” – A Southern put down –Carolyn S.
  • Branch – small creek
  • Britches – pants; garment that covers the lower body
  • Buggy – a shopping cart
  • Commode – toilet
  • A coon’s age – long measure of time; “I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age!” –Jordy L.
  • Cooter -– river turtle
  • Cheese – school bus
  • Crooked as a dog’s hind leg – literally crooked (not straight); a thief or manipulator; “He’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg!” –Anonymous
  • Clicker; Doober – remote control for TV 
  • Dagummit – A cussing workaround
  • Dreckly (Directly) – Soon; “We’ll be there dreckly.”Chuck J.
  • Easy – a lack of pain; “I’ve been tryin’, but I can’t get my head easy.” –Jordy L.
  • Fixin’ – about to do something; a side dish (as in barbecue with all the fixins)Susan P.
  • Gom – a mess
  • “Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise” – something should happen unless… –Darcy H.
  • “Gweet?” – as in: “would you like to go and eat a meal with me/us?”William B.
  • Holler – a small valley; to yell out loud
  • Hootenanny – a party, typically with folk music and dancing
  • “I don’t care to do that”“I’m willing to do that” Jim R.
  • It come a flood – it rained a lot –Linda D.
  • Kearny; kearn (pronounced KEEyarn) – nasty or filthy; filth. “I used to ask people if they’d ever heard this word used by my grandmother.  Only found one other person familiar with it.”Rhonda L.
  • Kin – Family
  • “Knock a tater in the head” – “Let’s go eat” –Morgan H.
  • Krick – Creek
  • Larapin or larrupin – really good tasting food. “That casserole is larapin!” Rhonda L.
  • “Lord help the birds” – a minced oath when something goes wrong –Tom N.
  • “Makes my butt want to suck a lemon”“Makes me mad”Tina, J.
  • “Mash the foot feed”“press down on the accelerator pedal to make it go faster”
  • Maters – Round, red fruit you eat; tomatoes –JSL
  • Mess – enough food for your family; “Make sure y’all get yourselves a mess of them green beans.” –Jordy L.
  • Might could – might be able to; maybe could
  • Mom and ’em (said quickly like one word) – Mom and the rest of the family. “We’re going to see Mom and ’em.” –Betty M.
  • Paint (pronounced “pint”) – a colorful coating –Carolyn S.
  • Paint, painter, paint cat – mountain lion; cougar –Linda W.
  • Poke – a bag to carry groceries
  • Rake (raking) – going out and most likely up to no good –Leslie T.
  • Reckon – to suppose; to calculate
  • Right quick – quickly 
  • Rip, snort, and YaYa – kids playing loudly; Momma used to say, “All you kids do is rip, snort, and YaYa!” –Sherrie M.
  • Shiny britches – dress pants –David R.
  • Sot – drunkard; “He’s such a sot!” –Anonymous
  • Smack – to chew loudly on food
  • Stove up – hurt, arthritis –Linda W.
  • “I Suwannee” – I swear; “this is something I have heard my mother say so many times.” –Dawn Haskin
  • Toboggan – snug wool cap (like a beanie)
  • Torn up – something is broken
  • Tump;tumping – turn over; tumping the cow; “Did you tump that bucket over?” 
  • Ustocould (used to could) – past tense of could; a past ability. “I never knew this was specific to the South until someone in NY told me no one else says that!”Sharon A.
  • Varmint – an animal, usually a wild one
  • Wash rag – wash cloth
  • Whooping – a spanking; a fight –Linda S.
  • Yonder – over there (can be used to show the direction of something that is anywhere other than here)