Sam Elmore


I have been asked many times about the Southwest Arkansas vernacular I use in speaking and writing. There have been many discussions, in my own family, about the way I use (some say mis-use) words.

My boy, who was off in college some years back, came home for the weekend. Idly wandering through the house one day, he picked up a yellow tablet and started to read the rough draft of a short story I was writing. After he'd eyeballed it for a while, he asked me: "Can't you write in English?"

Others have questioned particular words found in my stories. It is difficult to explain, because some of the words they question mean different things, depending on how you use them. I assumed they were not too happy with my response when they inquired: "Have you got something against using regular English?"

So that readers may more easily understand my style of writing, I include here a look at the way we talked when I was growing up. Some of the colloquialisms we used back then defy even a phonetic spelling; so, I use what I will call a 'fun-etic' spelling.

In no particular order then, here are some examples of the idiom I grew up listening to, and using, most every day. I also offer my version of how these words might be used in a sentence, in case the meaning isn't clear from the outset. I'll begin with a word, quite commonplace at our house, that has been the subject of several comments:

R'ern---used and spelled correctly, it means "ruin"; past tense, "ruined". However, the way it was used by us was: "r'ern" (for right now, or fixin' to be) and "r'ernt" (for after it was.)

Example: "I warned ye' about not measurin' the ye' done r'ernt the gravy!"

Clumb---past tense of "climb": "I bet ye' can't climb 'at saplin' yonder". "I bet I can, too; Todd clamb it jest t'other day....shoot, Baucum has already clumb it, an' he ain't but seb'm-year-old."

Kwar---that bunch of fine-lookin' folks what stand up 'ere behind the preacher ever' Sunday, and sang so purty.

Eh-rul---that wire thang that draws in the Grand Ol' Opry: "Bud, run out yonder an' dash some water on the ground-stake of the eh-rul....bat-try's gettin' weak ag'in."

(Note: water poured on the ground-stake does not help the battery at all; but it will give you a little better reception, for a brief; I don't know why.)

Helt---past tense of "hold": "I helt it right whur ye' tol' me to, and ye' still missed it!"

Holt---present tense of "hold": "Wa'al, git another holt on 'er then, and I'll try 'er ag'in."

Sump'm---A variation of "something": "You know good'n well that ain't what I meant; you jest tryin' to make sump'm outa nuthin'."

T'other---an alternative: "Makes no never-mind to me, one way or t'other."

Jill-flirt---another, more excruciating, version of "r'ernt"....(Used when "r'ernt" don't go far enough):

"Boy, what-in-the-world am I gon' do with ye'? First, ye' broke the froe; then ye' r'ernt the water-kag; now ye' done jill-flirted the dad-gum anvil!"

N'other'n---one more; another: "Naw thank ye', ma'am. I done et so many aw-ready, I couldn't eat n'air n'other'n if ye' helt a gun on me."

Orta---should've; ought to: "You boys orta knowed better'n to mess with 'at pole cat. Now git on away f'm' go wash 'at stuff off!"

'Neller---the essence extracted from the beans of a vanilla tree; used by Nabisco in the production of wafers. (See 'nanner).

'Ere---here; there; (pronounced "air" or "ear", depending on how you use it): "That does it! Now you march ye'se'f out 'ere (there) and cut me a switch!"....or, "Run tell Todd I said to come 'ere (here) quick."

Chunk---throw, toss, fling, or otherwise convey something through the air: "Where-at's the froe?" "Last I seen of it, Buddy chunked it at a salamander over in 'em jimson weeds yonder."

Thu---complete; finished: "It's 'bout time 'at minister got thu preachin'' lookin' square at me while he wass doin' it!"

N'air---nary; none: "I ast 'im, but he swears there ain't n'air one left." (When "n'air" and "one" are combined, as we did most of the time, it comes our "n'airn" in: "Don't ast me; I ain't got n'airn neither."

Serp---(See soggum).

'Nanner---a type of pudding, made with bananas, in which 'neller wafers play a vital role. (See 'neller).

Wawst---a flying insect with a stinger. There are several kinds of wawsts, an' all of 'em will put a hurtin' on ye'. (Wawst larvae make fine bait for bream and goggle-eye perch.)

D'rekly---an imprecise measurement of elapsed time: "Y'all go ahead....I'll be along d'rekly."

Ort'n---ought not; should not: "Ye' ort'n to stand so clos't to 'at rattlesnake layin' 'ere."

Once't---a single occurrence (or is it?); 'fun-etically': wunst: "If I've tol' ye' once't, I tol' ye' a hunderd times...." (Or, when writing an Arkansas fairy tale): "Once't upon a time, 'ere wuz this ol' boy f'm Hope what got cross-threaded with a porky-pine...."

Gre't---great; a non-specific indication of size; primarily used to denote larger dimensions: "He was a gre't big ol' boy...even when he was little."

Their'n---property which belongs to someone else: "That ain't your'n, it's their'n....don't monkey with it."

Ast---inquire; question: "I ain't got no idy...go ast ye' mammy."

