Mountain speech revisited
In an earlier column I wrote about our version of English I like to call Mountain Speech, a unique and very old dialect that has been retained through mountain isolation to this day, though much has been lost. I’m going through a book called Smokey Mountain English that has thousands of words and phrases collected from mountain people throughout our region by linguistic experts. I’m looking for words that I heard my parents and grandparents use and thought you might enjoy seeing how many you’re familiar with. I’m going through the book alphabetically, and here is another installment.
Airy: any, a single; “We didn’t get airy drop of rain.”
Asafedita: the dried resin from a plant called asafetida that was worn around your neck in a small bag to ward off or cure sickness. It was mostly used on children who were made to wear it all winter. It did not smell pleasant.
Atter: after; “What’s that dog atter?”
Awful: good, excellent, extraordinary; “She’s awful good at that”.
Awful to: something done that is disapproved; “That dog is awful to bark”.
Baccer: tobacco; “I grew a half acre of baccer.”
Backards and forwards: to be undecisive; “She’s backards and forwards on what to wear to town.”
Back door trots: to have diarrhea
Backed up: to be constipated.
Back sass: to talk back rudely; “Don’t you back sass me!”
Back of: referring to an earlier time; “I heard back of this that he was married.”
Backset: a relapse of an illness; “He took a backset and wasn’t able to come.”
Bad off: very sick; “He’s too bad off to come to church.”
Baldface: a despicable person: “He’s a baldface liar!”
Balk: the space between furrows in row crops such as corn or tobacco;
Babdist: a version of pronouncing Baptist. I still catch myself using it.
Baptizing: a baptismal service; “They’re having a baptizing down at the river.”
Bark: an injury where skin is torn: “I fell down and barked my knee.”
Barn Raising: where neighbors and family work together to build a barn for someone’s farm.
Bat: to blink; “He stood there and didn’t bat an eye.”
Bawl: the cry of an animal, especially cattle; also to cry emotional tears; “He bawled like a baby.”
Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.