By Mike Steely
Appalachia is a curious place to many people with its own language of sorts. Being somewhat isolated from the rest of the nation mostly because of topography the region’s dialect developed somewhat unchanged among the Scotch-Irish settlers.
You don’t have to travel very far out of Knoxville to hear words that “harking back” to our Appalachian forefathers.
My early years were spent on Crouches Creek in Campbell County where my family had lived since before the 1780s. Today the area is a subdivision of Jellico, Tn., but distant members of my family still reside there. My family moved 12 miles away to Williamsburg, Ky., and later to Florida, but the words and twists in the English language I encountered in my early years stay with me.
When I moved back years later and ran the local newspaper, my sons and I would often visit my elderly grandmother on Crouches Creek. Occasionally I would have to interpret her words for my sons, who grew up around the nation as I moved from reporting jobs here and there.
“Harking back” or “Harkin” means to remember or looking back.
“Foundering” was one of those words she and my mom would use to mean to overdo a food or habit to a point of exhaustion. Eat beans everyday and getting tired of beans was to “founder” on them. The regular definition usually means water overtaking a boat and it sinking slowly.
“Ponder” is to think deeply on a subject or wonder, such as, “I ponder if Cousin Dennis is coming in for the holidays.”
“Reckon” means I think so, as in “I reckon the snow is waiting for a patching.”
“Patching” as in repairing a cloth or clothing, means just that, as in a slight snow stopping with a heavier snow on the way.
“Narry” or “Nairy” means none as in “I don’t believe narry one of them politicians.”
“Britches” means pants, “Fixin” is to get ready for, “Poke” is a bag or wild salad plant, and “Pop or Sody Pop” means a soft drink. Usually “Coke” cover all Sody Pops.
“Allow” means to suppose, as in, “I allow the truth will be this holler will disappear into a subdivision.”
“A coon’s age” simply means in a long time, such as, “We ain’t see your sorry uncle in a coon’s age.” “Sorry” means something of very little value.
“Leather Britches” are dried green beans.
“Mess” is a batch, as in cooking, like “I’ll rustle you up a mess of leather britches,” and “rustle up” means to prepare a food.
“Blue Streak” means very fast as in talking. “Green with envy” means very envious and “purple passion” means with a intense emotion. Such as, “He talked in a blue streak and I was green with envy but really I hated him with a purple passion.”
“Festering” means to become infected or get worse, such as “That argument between them neighbors is festering.”
The language and word usage is changing quickly in our region because of new people, television, internet and education. The disappearance of some words and meanings is being lost as our older population passes on.
As a young man I listened to my grandmother’s stories and interpreted her Appalachian terms for my two sons.