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11 Idioms for Exhausted from Across the United States

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Just because you’re tired doesn’t mean your language has to be. With some help from our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we’ve come up with 11 “tired” regional idioms for the next time you’re feeling all-gone, dragged out, done in, or just plain dusted.

1. ALL IN BUT ONE’S SHOESTRINGS

A phrase that means totally done in or hanging by a thread. Variations include all in but one’s shoelaces and all in but one’s bootstraps. This term is chiefly used in the North with quotes in DARE from Wisconsin, Vermont, Illinois, New York, and Washington.

2. POOHED OUT

This North Central and Upper Midwest expression means “to fail, grow weak or tired, come to nothing.” DARE notes that the “pooh” part might be a corruption of poop. Poop (out), meaning to break down or stop working, originated in the late 1920s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The sense of “to tire, exhaust” is from about 1931. The earliest quote in DARE of pooh out is from 1930 when the saying started as college slang and was particularly “common at Oberlin.”

3. WAGGED OUT

While to wig out means to freak out or get overly excited, to be wagged out or waggy is the opposite. This phrase is especially used in Maine and Massachusetts. A quote from 1877 says it means to be tired or worn out, “as if finished wagging.” A quote from 1968 suggests that waggy is more akin to feeling “mental or physical distress, agitation, discomfort, or illness,” and is similar to streaked, a term used chiefly in New England.

More weary out combos include beat out (especially used in New England), given out (used in the South and South Midland), pegged out (with quotes from Maine, Vermont, Arkansas, and Maryland), and puckered out, which is an alteration of tuckered out.

4. COOPERED UP

The next time you’re stiff, unable to move, or just plain exhausted, you can say you’re coopered up. A 1959 quote from Vermont History says the term is “from the days of barrel making or coopering.”

Other enervated idioms that use “up” include gone up, with quotes from Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, New York, and the Mississippi Valley, and janted up, with a quote from Kentucky.

5. AUSGESPIELT

Ausgespielt is the past participle of the German ausspielen, “to play out, play to the end.” In addition to meaning “very tired,” it might refer to something “finished” or “broken,” whether literally (“The potatoes are _____” or “My sewing machine is _____”) or figuratively (“If a man loses interest in a girl and stops seeing her,” the relationship is ausgespielt), according to quotes in DARE.

6. SHABBY

If you've got a touch of the blahs, you could say you’re feeling shabby. This term you might hear in the South is Scots in origin, says DARE, while shabby—meaning dingy, worn, or faded—might come from the German schäbig, meaning, you guessed it, "shabby."

7. GOOPY

You could also say you’re feeling goopy, another term for general ickiness. It could also refer to something sticky or smeared, or weather that’s unpleasant. Another meaning for the word goopy, according to the OED, is stupid or “fatuously amorous.”

8. LIMBER

Limber doesn’t just mean flexible. In the South and South Midland, it might mean limp, weak, and exhausted, and is often used in the phrase limber as a dishrag.

9. FLAXED

You might get flaxed out from flaxing around. To flax (out) means to become tired or weary, while flax (around) means to hurry and bustle. Flax (out) has quotes from New England and Ohio, and flax (around) is chiefly used in the North and especially New England.

10. WHITE-EYED

White-eyed, meaning exhausted or worn out, might mainly be heard in the Appalachians. A quote from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English says the phrase “began as a description of one who became faint from fieldwork in the sun and gets pale around the eyes and mouth.”

11. SENT FOR AND COULDN'T COME

Feeling indisposed? Out of sorts? Exhausted? You could say you’re feeling like you were sent for and couldn’t come. Used especially in the South and South Midland states, one 1993 quote likened the phrase to “what younger people nowadays call ‘a bad hair day.’”

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Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Beyond “Buffalo buffalo”: 9 Other Repetitive Sentences From Around The World
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Famously, in English, it’s possible to form a perfectly grammatical sentence by repeating the word buffalo (and every so often the place name Buffalo) a total of eight times: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo essentially means “buffalo from Buffalo, New York, who intimidate other buffalo from Buffalo, New York, are themselves intimidated by buffalo from Buffalo, New York.” But repetitive or so-called antanaclastic sentences and tongue twisters like these are by no means unique to English—here are a few in other languages that you might want to try.

