Beloved slang phrases

Published 7:13 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2016

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     “Short Rows” writer John Edwards is taking a break from the column this week. The following column is a repeat. It was first published on June 26, 2002.

    Southeast Virginia has a rich linguistic history, and I’m really sorry to see much of it slip away.

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    Shaped by our English roots as well as our racial diversity, the slang phrases used by country folk were heard routinely until a few decades ago.

    That’s changing rapidly, and the sayings that were part of our youth are now heard far less often, as is the distinctive Old English dialect of Tidewater. That’s a shame, because the phrases and their pronunciation were descriptive and colorful.

    I’ve wanted to collect some of them for a good while, but because I use a lot of them myself, I tend to overlook rather than make note of them. Following is a list of a few words and phrases that I’ve heard many times. Most are not peculiar to Southeast Virginia, but are used in various parts of the South. Some have even become part of the American lexicon, which will guarantee their preservation, while others have practically vanished.


    • Local folks used to pay no mind (attention) to gossip, or at least claimed they didn’t.

    • Weather determines whether farmers are able to “make” a crop, rather than grow one.

    • There was a time when you could ask a waitress for snaps and she’d know you meant green beans.

    • And if you picked those snaps from your garden, you’d want a passel (a great many) if you were canning, or at least get a mess, or enough to eat, if you were fixing supper. (It was supper, by the way, not dinner. Dinner was only served after church on Sunday.)

    • On the other hand, country kids didn’t make a mess, they made a muss.

    • And if the muss was too great, their mother might just have a hissy (a fit of anger).

    • And if mama threw enough of a hissy, she might just “wear out” (whip) the offending youngster.

    • And when mama was angry, everybody headed for cover, including the family’s sooner or biscuit hound (mongrel).

    • If company was expected, everybody got into a swivet (hurry) to clean up the muss.

    • If mama grows tired from all that cleaning, she might “catch a nap.”

    • And there was simply no skuse (excuse) for not doing your part.

    • Most country folk would never want to disfurnish (inconvenience) a neighbor by accepting something the neighbor might need more than they.

    • “Nearly” never was quite sufficient in describing some things, but near ‘bout said it perfectly. Thus “Joe near ‘bout lost his arm in the corn picker.”

    • Country folk didn’t admire a pretty woman, they favored her. On the other hand, country folk would admire (enjoy) a cup of coffee if offered one.

    • Firewood is often cut from laps, or the limbs left when trees are cut for lumber.

    • In the winter, your goozle (throat) would often be sore.

    • And that was certainly the case when you were taken down (stricken) with the flu.

    • Riding down a bumpy road could shake your gizzard loose (that certainly needs no explanation. It’s descriptive enough as is.)