Thursday, September 11, 2008


This is a glimpse of an old house on Gwynn's Island. Below is a glimpse into some of the words and sayings I've grown accustomed to here in Mathews. Both are a dying breed.

Not until I left Mathews and went to college did I realize how unusual some of our expressions are. I had no idea, for example, that saying someone or somebody was as ugly as a mud fence could cause confusion. My roommate looked stunned the first time I said it. Then she wanted to know what a mud fence was, and just how ugly was it? I confess I have no idea, and I never stopped to think about it before she asked.

My mother's mother, if she were alive, would have been 100 years old this past Monday. She had the most wonderful accent, but she also had a very unusual way of saying certain words. For example:

"Push" was pronounced poosh.
"Bush" was pronounced boosh.
As in, "Don't you dare poosh your sister into that boosh."

I have to assume there were some Scottish or Irish folks that influenced that pronunciation, but it's quickly fading. I only rarely hear it any more.

Some other odd pronunciations coming from my mother and grandmother include:

Dunkey (donkey)
Predney (presently)
Hawse (horse)
Example: Predney that dunkey and hawse will need feedin'

Folks from Mathews contribute to this colorful kaleidoscope of sayings and pronunciations. I have a friend who always said "mersure" instead of "measure." She'd say "warsh" instead of "wash." Other people I know would say "poncil" (almost with a French accent) instead of "pencil." Many people to this day pronounce "house" or "mouse" as with a long "o" sound. Like "hoe" with a light "s" on the end.

Some of the expressions I grew up with are:

I'm as serious as a heart attack. (Pretty darn serious.)
Your bedroom looks like Hooraw's nest. (It's a disaster. Who or what is Hooraw? A bird?)
Your hair looks like the cat's been suckin' on it all night long. (You need a rake to comb that hair.)
Those vegetables are no count. (They're no good.)
You can't swing a dead cat without hitting fruit flies in this kitchen. (You have a fruit fly infestation.)
That cookie is harder than a brick bat. (You couldn't get your teeth through it.)

This is but a small sampling. I'm sure not all of these are unique to this area, but I suspect some of them are.

I'd love to compile more of these sayings and quirky pronunciations from the local area, and if I had the time I'd go out and interview people. I'm feeling a little too lazy to do that at the moment. For anyone reading this who has not yet fallen asleep, I would love to hear about any local sayings or odd pronunciations in your neck of the woods.

Right now, though, I must go deal with that no-count fruit fly infestation before I blow a gasket. There's more of them in my kitchen than you can shake a fist at.


Icey said...

And in spite of numerous trips to Mathews, I still have no idea what a mud fence is!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

That's me--"a blog administrator"--deleting my own comment above. Don't even ask.

Anyway, icey is my college roommate who broadened my horizons and made me realize that some of the things we say (and do, for that matter) appear odd to the outsider. To this day I don't know why I say "in the floor" instead of "on the floor" but evidently that is odd too.

Icey - come see me some time!

Keeper Of All Things said...

Why? Why do people insist on swinging dead cats??
I'ts just not right. And not much fun for the cat.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Keeper, I agree. I cringe whenever I hear it.

Bear Naked said...

My dear husband whose first language is French USED to say, "I'm going to broom the floor."
Drove me crazy.
After many years, he finally has learned to SWEEP the floor with a broom.

Bear((( )))

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

BN - Tell your husband any time he wants to broom the floor, I have plenty of floor here that needs brooming!

bobbie said...

My mother sometimes told me that I was "talking like a bunch of grapes".

And when she was exasperated with the way I dressed she'd tell me I looked like "Tillie off the pickle boat".

She would also tell people that she was "not so green as I'm cabbage looking".

If you're from Pittsburgh, you say "the floor needs vacuum". In fact, there is a nice little book out, giving many examples of Pittsburghese.

tj said...

...Oh you don't really want me to get started on this sort of thing CBW. Between my own crazy slightly dysfunctional family and my husband, needless to say I've got an arsenal of ' ;o)

...In his single days, my husband had a term for really gross women. He'd say, "she's a double bagger". Meaning not only would you put a bag on her head but you'd put a bag on your own head just in case hers fell

...My grandma would say, "it sounded like a long tailed cat in a room full of rockin' chairs"...

...Or, "I looked like a pair of sneakers in a room full of party shoes"...

...Or, "she was outta here like her pants were on fire and her a** was a catchin'"...

...Or, "he's as ugly as the northside of a southbound donkey"...

...Or, how about I quit now because it'll just get Loved the "mud fence" reference, I'll have to share that one with my husband...

...Have a great day CBW! Blessings... :o)

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Bobbie - I'm going to use that bunch of grapes one, I really like it.

