National News

High cotton and southern language

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-23 01:00

Often it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  And on a recent reporting trip to South Carolina, I was reminded that in the rural south, how you say things can be an art. A few examples from listeners:

“Frog Strangler” -  a heavy rainstorm where even a frog would have a hard time getting out of it.  (Andy Grabel, who grew up in Georgia)

“Even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while”  -  basically means even the most incompetent of us can luck out.  (Fernando Pizzaro, who grew up all over the South)

“They’re living in high cotton,” - meaning their lives are pretty cushy and they’re doing well. Or “I’m feeling low cotton today,” meaning I’m having a bad day.   (Leslie Criss – Tupelo Mississippi)

It’s not a coincidence that nature and agriculture figure so prominently in many southern idioms. Economic realities can leave linguistic marks, and the language of the South is a window into its economic past.

“The south was much more rural than other areas,” says Walt Wolfram, professor of Linguistics at North Carolina State University and author of "Talkin' Tar Heel." “So because farming was such an important part of the culture, there are a lot of terms related to things like weather and farming and so forth.”

The phrase "stubborn as a Missouri mule" came about during a time when Missouri exported mules. The phrase "chopping in high cotton" or "living in high cotton" refers, according to some explanations, to the fact that if the cotton had grown high, the crop was abundant and a field worker would be shaded from the scorching sun. 

In southern fishing towns you get expressions incorporating the wind and the water and the fishing economy.

“It’s draped over occupations, the economy, lifestyle really,” says Gill. 

Some expressions seem to derive from the strong work ethic required for farming. It’s hard work and there’s little time or patience for slacking or whining. 

“People that want by the yard but try by the inch, should be kicked by the foot” -  If someone wants by the yard, it means “they want an enormous amount for a minimal effort, so they need to be kicked by a good foot.”   (Reggie McDaniel, Mullins South Carolina)

I would put the following phrase in the same category of work-ethic related expressions.

"When you run into someone who’s grouchy, give them a big smile and say, 'You can just get happy in the same britches you got mad in.'"  (Leslie Criss)

Perhaps otherwise put, "Snap out of it and get with the program."

Some southern expressions have made their way into broader usage. 

"Bless your heart." – Basically that means you’re too dimwitted to know any better. I think I love that one because it epitomizes the southern way of being a little bit catty but not wanting to sound too mean.  (Danelle Lane, Charlotte North Carolina)

(This famous expression may, however, actually owe its origins to the English.)

Many linguistic gems are fading.

“You don’t find these expressions nearly as much in urban areas in the South as you do in rural areas,” says Wolfram. “So the divide between the rural and urban south is in some ways becoming as sharp between the divide between northern and southern speech.”

In part it’s because more northerners are moving into Southern cities, but also some expressions just don’t seem to make it from grandparents and parents to their children as much. 

Wolfram says he hopes that southern speech – which, he adds, is quite alive and well - becomes more recognized as one of the treasures the south has to offer, and a piece of its heritage:

“There was a period in the south where some people were ashamed of talking southern, but I hope we can celebrate southern speech as part of its culture and history.”

Here are some of my favorite southern expressions and some from listeners.  Feel free to add your favorite in the comments. 

  • A long row to hoe – a difficult task
  • All hat and no cattle – all talk/show
  • Drunker than Cooter Brown – They say Cooter Brown lived on the dividing line between north and south during the Civil War. He had family on both sides and so didn’t want to fight. So he got drunk and stayed drunk for the whole Civil War so nobody would draft him.
  • Wish? Wish in one hand and pee in the other and see which one fills up first! – wishing won’t get you anywhere. The implication being you have to work for it.
  • Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – assuming everything goes right. “See you next time Grandma!” “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!”
  • Worthless as nipples on a boar hog - useless
  • Might could – possibly, a noncommittal maybe
  • Lost as a ball in high weeds – to describe someone who is very confused, hopelessly out of the loop or doesn’t know what they’re doing.
  • I wouldn’t care to – I’d be happy to
  • Crooked as a barrel of fish hooks – an untrustworthy, corrupt person
  • Catch the Devil – to have a rough/bad time

CORRECTION: The state where Andy Grabel grew up was misidentified. The text has been corrected.

Conflicting Obamacare Rulings Set Stage For Supreme Court Face-Off

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Two federal appeals courts issued conflicting views of the subsidies available under Obamacare. The problem is the language in one subsection of the 950-page law — boiling down to just three words.

» E-Mail This

Airlines Cancel Service To Israel Amid Heightened Aviation Safety Concerns

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

A number of major airlines have suspended service to and from Tel Aviv as the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza intensifies. That's leaving passengers to find other arrangements.

» E-Mail This

U.S. Intelligence Tracking What Happened To Flight MH17

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Senior U.S. intelligence officials say they have proof that a surface-to-air missile was launched when the airliner went down and have ID'd people in a recorded conversation implicating the culprits.

» E-Mail This

Long GOP Primary Season Gives Democrats Time To Fill Campaign Coffers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

If Democrats lose control of the Senate this fall, it likely won't be for lack of campaign money. The prominent female candidates in particular have healthy campaign accounts.

