Well, I’ll Swanee!
(Part 2: A Further Exploration of the Way We Southerners Talk)
Again October with its bright blue weather has made the scene and with it comes the shorter days and cooler nights of another year falling by the wayside. With this month’s article being a continuation of old Southern words and phrases, we must give a brief nod to how the Halloween custom was observed in years past. My Mother referred to the “Trick-or-Treating” tradition as “serenading.” She begged us not to be out “cutting too big of a rusty,” as we would get surely get our hides tanned. “Cutting a rusty” meant pulling outrageous pranks on others. Back in Mother’s younger days, the older and rowdier boys had created a sensation by doing dastardly tricks such as bringing a mule inside the school (shades of the ‘Little Rascals Gang’), or hefting an empty corn wagon on top of a neighbor’s barn. In my youth, the worst tricks we played were ‘soaping’ windows or throwing the occasional rotten egg. The lamentable prank of the toilet paper-rolling of yards became fashionable much later.
The treats we received and enjoyed the most were cousin Altie Meadows’ wondrous home-made caramel popcorn balls. Some people gave out apples or hard candies, and a few gave us dimes or quarters. Our ‘guises were either ‘tacky party’ get-ups, homemade haints made with threadbare sheets, or if we were really lucky, a plastic fright mask from the Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime on the Square in Ripley. And nothing was more frightening on fall Saturday nights than watching old black and white scary movies hosted by”SIVAD, Your Monster of Ceremonies” especially as Halloween approached.
Oh, how we do long for the days of our childhoods past! Nostalgia gets a bad rap, I think. Many believe we sugar-coat our memories and to a degree I suppose we do, but I have recently been reminded of my persistent longing for it via the ‘boob tube,’ AKA the family television set.
As a youngster we probably had the first television set in our community. The Glidewell boys would come over to sit in the floor and watch with me after school. We got three channels ---3 (CBS), 5 (NBC), and 13 (ABC)--- and there was always something good to choose from. Now, our DISH satellite system gets a blue million channels, but there truly doesn’t seem that there is much of anything new that is fit to watch anymore.
What do I find myself doing? The nightly news is so depressing that I tune in to the old shows that I grew up on... half-century old ‘Wagon Train,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘Rawhide,’ and ‘Gunsmoke,’ to name a few that are miraculously available again. One series that I seem to have gravitated to most recently is the incomparable ‘Andy Griffith Show.’ I listen to the Southern Appalachian cadences of Sheriff Andy, Deputy Barney Fife, Aunt Bea, Opie, Floyd the barber and Gomer while I concoct supper nightly.
This classic show has served as an inspiration for this series of articles about our Southern way of talking. The literary figure of speech known as the SIMILE is very evident when you listen closely to the dialog on this show while slicing tomatoes. This eight year series of Mayberry escapades featured the talents of many real life southerners to whom the drawl came quite naturally.
A Few Southern Similes
You certainly don’t have to be an English major to appreciate a good simile when you hear one. Similes are figures of speech which draw comparisons between two unrelated things. We use them very naturally to make our descriptions more emphatic or vivid. Most similes contain the connecting words ---’as a’--- or ---’like a’---; so here comes the “pianer part” (piano) of this story.
There are many animal-related similes:
“They are about as pore (poor) as church mice.”
“That man is as crooked as a barrel of snakes.”
“That gal is as pretty as a speckled pup.”
“The price of gas is as high as a cat’s back.”
“He is as busy as a tomcat covering crap on a marble slab.”
“I have ‘et too much, I am as full as a tick.”
“Be still, you are just like a wiggle worm in hot ashes.”
“I’m so busy I’m running like a chicken with its head cut off.”
“My teacher was madder than a wet settin’ hen.”
“That’s about as fine as frog hair split 4 ways.”
“That made him as happy as a pig in the slop bucket.”
“Why, he was as happier than a dead pig in the sunshine.”
“That man is about as goodfernuthin’ as tits on a boar hog.”
“He’s filthy rich, he’s got enough money to burn a wet mule.”
“He was so tickled he was grinnin’ like a mule eatin’ sawbriars.”
“It’s so hot, I’m sweatin’ like a pack mule.”
“She wasn’t asleep; she was just playin’ like a possum.”
“Lordy, you are about as nekkid (naked) as a jaybird.”
I’ll give readers a breather here and ask if you know the difference between ‘nekkid’ and ‘naked’? If you are naked, you don’t have on any clothes, but if you are nekkid, then you don’t have on any clothes and you are up to something!
Here are a few more colorful comparisons; please excuse in advance any of these that you may find in less than good taste:
“That pore old gal is as green as a gourd.”
“Why, she’s so green, she even says ‘yaller’ (yellow).”
“But, she’s got more boyfriends than Carter’s got liver pills.”
“My cousin stays about as drunk as Cooter Brown.”
“My car tar (tire) is as flat as a flitter.” (auto-correct says-’fritter’)
“That po-leese man’s head was shaved as slick as peeled onion.”
“It’s about as cold as a well-digger’s rump in Idy-ho.” (Idaho)
“It’s about as hot as hell-far.” (hell-fire of course)
“It’s a hunnert degrees, and I am about as hot as a 2 dollar pistol.”
“She was as homely as home-made sin.”
“He was as ugly as a mud fence.”
“Why, he’s so stingy, he’s as tight as Dick’s hat-band.”
“That child is smart as a whip, but her brother is dumb as a post.”
“What a mob of people! It looks like Coxey’s Army coming!”
“We’re doing well; we’re in high-cotton now.”
“He’s as busy as a one-armed paper hanger with the crabs.”
“I’m in a big hurry, I’m gonna run through this work like salts through the widder-woman.”
“And, one old gal’s dress was so tight on her, she looked like she was melted and poured in it.”
Does this stuff never end? I’ll swanee, probably not, but this will do to quit on for now. Send us some Southernisms you’ve heard, and we will certainly share them.