TJ - Lordie, girl, you are funny. You need to keep going, your list is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Bobbie started down the Pennsylvania road. I was also going to note the grammatical error common in Central PA (and I've seen it in print in their newspapers too) of "my hair needs washed" (verus needs to be washed, or needs washing). I didn't know it was wrong until I got to college and a friend from Long Island called me out on it.

My mom always says "serious as a heart attack." Another one of hers that I love is "bouncing around like a fart in a mitten." As in, all crazy and wired up, I guess.

And our plural for a group of folks? In Central PA, it's you'uns, but in Pittsburgh it's pronouned yi'ins. (Right, Bobbie?) In the south it's y'all.

This is fun, I know I have more... do keep this topic on tap so we can add more as we think of 'em!

Anonymous said...

CBW - I don't have time to leave an extensive list today - maybe I will go with you to interview people in the surrounding counties and we can make a book out of these colloquialisms! I LOVE THEM!!

I WILL share a new one that I heard on my trip last week from a fellow King & Queener......He was frustrated with the way he had been treated, and said,"That just torques my jaws"! Bahahahaha!

Anonymous said...

HAAA! Don't EVEN get me started on the variations of the word PENCIL..How many times throughout childhood did a fellow student ask if I " had a PYOWWNCIL up in that bag?"...and how many times do I still to this day hear "Pouncil", "perncil","Peyounctzil"...I could go on, and on, and on....My favorite phrase, which I find myself saying quite often is "I'm dizzier 'n a fart in the wind!"
Baby Sis

Anonymous said...

Great post CBW,
My grandmother, who lived in Michigan all her life, but right on the Canadian border, said "dunkey" instead of donkey. Until I read your post I never knew anyone else to pronounce donkey that way.
She also used the "fart in a glove" reference along with "you're like a turd in a birdbath."
My favorite expression of hers was "You are bughouse Jones!" which was I think the same as saying "you are crazy."


Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

SINAF - Bouncing around like a fart in a mitten? Excellent, and I will soon be spreading that one around Mathews. The saying, that is, not the gas.

BHE - I just know you can add to this list. I think the book is a grand idea. Sign me up. First stop for interviews is the local nursing homes. It's the older people who have the best sayings.

Baby Sis - You are something else.

Folks, I am leaving this afternoon for a very exciting journey to a place I've never been and to an event that shall remain a secret. I've queued up some more Mathews pictures for tomorrow, but I will share the details (or rather, not many details but a story or two) of my adventures by early next week. Let's hope one of the stories does not include Chesapeake Bay Woman falling face first into a ten-gallon vat of cole slaw OR her stepping barefoot onto hot coals. You'll never guess where I'm going. (Sisters? Do not give away my secret please. I didn't mean what I said about y'all being stubborner than a mule. Really.)

Have a great weekend.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Hey, Momzombie - That's interesting about a Michigan use of dunkey. It just dawned on me that we pronounce monkey the same way, but it isn't considered unusual.

I find this whole thing fascinating.

Mental P Mama said...

We had some of those in Tennessee...

-It sounded like a cow pissing on a flat rock. (It was raining hard)

-Busier than a one-armed paper hanger. (Pretty busy)

- I haven't seen you in a month of Sunday's. (It's been a long time since I saw you)

-I am going to snatch you bald-headed. ( I am pretty mad at you right now)

I am just as fine as frog hair. (Response to 'how are you?')

This is fun!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

MPM - I totally forgot about "I'm gonna snatch you bald-headed!"

Love it.

Anonymous said...


count me in on the collecting these sayings and kudos to BHE for calling them by their correct name -colloquialisms.

I just love 'em!

"It's hot enough in here to bust a clam"

"I feel like I been rode hard and put away wet" (very tired -- like a work horse)

"She's gettin' her hips on her shoulders" (getting uppity and upset all at the same time)

"He's puffed up like a blow toad" (he's upset)

This is probably an original and not an actual standard Mathews turn of phrase, but it should be! I think my cousin in New Point said it first:
"Bless her heart, if somebody told her to haul a**, she'd have to make two trips!"

My dad always said 'poosh'. My mumma's father pronounced "cart" as "cyart", kind of like we say "cute". When the creek was still and smooth, it was "flat cam" instead of "flat calm"

I love the vanishing Mathews accent as well. I send my children down as much as possible, for "elocution lessons."

I have to correct them after they spend an afternoon with their aunt from NC who thinks "dog" is pronounced "dawug." I have no idea how to phonetically represent how a Mathews Countyman says "dog." But I've heard that we sound a little like Canadians with the way we say "house" "mouse" "out" and "about"

Apparently my accent is fluid, it comes and goes depending on whom I'm addressing. My college room-mates used to eavesdrop on my conversations with my parents, just to listen to my accent re-appear.