» E-Mail This

The Challenge Of Keeping Tabs On The NSA's Secretive Work

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Congress is supposed to hold U.S. spy agencies accountable. But as Edward Snowden's disclosures revealed, intelligence officials have not always provided a full or accurate picture.

» E-Mail This

Atlantic City's Casino Crisis: A Cautionary Tale

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

With the announcements of the planned closures of the Showboat and Trump Plaza casinos, the New Jersey town that once had the monopoly on gaming in the northeast is at a crucial turning point.

» E-Mail This

5 Managers Detained In Shanghai Expired-Meat Scandal

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Chinese regulators suspended operations at Shanghai Husi Food, owned by Illinois-based OSI group. State media reported that stale meat was packaged for sale under "tacit approval" of senior managers.

» E-Mail This

How A Chokehold, Aka Neck Restraint, Is Supposed To Work

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

After a New York man died during a police takedown, police trainers say properly administered "neck restraint" moves do not result in choking and are safer than alternatives like Tasers.

» E-Mail This

Obama Adviser: Civilian Toll In Mideast Makes Cease-Fire Critical

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Steve Inskeep speaks with President Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken about the administration's next moves in Gaza and Ukraine.

» E-Mail This

Taking Stock Of 2 Tech Giants: What's Next For Apple And Microsoft

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Microsoft's new CEO is getting a lot of love from Wall Street, but the company is struggling to stay relevant. And Apple has found its footing again, mostly through a massive stock buyback program.

» E-Mail This

Congress And Biden Aim For Job Training That Actually Leads to Jobs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

Vice President Joe Biden has been traveling the country to learn about the best ways to train workers. He announced the results Tuesday as the president signed a workforce training bill into law.

» E-Mail This

What Do The New Obamacare Rulings Mean For People Getting Subsidies?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-23 00:45

The Affordable Care Act was the subject of two conflicting court opinions Tuesday. One upheld the subsidies that help middle- and low-income people afford health insurance; the other rejected them.

» E-Mail This

Former CEO David Perdue Wins Georgia's GOP Senate Runoff

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 19:46

Businessman David Perdue has defeated longtime Rep. Jack Kingston, setting up a matchup against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn that will help determine which party controls the Senate

» E-Mail This

Fruit Recall Hits Trader Joe's, Costco, Wal-Mart Stores

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 16:03

The recall applies to "certain lots of whole peaches (white and yellow), nectarines (white and yellow), plums and pluots" from a California packing company, the FDA says.

» E-Mail This

Flight MH17: U.S. Builds Its Case; Plane Wreckage Reportedly Cut Apart

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:57

A U.S. spy satellite detected a surface-to-air missile in the area just before the plane went down. Detailed forensic analysis on the wreckage may be complicated; it's reportedly been cut apart.

» E-Mail This

Maine City Council Votes To Keep Tar Sands Out Of Its Port

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:51

South Portland, Maine, has blocked crude oil from being loaded onto ships at its port. Environmentalists are cheering, but the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corp. says the ban won't hold up in court.

» E-Mail This

On Immigration, America's Concerns Are Fiery But Fleeting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 14:36

In a recent Gallup poll, most named immigration the biggest problem confronting the nation. But past periods of heightened worries have been brief — and haven't brought about solutions.

» E-Mail This

3 ways Harvard President Drew Faust measures colleges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:51

By 2015, the Obama administration will evaluate colleges on average tuition cost, low-income student enrollment, graduation rates and job earnings after graduation.

When they released this proposal last year, the higher education community generally disagreed with their criteria. One strong critic is Drew Faust, the president at Harvard University. Here are some measurements she thinks are important to consider:

Measurement: Jobs, but not salaries.

Faust is not opposed to focusing on kinds of work students can do after they graduate. However, she believes emphazing earnings at a first job distorts the picture.

"Some of our economists at Harvard have done analysis of this, and find that you really only begin to get an accurate reflection of lifetime earnings if you look at 10 years out. So I think they’re looking hard at more nuanced ways of measuring output of education.”

Measurement: The percentage of students on financial aid.

Of course, she cites the stats from Harvard: They accepted 5.9 percent of the 24,294 applicants for the entering class of 2014, and Faust says they have expanded financial aid programs so that those select few can actually afford to enroll.

"We have a financial aid policy that supports 60 percent of our undergraduates," she said. "They pay an average of $12,000 a year."

Faust also said that about 20 percent of Harvard's class makes no parental or family contribution at all.

Measurement: How digital-forward teaching is.

The big push at Harvard right now is digital — Harvard edX, where anyone can take classes from their computer. Faust says this provides acess to the knowledge and research for students, researchers and educators around the globe. 

"We get many students from Asia and Europe," she says, "and our students expect to live their lives and practice their professions and fields in a global environment."

Faust also says learning and "the fundamental value of learning and challenging ourselves in the realm of research and relating our research and teaching" are key principles to any education system. She thinks its better to focus on how education and learning can better a student, rather than how much they will make.

It's illegal to work in August...for Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

We've all heard Congress is in recess more than it's actually in session, but there's more to the story.

It turns out Congress working during August is actually against the law.

Congress will recess for its summer break next Friday because the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 says it has to  according to the Washington Post.

In fact the House and Senate shall recess, "not later than July 31 of each the second day after Labor Day."




KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.


Drupal theme by ver.1.4