1. “LE VER VERT VA VERS LE VERRE VERT” // FRENCH

This sentence works less well in print than Buffalo buffalo, of course, but it’s all but impenetrable when read aloud. In French, le ver vert va vers le verre vert means “the green worm goes towards the green glass,” but the words ver (worm), vert (green), vers (towards), and verre (glass) are all homophones pronounced “vair,” with a vowel similar to the E in “bet” or “pet.” In fact, work the French heraldic word for squirrel fur, vair, in there somewhere and you’d have five completely different interpretations of the same sound to deal with.

2. “CUM EO EO EO EO QUOD EUM AMO” // LATIN

Eo can be interpreted as a verb (“I go”), an adverb ("there," "for that reason"), and an ablative pronoun (“with him” or “by him”) in Latin, each with an array of different shades of meaning. Put four of them in a row in the context cum eo eo eo eo quod eum amo, and you’ll have a sentence meaning “I am going there with him because I love him.”

3. “MALO MALO MALO MALO” // LATIN

An even more confusing Latin sentence is malo malo malo malo. On its own, malo can be a verb (meaning “I prefer,” or “I would rather”); an ablative form of the Latin word for an apple tree, malus (meaning “in an apple tree”); and two entirely different forms (essentially meaning “a bad man,” and “in trouble” or “in adversity”) of the adjective malus, meaning evil or wicked. Although the lengths of the vowels differ slightly when read aloud, put all that together and malo malo malo malo could be interpreted as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a wicked man in adversity.” (Given that the noun malus can also be used to mean “the mast of a ship,” however, this sentence could just as easily be interpreted as, “I would rather be a wicked man in an apple tree than a ship’s mast.”)

4. “FAR, FÅR FÅR FÅR?” // DANISH

Far (pronounced “fah”) is the Danish word for father, while får (pronounced like “for”) can be used both as a noun meaning "sheep" and as a form of the Danish verb , meaning "to have." Far får får får? ultimately means “father, do sheep have sheep?”—to which the reply could come, får får ikke får, får får lam, meaning “sheep do not have sheep, sheep have lambs.”

5. “EEEE EE EE” // MANX

Manx is the Celtic-origin language of the Isle of Man, which has close ties to Irish. In Manx, ee is both a pronoun (“she” or “it”) and a verb (“to eat”), a future tense form of which is eeee (“will eat”). Eight letter Es in a row ultimately can be divided up to mean “she will eat it.”

6. “COMO COMO? COMO COMO COMO COMO!” // SPANISH

Como can be a preposition (“like,” “such as”), an adverb (“as,” “how”), a conjunction (“as”), and a verb (a form of comer, “to eat”) in Spanish, which makes it possible to string together dialogues like this: Como como? Como como como como! Which means “How do I eat? I eat like I eat!”

7. “Á Á A Á Á Á Á.” // ICELANDIC

Á is the Icelandic word for river; a form of the Icelandic word for ewe, ær; a preposition essentially meaning “on” or “in;” and a derivative of the Icelandic verb eiga, meaning “to have,” or “to possess.” Should a person named River be standing beside a river and simultaneously own a sheep standing in or at the same river, then that situation could theoretically be described using the sentence Á á á á á á á in Icelandic.

8. “MAI MAI MAI MAI MAI” // THAI

Thai is a tonal language that uses five different tones or patterns of pronunciation (rising, falling, high, low, and mid or flat) to differentiate between the meanings of otherwise seemingly identical syllables and words: glai, for instance, can mean both “near” and “far” in Thai, just depending on what tone pattern it’s given. Likewise, the Thai equivalent of the sentence “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?” is mai mai mai mai mai—which might seem identical written down, but each syllable would be given a different tone when read aloud.

9. “THE LION-EATING POET IN THE STONE DEN” // MANDARIN CHINESE

Mandarin Chinese is another tonal language, the nuances of which were taken to an extreme level by Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese-born American linguist and writer renowned for composing a bizarre poem entitled "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den." When written in its original Classical Chinese script, the poem appears as a string of different characters. But when transliterated into the Roman alphabet, every one of those characters is nothing more than the syllable shi:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The only difference between each syllable is its intonation, which can be either flat (shī), rising (shí), falling (shì) or falling and rising (shǐ); you can hear the entire poem being read aloud here, along with its English translation.

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