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Appalachian Cackleberries (minicast)

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Martha reminisces about her family’s mountain roots while dipping into the delicious vocabulary of Southernisms found in The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. When ya’ll listen to this one, you’ll find out what a “cackleberry” is — and why you don’t want to drink milk that’s “blinky.”

You can read excerpts from The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, and hear audio of Southern Appalachian speakers circa 1939 at Michael Montgomery’s site.

To see the log cabin where Martha’s dad was born, check out the photo on her blog.

This article in the Tennessee Alumnus by someone else from that region is also a lot of fun.

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  • Wow,
    this one really got my attention. Of course we always have some difference of vocabulary used among the accents in a certain language, but i’d never thought about it before hearing this one. Having english as a foreigner language, it’s really stopped me from thinking about this stuff. As its not my own language, i think sometimes that there is only one way of saying things and i dont care much with the accents, and if i dont understand a “new” english, that doesnt mean it was a different one, but that means i dont know enough english. I dont know if i was clear, but my point is that its very good to see that native speakers face this kinda situation sometimes. And if i dont understand some english, that might mean its just different form the one im used to.

  • Thanks for your comment, Jorge. That podcast was especially dear to my heart, so I’m glad it got you thinking! And yes, sometimes it’s hard to understand someone from another region of the USA, or a different era — and even tougher to understand the English in other English-speaking countrie

    I imagine that as a Brazilian, you’d run into the same thing in parts of Portugal, no?

  • Yeah, that definitely happens with us, brazilians
    i gotta an aunt who has been linving in portugal for many years, and her husband is portuguese… its really hard to understand him… it seems that the language is completely another one!

    The same happens with the portuguese from the south of brazil. I myself think its very hard to understand them as well. As they r very close to argentina and uruguay and they have received lots of immigrants from all over the world, their portuguese is different, sometimes i think they r speaking spanish and i have to take all my attention in order to understand them.

    I might be mistaken, but i still think, although there r lots of differences, that its harder to understand a guy from portugal than you americans understand someone from UK.

  • Like you, I come from generations of Appalachians, although I was born in Indiana a year after my parents left West Virginia. Your podcast reminded me of years ago, when I took a South Dakotan to eastern Kentucky and West Virginia — and had to explain what people were saying for much of the trip. She simply could not understand the accent. I remember during a tour at Shakertown (Pleasant Hill), I did simultaneous translation of the tour guide’s entire talk. I’ve often claimed to be multilingual because I speak Hillbilly. Anyhow, thanks for bringing this way of speech to others’ attention.

  • Great story, Deborah. I remember Shakertown well! Reminds me of an interview I did years ago at Barbara Kingsolver’s farm in Southeastern Virginia. She was talking about all the prejudice against folks with Appalachian accents — how they’re one of the last groups it’s still considered OK to make fun of. But it’s quite a heritage indeed, isn’t it?

  • Hey,

    I grew up in Oklahoma, but some of the expressions you mentioned are so powerful that they made it all the way there.

    Especially, I remember “cackleberries,” and “gullywasher.” In the area I grew up, gullywashers really could cause damage by washing gullies through fields we were trying to raise crops in.

    And while “clodbuster” was used, it referred to a farmer, especially one who was not particularly rich.

    It looks like really descriptive (or just fun) words can make some big journeys on their own.

  • I couldn’t find this podcast episode available in ITunes this past week. Are the podcasts generally going to be made available there in the future? Thanks y’all.


  • Hi, Larry — I’ve heard of “sodbuster” for a farmer, but not ‘clodbuster.”

    Andrew – The iTunes feed is working now, right?

    And Michael, yup, I sure have!

  • My Dad, who was more Aussie than Paul Hogan or Steve Irwin, used to call eggs “cackleberries” as well.

    Convergent evolution is more likely than Dad picking up Appalachian slang, I think!

  • In “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music” authors Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg recount a anecdote of somebody praying in an Appalachian Church for “a clodbuster, but dear Lord, don’t give us no gullywasher!” suggesting a difference in degree of severity between the two. The words themselves suggest different meanings. One softens the soil, the other sweeps it downstream.

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