Appalachian Speak

I grew up in a period of time when the Appalachian dialect was still spoken by adults, specifically my kinfolk. In turn, I understood the words, learned how to use them in a sentence, and could converse fluently with others, most often my elders. Where I came from, no one batted an eye when you used the dialect. Having grown up and left home, however, the funny looks and cocked heads when I use certain words and phrases are a clear signal that the hearer did not fully comprehend all the words that just came out of my mouth.

I’m fond of retelling the grocery store story that came about during my residence north of the Ohio [River]. I’d purchased a few items but the clerk didn’t bother to bag them. So, I asked for a poke. This resulted in a somewhat surprised – what I’d call a consternated – look of total misunderstanding. “May I have a bag, please,” I rephrased the request using the proper grammar that I’d been taught in school but neglected in everyday use. And why not? If you spoke properly you were outcast.

I took some time recently, when a friend brought it up, to write down the words/phrases that were a part of a common language spoken – I now know – by very few people. People from the Appalachian regions of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and even Texas because we all know some of our folks moved all the way out to Texas back in the day. You’ll find some of these used in old church hymns, the King James Bible, Shakespeare’s writings, and others more common in what is known as the Elizabethan era. Mind you, uttering such with an accent is liable to get you branded as an ignorant and uneducated Hillbilly – like me. And proud of it.

Here’s the list of words that came to mind. It is in no wise comprehensive and may be edited in future as terms are recalled.

  • agin: against. The ax was leaning agin the wall.
  • yon, yonder: over there. Yonder comes Aunt Minnie.
  • kin, kinfolk: family, relatives. The kinfolks is gathering at the church house.
  • reckon: expectation of a calculated outcome, also used in place of “OK;” If it’s alright with your mom, I reckon you can go.
  • plumb: completely, undeniably; She’s plumb crazy.
  • consternation, consternated, mild confusion or alarm; He looks rather consternated.
  • briggity or biggity: arrogant, self-righteous. Here comes Mr. Briggity Britches.
  • britches: pants, jeans, trousers, slacks. There’s a hole in your britches.
  • jasper: a questionable fellow with suspicious intent; a nere do well. That jasper is at it again!
  • ‘ere: (sounds like “air”), before. I’d better eat ere I get hungry.
  • n’ere (“nair”) or nary: never, not one. Nary a hair out of place. 
  • aught: zero. Thirty aught six (30.06, a shotgun).
  • uppity: same as briggity or biggity
  • wake: a gathering held the evening before a funeral. Historically, one or more individuals sat up with the deceased all night in case (s)he awoke. If so, he wasn’t completely dead.
  • dreckly: mispronunciation of directly, in short order, soon. I’ll call you dreckly.
  • fixin’ or fixin’ to: preparing or in preparation. We’re fixin’ to go to the store. Mom’s fixin’ dinner.
  • might: may. I just might do that!
  • dilatary: mispronunciation of dilatory, causing or causes delay. That youngin’ is dilatary.
  • smidgen: wee bit. Put a smidgen of this liquor in your coffee.
  • poke: a bag for groceries or other amenities. I’d like a poke, please.
  • spell: an indefinite span of time. I’m going to Mommy’s and won’t be back for a spell.
  • nigh: near. I left home nigh thirty year ago.
  • middlin’: somewhere in between.  Pawpaw says he feels fair to middlin.
  • beholden: obliged, indebted whether money or favor. I ain’t beholden to no one.
  • mite: a very, very small amount. Refer to the Widow’s mite, a small sum of money/coin (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4). 
  • tad or dab (can be used interchangeably), about the size of a mouthful. Give me a tad, or Give me a dab of that.
  • haint: a ghost or spirit. They’s haints in that old house.
  • lick: used in reference to a lazy or ignorant individual. He ain’t got a lick of sense. He never hit a lick [of work] his whole life.
  • peaked: (pronounced PEAK-ed) pale or sickly. You look a mite peaked.
  • fallow: to let the land “rest” a year between planting seasons. That’s fallow ground.
  • bottom land: low lying area near a river, normally referred to as simply “bottom,” i.e. Black Betsy bottom or Bancroft bottom along the Kanawha River (West Virginia). They live over in the bottom.
  • sidle: to stealthily make one’s way, blithely, unnoticeably. He sidled up next to her at the bar.
  • harried: stressed, pulled in many directions. The boss is looking a mite harried.
  • hankerin’: a craving or longing. I got a hankerin’ to see them grandkids.
  • cotton: like/dislike. He didn’t take a cotton to liver and onions.

Let’s not forget the prefixes and suffixes on a-many of our words. For instance:

a – a prefix in front of a lot of words/terms like: afeared (afraid), afixin’ to, arunning

-er a suffix used in place of the standard ending, usually -ow or -a; hollow = holler; follow = foller; fellow = feller; Linda = Linder (common mostly in the Cornish dialect). Some of us have gone so far as to replace the -er and use -a in it’s place: follow – foller – folla; fellow – feller – fella.

The End. for now…

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