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Stompin' my own snakes!Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012, at 8:20 AM
Recently, one of my church friends approached me with an idea for a new column.
"Madeline, why don't you write about southern colloquialisms?" he said. He even had a list he'd compiled!
As a matter of fact, I've often heard that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and these unique regional expressions are one of the things that give students of the language fits! (See? I just used an idiom--also known as a colloquialism!)
Over the years, I occasionally had foreign exchange students in my English classes, and they found our expressions fascinating but confusing. I was never aware of how idiomatic my language was, until I had a foreigner listening to me. Try talking without idioms and see how difficult it is!
Here are a few southern expressions which make our language unique: "I'm just middlin' fair!" or "I'm fair to middlin'!" "I'm feelin' mighty poorly!" "I don't rightly know!" "I'm so low, I'd have to stand up to touch bottom!" "He raised Cain and put a chunk under it!" "She's sharp as a tack!" "Y'all come back, y'hear?" "I'm gonna dust your britches, young man!" "She's purty as a spotted pony!" "He's slower than a doodle bug!" "He's got two left feet!" "She's a cotton top!" "I'm as wide awake as a tree full of hoot owls!" "How are you, youngun?"
We have many expressions to describe our southern weather: "It's hotter'n Mama's cookstove!" "I'm sweatin' buckets!" "It's colder'n a well digger's bottom!" (or a witch's nose) "I'll see you, if the creeks don't rise!"
When it comes to insults, the colloquialisms get especially lively! "He's one brick shy of a full load." "When brains were passed out, he was in the wrong line!" "She's as stubborn as a mule!" "He's bull-headed!" "He's lower than a snake's belly!" "With friends like that, I don't need enemies!" "He's slicker than saddle soap!" "He's dumber than a box of rocks!"
I enjoyed this law-enforcement expression from my friend: "There are three of us here--Me, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Wesson."
Miscellaneous expressions are too many to count: "I'm as hungry as a hog eatin' shucks!" "He hit the nail on the head!" "Please don't rain on my parade!" "I'm as fine as frog hair!"
These expressions are one of the qualities which mark us as southerners, and we carry them with us wherever we go. It's my theory that our colloquial speech patterns drive us back home. My husband and I lived and worked in Fairbanks, Alaska for seven years, and I found it wearying to be asked, "What part of the South are you from?" When we came home, it was such a relief not to have to be aware of whether I said, "Missourah" or "Missouree." By the way, I once did some research on this topic and found that Missourians are almost equally divided on the pronunciation of their state. It's 50/50!
Thanks to my friend for his homegrown wisdom, compiled over many years of living in this borderline state!
See ya later, gator!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.