Local dialect, euphemisms, and a pleasing musical twang only add more flavors to the already rich culture of the Smoky Mountains. The folk expressions distinct to the Appalachian region of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina are much more than just pronunciations and colloquialisms. They contain a life and history of their own.
The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English chronicles the unique “mountain talk” created by the diverse European settlers and Native Americans who lived there. Before you visit, take to heart some of the vocabulary only spoken and understood here, so you won’t get called out as a “Jasper” (an outsider not from the mountains).
- A Pig in a Poke…refers to not having all the information about what’s about to happen. For example, “My upcoming Smoky Mountain vacation is a real pig in a poke!”
- Airish…describes a chilly or breezy weather.
- Ball-hoot…is a term derived from the logging industry practice of rolling logs downhill, and now it means to drive recklessly on the dangerous mountain roads.
- Beginning to turn…means getting closer to death.
- Chancy…is to feel doubtful, as in a situation seems a bit chancy.
- Charivari or Shivaree…originally French folk custom now practiced in the Smokies, it’s a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds where townspeople bang pots and pans to celebrate the marriage.
- Cumfluttered…means confused or embarrassed, and also how you may feel about this vocabulary lesson.
- Cut a shine…means to dance!
- Do wha?…is the proper response to, “Can you tell me how to get to Dollywood?” or, “Can you please help me finish this fried turkey leg?”
- Eh, law!…means “Oh, well” and the like.
- Fixin’…has several meanings and uses. It can mean a serving or helping of food, as in, “Can I have another fixin’ of green beans?” Or, it can refer to a meeting or social event, as in, “Are you’ns a-heading to the church fixin’?” Or, it can mean “about to,” as in, “I’m fixin’ to go to a-hiking today!”
- Fair up…describes a change of weather to the better, as in, “This mornin’ it was a-fixin’ to be airish, but by noon, it faired up.”
- From can see to can’t see…is as synonym for “from dawn to dusk.”
- Haint…is a ghost.
- Kyarn…is derived from “carrion,” and refers to dead flesh, and most often, road kill.
- Lay out…means to lie about being sick to get out of work or school. For example, “I laid out from work today to get a-shopping in Gatlinburg.”
- Mess…refers to the amount of food necessary to feed everyone present, for example, “A mess of fried chicken and dumplings.”
- Pay it no mind…as in, “They said the pancakes weren’t delicious, but pay them no mind.”
- Poke Salad is… is a local delicacy made from indigenous greens that grow the valleys. However, unless they are boiled properly beforehand, the greens are poisonous.
- Redd up…means to clean, especially in regards to your home in preparation for visitors.
- Sigogglin…implies that something is crooked or leaning, as in a tree.
- Tee-totally…means “completely.”
- You’ns...is the proper Appalachian version of “y’all” and is pronounced like “yunz,” as in, “You’ns come back now, you’ns hear?”
- Zonies alive!… is a mild swear word, as in, “Zonies alive, what a beautiful cabin!”
Now that you’ns are fixin’ to see yonder Great Smoky Mountains, don’t get cumfuttered when bombarded with local terms and their definitions. It’s the little bursts of local culture, such as accents and turns of phrase, that make any new place unique and memorable.