I guess they call them colloquialisms. I don’t, because that word just doesn’t roll off the tongue well. I call them sayings because that’s a lot easier to say. Anyway, they are phrases used by the local folk of a particular region to express a thought or opinion.
There are some sayings and words that, I’m told by folks who have moved to Smalltown from away, are unique to this area. For instance, I guess other parts of the country have no dooryard (the driveway and area near the entrance of a home), or broadshelf (countertop), and they go downtown when we go downstreet.
I like—and use—many of the sayings I learned growing up in Smalltown. My favorites include:
Darker than a pocket—that’s really dark.
Higher than a hawk’s nest—used to complain about something expensive or to describe the whiskey tenor part of a high lonesome bluegrass song.
He needs that like a frog needs sideburns.—He probably doesn’t need that.
Hungry enough to eat the north end of a southbound skunk—famished
It’s hot enough to boil an owl.—That’ll make you sweat like a hen haulin’ logs.
After a blizzard, the snow is butt-high to a tall cow.
Many of the sayings make little sense to me. For example:
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Those must have been the words of a man who was inept with a 20 gauge shotgun. One grouse in the hand isn’t enough for a meal. Two in the bush will soon be lunch.
He got the short end of the stick. Huh? Isn’t a stick the same length when measured from either end? Oh, now that I think about it, maybe that wasn’t the original saying. Maybe the original was: He got the sh– end of the stick. That end I can see as something to avoid.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth. First of all, who gives away a horse? Furthermore, where are you supposed to look a gift horse—or any horse, for that matter? In the eyes? That makes sense to me. It would never occur to me to look into a horse’s mouth. So why are you telling me not to? Are gift horses prone to gingivitis?
She was dead as a doornail. What is a doornail? Do they really make special nails for doors? And, if so, are they really more dead than other nails . . . or screws . . . or bolts . . . or doors . . . ?
My Uncle Herbert was really creative with the English language. He really confused me by slaughtering the wording of some local expressions. He’d say things like:
“I’d have loved to have been a mouse on the wall for that conversation.” Seems like it would have been hard to have gone unnoticed.
“You scratch your back and I’ll scratch mine,” which is interchangeable with, “One back scratches the other,” and caused me to wonder if I was part of a family of contortionists.
“He was running around like a chicken with his leg cut off.” Sounds like a poultry entrée they might serve at IHOP.
“A stitch in time saves mine.” My what?
“From the tiny acorn comes the mighty elm.” Really, Uncle Herbert? Oak-kay.
Uncle Herbert once counseled me: “Don’t forget Joey, a fool and his mother are soon departed,” to which I replied, “Oh, Uncle Herbert, I’m sorry you and Grammy have to leave so soon.”