A few more colorful sayings
Published 6:35 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2016
We ended last week’s Short Rows talking about the importance of snakes in rural southern parlance, particularly in describing people’s personalities.
There are many more ways of describing people, their character and the things that happen to them.
A snobbish person, for example, might be said to be “so stuck up they’d drown in a rainstorm.” A person who is particularly obnoxious is “aggravating enough to make a preacher cuss,” and a mentally slow person might described very unkindly with the phrase, “If he had a thought, it’d die of loneliness.”
A pathological liar might simply be described by saying that “the truth ain’t in him.” But a more damning description, recalled years ago by county resident Bill Laine, is “He’d rather climb a tree backwards to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth.”
But Southerners can also speak well of their fellow man. From the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina comes, “He was good’ern airy angel” or, to translate, better than any angel.
Barnyard animals were an important part of Southern. They could be found on every farm and thus became a part of the imagery that rural folk have used for centuries.
“He goes to bed with the chickens” naturally means one who goes to bed quite early. “Madder’n a wet hen” comes from the chicken’s aversion to getting wet. And “scarce as hen’s teeth” is pretty scarce, since chickens don’t have teeth. And Southerners certainly know better than to “let the fox guard the henhouse.”
Then, there are dogs. No one who has ever spent an evening in the woods with a coon hunter can fail to understand the meaning of “barking up the wrong tree.” “That dog won’t hunt” refers to a plan that simply won’t work or a thought that is obviously not true. There is always the misplaced priority that can be described as “the tail wagging the dog,” and true contentment might be described as “happy as a tick on a hound dog.” And to “stop that dog from sucking eggs” is to break a bad habit.
Hogs are also among the animals prominent in sayings. Something of little value was often described as “useless as teats on a boar hog.” A truly happy person might be described as “happy as a pig in a wallow.” But my favorite will always be, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.”
Even frogs get their turn. Asked how he feels, a Southerner who is doing exceptionally well might say he feels “finer than frog hair.” That would be exceptionally strong since frogs don’t have hair.
Let’s not let the Devil off the hook. He and his hellish abode are deeply entwined in southern country sayings, as they undoubtedly are in most rural areas of the world.
One of my favorites is when you have looked high and low for something, you have “looked all over Hell’s half acre” for it. And a difficult task or a particularly unpleasant period in one’s life is often described as “going to Hell and back.”
A heat wave in most anyone’s slang might be described as “hotter than hell,” but in the south, when the heat becomes really unbearable it might be described as “hotter’n the hinges of Hell.” Hinges are considered the hottest surface on a wood stove and thus, the hinges of Hell must be the hottest of the hot corners of that horrible place.
Even a tiny circular wind swirling across a hot field in summer is known as a Dust Devil.