11 Obscure Regional Phrases We All Should Start Using

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Now that you’ve added those 19 distinctly American words to your vocabulary, here are 11 more phrases from different linguistic regions around the country—courtesy of the wonderful Dictionary of American Regional English, edited by Joan Hall.

Keep in mind that these phrases are representative not only of a geographic region, but also of certain linguistic subsets, which split down generational, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. So if you’re a 25-year-old, chances are you may not have heard every phrase uttered by an octogenarian living across the state.

1. Stew the Dishrag

If you just found out you’ve got twelve guests coming over for dinner, you’d better hop-to and stew the dishrag, a phrase that means “to go to great lengths to prepare a meal, especially for unexpected guests” in parts of the Midwest. Another way of saying a similar thing is to put the big pot on the little one, dish-rag and all.

2. Feel Like a Stewed Witch

In much of the South, after a rough night’s sleep or a little too much hooch, you might wake up, stretch, rub your head and declare that you feel like a stewed witch, a wonderful phrase that means pretty much exactly what it sounds like: pretty icky. A variation on this theme is to feel like a boiled owl.

3. Vomiting One's Toenails

In several regions of the U.S., people have been describing the act of barfing violently or copiously as vomiting one’s toenails—a phrase that, to anyone who’s participated in that action, feels uncomfortably apt. In parts of Texas, they’re partial to vomiting one’s socks, which means the same thing.

4. On the Carpet

If you’re on the mid-Atlantic seaboard and you just can’t wait to tie the knot—to get married! to strap on that ball-and-chain!—you’re said to be on the carpet, a phrase that means just itchin’ to get hitched.

5. Sonofabitch Stew

Should you find yourself stewing the dishrag with not much in your pantry, you may have to make a big batch of sonofabitch stew, which describes a soup made from pretty much anything you happen to have lying around. That sort of meal is also described as rascal stew, Cleveland stew, and, according to a 1942 article in Gourmet magazine, son-of-a-gun stew—should you find yourself “in the presence of a lady.”

6. Democrat Hound

In parts of New England, calling someone a democrat hound suggests he’s an otherwise intelligent animal who has taken up the wrong scent, like when a rabbit hound chases a fox.

7 & 8. That Dog Won’t Hunt / That Cock Won't Fight

Next time you’re in the Ozarks or Texas and someone comes up with a bad idea, go ahead and tell them that dog won’t hunt, a satisfying phrase describing an idea that simply won’t succeed. Also, if you want to stretch your linguistic legs a bit, try out that cock won’t fight, which means basically the same thing.

9. Buck Beer

Those of you who’ve chanced into a German beer bar recently, possibly in the Midwest, may have had occasion to use the old-timey phrase, buck beer, to describe a good draught of the strongest stuff on tap—so called because it causes the drinker to caper, leap and, well, buck.

10. (Not Enough Sense to) Pound Sand Down a Rathole

In New York state, if you don’t have enough sense to pound sand down a rathole, you’re probably in some sort of trouble and not getting out of it any time soon. It means you don’t have enough sense to do the simplest thing.

11. Whoopity Scoot

If you need to get some place in a hurry—lickety-split, pell mell, on the double!—you’d better whoopity scoot, a phrase that means to move rapidly, but not necessarily with any grace. Any Missourians still use this one?
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What words or phrases from your neck of the woods should the rest of us start using?

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May 10, 2012 - 8:11pm
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