I've also heard it said that if you want the purest example of what Elizabethan English actually sounded like (as in Shakespeare) as far as pronunciation, go to Tangier Island and listen to the natives.

I was obviously way too serious as a child. I can remember (at the age of about 6 or 7) consciously deciding not to call my parents "Mom" and "Dad" as the midwesterners on TV did -- but instead to be true to my region and continue to call them "mumma" and "daddy" in the Mathews way.

thanks for another great post!

I think your blog is "the best thing since sliced bread"

anonymous Mathews native residing in the suburbs of Richmond.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

AMNrItSOR - Thank you as always for a wonderful contribution. My accent is fluid like yours, all depending on the audience, although now that I'm back here living it is starting to stick more.

Oh, and thanks for the reminder about those blow toads. When I used to go fishing as a kid, while everyone else was pulling in flounder, I was hookin' the blow toads. Nasty creatures, they are.

Not much more time on here before I leave for the grand adventure.

Unknown said...

There were a lot of really great little sayings. I can't think of any to add to your collection right this second, but I will try to come up with something tonight! Hope you have a happy weekend in Matthews!

Golden To Silver Val said...

Michigan here with some southern influences.
I don't give a rat's a$$ (I could care less)
I'm up the creek without a paddle (I'm screwed)
I'm a day late and a dollar short (woe is me)
Mean as a junkyard dog (that's pretty mean)
Madder than a wet hen (really angry)
High as a kite (pretty drunk or stoned)
As welcome as a red headed bastard at a family reunion (neglected and ignored)
Nutty as a fruitcake (crazy)
and I'll end this with.....
I'm so broke I can't pay attention.
This is fun. Thanks for bringing it up CBW. You're the cat's pajamas (really neat person)

Anonymous said...

These are good ones. I'd like to add Meaner than a setting hen, broke as a convict ( no finances), Fine as frog hair split 3 ways( my brother says that referring to a pretty woman) I'd dring her bath water( another phrase refering to a woman) tight as a tick ( when something is stuck or tight) cut the light off( turn the light off) One beer short of a six-pack ( someone is a little off) the elevator doesn't go all the way to the top, The lights are on and nobody is home.
My husband has a friend that says brayfast for breakfast and warsh for wash. He also says I didn't mean to defend anyone. It should be offend. My husband and I bust out laughing every time he says it.

bellalately said...

ahhhhhhhhh.....the "Bay" pronounciations kill me and I will have affection for them 'til my dying day.

My fav to "perform" for folks who "don't know" is "mumma, go lit de doog in da howse an' whyl yer at it, go fetch de crab pots too........."

Translation, "Mom, go let the dog in the house and go get the crab pots too."

*sigh* fond memories of my first true crush, a Mathews "wutah" man ;)

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

R - I know you have some. I didn't realize how many I had until I stopped to think about it for a minute. If I stopped for two minutes I'd come up with many more.

GTSV - Thanks for more great contributions. My favorite on your list is I'm so broke I can't pay attention....

Anonymous/aka Cats/aka my cousin (at least I'm guessing...) - Those are good ones too. I have not heard the brayfast one. Are you sure that person just has their lights on but nobody's home? Either way, it's good stuff.

Bella - You do an excellent rendition. I'd wager I might know that waterman friend of yours, and if I don't I have friends or family who do.

Bayman said...

I will always remember my Grandfather saying that he/she could talk the legs off of an iron pot. First of all, we must understand the concept of an iron pot. It resembles a cauldron, typicaly used in the old days to dump boiling oil on people trying to storm the walls of your castle. It has several stubs that stick out, which serve as feet. These are part of the vessel, and while they may corrode away faster than said pot, it would take an extremely long time for this to happen. Therefore, anyone capable of talking non-stop for a long time could be tagged as such. I happened to have the misfortune of being stuck in a long line with such a person, just the other day.

foolery said...

I'm very familiar with all of the Tennessee ones, most of the Michigan ones, and a lot of the others. However, they aren't so common among younger people here in my part of California. A few:

~ "homely as a mud fence" is how we say it
~ "beaten with an Ugly Stick"
~ "face caught fire and someone stamped it out with a golf shoe"
~ "butt-ugly"
~ "a mulligan" (a woman you dally with but get to take a soul-redeeming do-over for, as if it never happened -- it's a golf thing, the cheaters)

Guess we have a lot of ways to say UGLY here in California . . . NOOOOOOOO, we're not shallow, nope.

p.s. Knew a southern California family who said "terlet" for toilet. Don't know where that came from.