Jennifer is sick today, but she already had this post prepared, so I’m posting it for her. -Nathan
I hail from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky. I double majored in Psychology and English. I have a Juris Doctorate, and I am a licensed lawyer. Despite sterotypes of those who are born and raised in Appalachia, I have never been ‘barefoot and pregnant,’ and in fact, much to my husband’s dismay, I have taste for high end shoes, bags, and jewelry.
Even among the Commonwealth, I grew up in the “least civilized,” part of the state. There’s a divide in the state, a place where the tobacco fields and horse farms fade into the mountains of coal country. That’s where I grew up. Even the other areas of Kentucky ‘poked fun’ at the people of Eastern Kentucky. It was a place where vegetables came from gardens and not cans, expensive exotic fruits were christmas treats, and barbecue sauce was made by mixing cola and ketchup.
Sometimes, thinking back, if I listen close, I can hear the sound of pappaw’s (my grandfather) voice, calling out the next lyric to a church hymn and hear the echo of his church singing. Decades ago, so few people in the mountains were learned people, most people didn’t know how to read or write. So the practice of the churches which call themselves “Ol’ Regula’ Baptist,” became to have the preachers who could read call out the lines of a song, one by one, in a cadence that told the congregation the words and measure to sing along. (There’s a really accurate scene of this in the movie O’Brother Where Art Thou.)
My younger self was ashamed of where I was from, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I embraced my culture. I am proud now to call myself a hillbilly. Still, the place I come from is so unique, I thought I’d share some of the ‘sayings’ and particular things about my heritage. While my writing is very proper and my novel, that’s under submission, would make my mamaw’s (grandmother’s) head spin, I will never forget the mountains. Here are eleven or so etymological gems.
1.) I reckon- Translates to ‘I Believe’ or ‘to come to a conclusion.’ For example, I reckon it will rain today. Also, used as a verb as to cause a ‘reckoning.’ Get in enough trouble in the south and someone will bring a reckoning upon you.
2.) Bless her/his/its/your heart- I never heard my mammaw use the ‘F’ word. As a teenager, I learned this phrase is the southern lady’s way of saying “F*** Off,” “Go F*** Yourself, and occasionally, as a comment calling someone dumb, stupid, or lacking in common sense. If a southern woman says this to you, run, retreat, and regroup for a ‘reckoning’ is coming for you.
3.) Fixin’- An intent to do something. Used in numerous ways. For example, “I’m fixin’ dinner,” or, “I’m fixin’ to cause a reckoning on that hussy.” (See definition of ‘hussy’ below.)
4.) Hoe and Hussy- A hoe is something to use to plant a garden or perhaps kill a snake. Many a times, my mammaw killed black snakes and poisonous copperheads with a hoe by cutting off the snake’s head. A hoe is not a woman of ill repute or loose morals. That would be the definition of a hussy.
5,). Madder than a wet hornet- In the south, there is mad and madder. Yet, the maddest of all is Madder than a wet hornet. The phrase explains itself. For example, “I reckon that hussy stole my man. I’m madder than a wet hornet and fixin’ to cause a reckoning. Bless her heart.”
6.) Churched- Excommunication from the Ol’ Regula’ Baptist church. The favorite gossip of the church ladies was who was getting ‘churched,’ and for what. I never joined, mainly because women are as repressed in the Ol’ Regula’ Church as in puritan times. No makeup or hair dye. You can’t cut your hair. You can’t wear pants or sleeveless tops. Women are meant to be seen and not heard, and required to make fried chicken for special church services. Okay. I admit it, I didn’t hate everything about my grandparents church, who can hate fried chicken? I went as a child because my grandparents made me, as an adult, I would go to service every now and then out of respect for my grandparents.
7-10.) Southerns bathe by “taking a bath.” Gussied up and dolled up refers to fixin’ your hair, makeup, and wearing nice clothes. ‘Head roller’ is country slang for a horror movie. And ‘Pertin Up’ means to get better after being ill. The word ‘our’ is pronounced like the word ‘air.’
11.). Finally a word about the long ‘I’- We draw out words that have a long ‘I.” “Ice” is “Ahce.”
What’s the point of all this? People ask me where I get my inspiration from? When did I start to write? This is the place where I first imagined. This is who I am. I’ll never forget sitting on my mammaw’s back porch and dreaming. Wondering. Seeing dragons fly over the mountains, long lost elves hiding in the forest, and a fallen knight rescuing a princess from the evil sorceress.
A final thought, while I present and embrace the comedy and truth of my upbringing, if all you take away from this, is that “hillbillies are funny or stupid,” all I can say in response is: Bless your heart.