Tennessee Mountain Stories

Appalachian Pride

I recently read a news article about a West Virginia University professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  It was entitled “A push to restore pride in the way Appalachians speak”. (professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  Now if you’ve been reading my blog you’ll know this is a subject close to my heart and you’ll probably hear me talk about it again.  But today’s article really grew into more – as they so often do!

In 1975 June Carter Cash released an album entitled Appalachian Pride.  I confess, I never knew this song but was thrilled when I came across the lyrics which talk about an Appalachian man living in Chicago and dealing with, “Dirty movies, credit cards and bills past due again”; so he pulled up stakes and went home to the mountains where they don’t have much money but there’s “ham in the smokehouse, some flour in the bin, molasses, cans and beans until the crop comes in,” and they have their dignity.

Country music has celebrated the pride of the South for years, unfortunately, too many lyrics were written about the sadder side of the mountains and I’m not sure they’ve done a lot to truly encourage us to be proud of our mountain heritage.  Not to fear, we didn’t need them to tell us who we are and where our worth comes from.

A lot of research has been done on the culture of the Appalachian Mountains and the findings for many years said the people were disconnected from the civilized world, impoverished and uneducated.  Again and again one movement or another has wanted to go in and fix the whole people.  The beauty of what Doctor Hazen is writing is that we are not a people to fix but rather a culture to appreciate. 

And that’s what we are doing here, isn’t it - appreciating the mountain people!

As more objective research comes to light, we begin to see that those remote communities really preferred their isolation.  These were people who chose to live in the mountains and to maintain their own culture.  This is not unlike city neighborhoods where immigrants from one nation or another settled together.  The Chinese or Italian or Irish people went out into the city and took jobs and blended into the American melting pot through the day then went home and ate the food, celebrated the traditions and spoke the language of their homeland.  The ancestry of the mountains is strongly Scotch-Irish and those people simply clung to their own traditions and language in their mountain home.

The University of South Carolina published a dictionary of Southern English which I found absolutely fascinating both in what it included as well as what I did not find.  I’ve bookmarked that site and will refer to it many times, I’m sure.  I made a short list of words common to us that were not included there and then I conducted a little poll asking if others knew these words.  I’ll be interested to hear from some of you readers whether you’ve encountered these terms in other parts of the world.

Poke is something you can carry your groceries home in.  The Scottish know that word, and Midwesterners were familiar with it but surprisingly a Mississippian did not.  I began to wonder if this was truly an Appalachian word but a Californian did not recognize it.

Arsh Taters are the staple, starchy vegetable of most of our meals.  I always imagined arsh was our version of Irish, and my Mississippi resource called them Irish but no one else I polled gave them a name at all.  Perhaps that is because Sweet Potatoes are so truly southern that other regions never needed to differentiate. 

Set a great store by is a great way to measure the value you place on a person or object.  Neither Mississippi nor California used this phrase but it was familiar to Scotland, and the Midwest. 

Of course, this wasn’t really a scientific sampling since I only asked one person from each region.  And I didn’t throw Y’uns, Coil Oil, or Pone at them. Are those three common to all of you?

Long time readers will recall the novel I presented a little over a year ago, The Lewis Story.  I wrote that in the mountain vernacular and it was a challenge for me.  Speaking our dialect is as natural as breathing, but I’ve never been allowed to write it.  However, as I’m editing that work in preparation to publish an eBook I am realizing that the use of your native speech really does add a sense of authenticity to the story.  I hope you think so as well, and I look forward to your reviews of that book when it publishes in a couple of months.

The Bible urges Christians to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).  Perhaps we ought to also be ready to answer where we’re from and why we’re proud of it.