Tennessee Mountain Stories

Ya’ Don’t Say

You know that I’m fascinated by the origins our our mountain speech and you may recall an article here where an early 20th century author related our language to that of classic poets.  Well last Sunday the pastor brought to my attention just how much of our language is borrowed directly from The Bible and I wanted to share some of those phrases with you.

The website Unlocking the Bible lists 37 phrases and gives their scriptural reference.  Many we’d probably immediately peg as biblical such as:  “An eye for an eye” and “Forbidden fruit”.  But did you know that “Nothing but skin and bones” comes straight out of Job 19:20?  I would have attributed “Rise and shine” to someone like Benjamin Franklin, however he probably borrowed it from Isaiah 60:1.  “Wash your hands of the matter” seems decidedly Appalachian to me yet it originated in Matthew 27:24 with Pilate’s attempt to distance himself from Jesus’ crucifixion. 

“Go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “Fly in the ointment” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) and “Wit’s end” (Psaslm 107:27) are so common I never gave any thought to their origin.

The website The Guardian doesn’t give the specific scriptural reference but offers a long list of phrases from the Bible which you might enjoy reading through.  “The powers that be,” “God forbid” and “Bottomless pit” often come from my mouth and I’m afraid I got them more from my mountain surroundings than directly from reading my Bible.

You know that I’m always a little fuzzy on which words and phrases are unique to the mountains – and I’m often asking ya’ll to tell me if you hear these things in your neck of the woods.  Since these lists came from off-the-mountain sources it makes me think they are widely used but I’m always eager to hear your input.

The Bible has fallen out of vogue in a lot of America today – specifically in main stream media.  I suppose I’ll be listening to those anchors and actors to hear how many bible-terms they use without even knowing they’re doing it.