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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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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ

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