Ye'---you; (or, depending on how used) your: "Look what I jest found! I bet ye' (you) ain't never seen nothin' like it in ye' (your) whole life."

'Em---them: "'At's right; ye' don't see ver' many of 'em thangs around no more, do ye'?"

'Ey---they: "Naw, 'ey jest about 'stinct."

Wrongsideoutwards---inside out; (pronounced, and generally used, like this : "Hot dang! Ol' Hulk Hogan jest about turned that Blue Cyclone wrong-suh-dow-'derds in 'at tag-team rasslin' match last night, didn't 'e?"

T'other'n---an alternative; the other one: "I'll keep a holt on this'n; you go ketch t'other'n."

Banch---a piece of plain furniture; a place to sit; often found beside picnic tables, and at highway rest stops. A popular breed of squirrel-dawg is known as "banch-legged" fiests. Federal Judges, like fourth-string football players, are said to be: "on th' banch."

Beeswax---business: "It ain't none-a yo' beeswax whut I do!"

Pol'n Chiney---a breed of black and white hawg that's never seen hide-nor-hair of Poland OR China; it is native to North America.

Brar---a thorny climbing plant; the roots are sometimes made into pipes, for smoking baccer with.

Ever'---every; all; (If used to describe the effects of a cyclone, it might accurately be said that): "Ever'-thang was goin' ever'-whutch-a-ways!"

Baccer---a cultivated plant; after curing, it can be chewed, dipped, sniffed, or smoked (rolled up in thin paper, or burnt in a brar pipe.)

Soggum---sorghum; a plant of the cane group; cultivated primarily for the purpose of harvesting it's sap, which has a substantial sugar content, and from which serp is made. (See serp.)

He'p---assist; render aid; (If one has already been assisted, one might say): "He's a good ol' boy, an' quick to he'p out. He hope me out a whole lot back when I was denned up with the ague."

Stid---in lieu of other alternatives; instead: "Ma'am, if ye' don't mind, I druther have soggum, stid-a that ol' maple serp."

'At---that; (one might use it thusly): "'at don't make a lick-a sense to me!" (See how easy 'at wuz?)

D'j'ever---did you ever; (One might elect to employ this word when asking something of vital importance, such as): "D'j'ever pick the feathers off'n a turtle's back thu a crack in the fence by the dark of the moon?"

Joguhfy---geography; study of the earth; a required school subject: "My li'l sister keeps all-a her re-seeps in her ol' seb'mth-grade joguhfy book."

Keer---Care; to have, or show, concern (or the absence thereof):
"I don't keer if the preacher did say it...'at don't make it gospel."

Blind peas---legumes which have been boiled with no lard, seasoning, or hawg meat what-so-ever: "D'j'ever try any-a them blind peas? There ain't a single eye of grease in th' whole pot...taste 'bout like last Monday's wash water."

Ap'---liable to; prone; likely: "He's ap' to tell ye' anythang; him an' the truth have always been total strangers."

Nuddun---one more; another: "Don't quit eatin' 'em biskits jest 'cause I did; git ye'se'f a nuddun."

Lakly---predictable; reasonable to assume (it) will occur: "More'n lakly, th' preacher'll come fer Sunday dinner; an' we done used th' last smear of lard on the whole place."

Rare---to raise; elevate: "She rare'd back n' fetched 'im a good- 'un...right in th' mouth!"

Make-ase---be expedient; make haste: "Sister, make-ase an' scrub them boys' ears; we leavin' for church d'rekly."

Re-seep---recipe; written instructions for the preparation of food: "Kin I bar ye' re-seep for hot-water cornbread n' side meat?"

Goodge---prod; poke; gouge: "You goodge me with 'at thang ag'in, I'm gon' whop ye' upside the head with this ranch!" (See ranch).

E'nin'---the later portion of the day; generally considered to be at, near, or soon after, the arrival of darkness: "Good E'nin' Miz Hattie....sho' is a nice night, id'n'it?"

Ain'che---are you not; haven't you; (Assume that you've hit your cousin upside th' head at a family reunion, and she's squalling. Your mama gets a-holt of ye' by the nap of th' neck in a firm grip, an' asks, ever-so-sweetly (followed by a question mark): "Ain'che sorry now ye' made her cry?" (The response is obvious, of course; whether it's honest or not is another matter.) The word "Ain'che" is not always followed by a question mark, though. Sometimes, it's in the form of a statement: "You've had ye'se'f a 'nother belly-full of that home brew, ain'che!"

Retch---attained; arrived at; reached; (always used in past tense): "By the time he retch the last line of "Star Spangled Banner", ol' Glen Campbell's tonsils was flat give out."

Arn---a hefty metal device, heated on the eye of a wood stove or in front of the fireplace, then used to remove wrinkles from clothing; (always preceded by the word 'smoothin''):

"Mercy! 'Em smoothin' arns weigh a ton after ye' arn for a good while, don't 'ey?"

Ranch---a variety of hand-tool; i.e. Crescent, Monkey, Stillson: "Hey, Bud---chunk me 'at Crescent ranch, will ya?"

(Now you see why some folks get confused when I elucidate about anything at all.)