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Darrell Huckby: Language isn't as colorful as it used to be

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

My friend spent his teenage years in north Fulton County and was educated in a large Southern university -- but his early years were spent in New York state, so he has had a lot to overcome. He has done quite well, actually, except for his leftist political leanings. I can forgive him for that, however, by simply smiling and saying, he just doesn't know any better -- bless his heart.

Having said all of that, I will say this. I was surprised when Jim Hauck came up to me Monday with a touch of bewilderment in his voice and asked if I had ever heard the expression "hasn't hit a lick at a snake."

Well, yeah. Is the Pope Catholic? Is fat meat greasy? Does a brown bear go in the woods?

Not only had I heard of the expression, I had used it in print within the previous fortnight. (I'll save you having to look it up. It is two weeks.)

I think the most disappointing thing, to Jim, about my being familiar with the expression, was that his beautiful wife, Judy, had assured him that I would be -- along with anyone else who learned to say y'all before they learned to read. Our happy little morning encounter, however, set my mind to wandering and I began to wonder about other expressions that I use in casual conversation that might cause folks from other regions to scratch their heads and ponder.

For instance, about 35 years ago I moved to deep South Georgia for a couple of years. I'm talking way below the gnat line, understand. The first week I was there I had several people tell me that they would be "out of pocket" for the duration of the coming weekend. I had no idea what they were talking about. I finally figured out that they all would be busy, unavailable or otherwise engaged. In other words, they weren't going to help me move.

Nowadays "out of pocket" is a part of my everyday lexicon, especially when a friend -- or one of my children -- is going to move.

I started teaching school in 1974 and most of the kids I taught grew up hearing the same colloquialisms I was raised on. Not so, today. I can always tell when one of my students doesn't get one of my idioms by the puzzled expression on his or her face. Of course in the super-charged politically correct educational climate of today, I couldn't use a lot of the language I used when I began my teaching career -- or the language my teachers used with me.

I can't imagine what one of my students might think today if I threatened to "cloud up and rain all over you." Back in the day there would be no doubt as to the meaning of that expression. I wouldn't dare say to a student, "I'm going to jerk a knot in your tail if you don't straighten up," but I have been told that on numerous occasions. A few times I've had knots jerked in said tails, too -- but never when I didn't deserve it.

Colorful colloquial speech makes life interesting. We should use more of it and stop worrying about having to seem so sophisticated.

I went to school in the fourth grade with a man-child named Daniel Reed. On a class trip to Lake Spivey -- ask a native -- we had the good fortune to meet Officer Don Kennedy, of Popeye Club fame. He had on his uniform and whistle and everything. He shook Daniel's hand and said, "How do you do?"

Daniel said, "I do as I danged well please, how do you do?" and then he blew Officer Don's whistle, just to prove his point. I've never seen a more surprised celebrity.

My mama had a few expressions that I've not heard used very often. When she'd come in from a long day in the mill, all stove up from hovering over a stand of looms for eight hours, she would twist and turn and reach toward the ceiling and say, "I could stretch a mile if I didn't have to walk back." I didn't really get it then, but I do know.

When I would ask for a ride to an event a mere mile or two away her response would be "walking ain't crowded." That would be inevitably followed by "you'd better light a shuck," which I took to mean that I'd better get started soon.

Of course she had another expression of which I was not so fond. "If you don't stop your whimpering I'll give you something to cry about." I think that one is self-explanatory. She would too. I wish I had a dime for every time I've had to go cut a switch.

Alas, television and the interstate highway system have made most of these regional expressions a thing of the past, but if I can make it through five more weeks of school, I promise, I won't hit a lick at a snake all summer.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.