Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Expat Living: "In search of an Ozark dialect"

Buffalo River River Trail Overlook
"Splendid Isolation"
Near Steel Creek, Boston Mountains
(Image from Wikipedia)

My most recent column for the Korea Herald's Expat Living section has posted online, but finding it there would be a chore since the site doesn't allow for direct links to specific articles, so I'm reposting it here for your edification, entertainment, and convenience:
In search of an Ozark dialect
American folklorist Vance Randolph, famous for "Pissing in the Snow" and getting off Scot-free, not only collected and published those off-color Ozark stories for which he is known, but also did groundbreaking scholarly work in 1929 on the Ozark dialect.

On field trips throughout the Ozarks in the southern United States, Randolph encountered many unusual words and expressions, much as did I growing up in those same rough hills, but I no longer remain convinced of a specifically Ozark dialect, though I currently have time to reconsider as I show my family around these mountains for two weeks.

In my youth, I yearned to believe that we Ozarkers spoke our own dialect, and I imagined myself to have uncovered empirical evidence during the summer of '76, when I turned nineteen and was working as a chainman for a surveying crew in the wild Ozark woodlands.

Mostly, my job entailed lugging chain, a surveyor's level, hatchet, plumb-bob, hammer, laths, stakes, and other equipment through thickets where I had to cut lines, or up and down steep hollows which threatened havoc to our measurements.

One tough place stretched along the isolated hollow of a spring-fed river where our crew sought a corner marker to set up the theodolite, and where I learned an unfamiliar word. Scrambling for our bearings, we asked an old hillbilly if he knew where the marker, a metal spike driven into the ground, was located.

"Yeah," he replied, his face wrinkling with concentration, "but ye got to go antigogglin' over that thar hill to get thar."

Anti-what!? I thought. But it was pretty clear what the old man intended -- the way was not straight, as we had figured all along.

But, for assurance, when I arrived home that evening, I checked with my septuagenarian grandmother, who confirmed that the word meant "crooked."

I imagined that I had found support for Randolph's thesis, but I eventually stumbled across antigogglin' in other Southern states, and gradually inferred that the word characterizes Southern speech patterns, rather than any specifically Ozark one.

This conclusion has ruined my life, and I have taken to staying out nights drinking to drown my hillbilly sorrows in moonshine and to write guilt-ridden songs like "Day Breakin'":
Oh, all night, I been out drankin',
now mah head's as thick as clay,
So I 'spec' mah woman's waitin'
with some high-tone words tuh say,
But I'd need uhn extra drank
tuh help me face that judgment day!
-- an' another shot uh whiskey
jus' might warsh mah sins away.

Oh, the mornin' light is growin',
but mah head fades more like dusk,
An' mah wife could blast mah lies
away like wind'll blast a husk,
Yeh, the judgment that's a-waitin'
can be swift an' sure an' brusque
-- so, jus' one more shot uh whiskey,
save mah soul from gettin' cussed.

Oh, the crack uh dawn is creakin'
an' mah min' could crack in two
At the thought uh whut that scornful
woman's scorchin' speech can do
-- She got words as sharp as arrows,
an' she aims each one so true!
-- yet uhn extra shot uh whiskey
save me on this rendevous.

Oh, the sun is fully risen,
an' it burns mah eyes like mace,
Hence mah wife is surely wearin'
now her godforsaken face,
So I'll need a further drank
afore I step into that place!
-- an' uhn added shot uh whiskey
jus' may bring mah soul tuh grace.

Yeh, all night, I been out drankin,
thus mah head's as thick as clay,
So I 'spec' mah woman's waitin',
got them high-tone words tuh say,
Sure I need that extra drank
tuh help me on this judgment day!
-- now, that partin' shot uh whiskey,
may it warsh mah sins away.
Maybe if I just keep on writing such antigogglin' songs, I can create my own durgenal Ozark dialect, but I shall have to face my tetchous wife to do so.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog, Gypsy Scholar, at -- Ed.
As for those who prefer not to reach me at my blog . . . well, too late now for regrets, but you can leave a comment expressing your dissatisfaction and informing me just how wrong I am -- a point that my Expat Living column will deal with next week, by the way.

Stay tuned...

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At 6:05 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Wow, Jeff, I've ended up going back and reading every post since the day before you came to Arkansas.I find it so poignant(sp?) to read your comments about your father. When I was growing up, my mom and dad would talk about your family and my mom would always brag on your mom and grandparents-bringing up all of you without a father's help. When we moved back to Salem, I then encountered the "legendary" Hodges boys. My dad always talked about your class like it was a "dream team". One day, after an especially arduous day in class with my dad(it was not easy being his child and student, to say the least), I told him that he hadn't given me time to answer before he threw the chalk in the trashcan and stomped around. He proceeded to deliver a succinct lecture about being ready and paying attention. I snapped back,"I guess I'm just not in the same league with Jeff Hodges and the rest of them!" He gave me a great compliment when he replied,"You could be." (I guess it's easy to see that I was a trifle jealous!)
Here is a thought to store in your heart-I want you to know that including my father in a visit of such importance to your family did not go unnoted. My dad just glows talking about your kids and their reactions to local fauna.
Being close to him and seeing him all the time, I take for granted that I was raised in the sure knowledge that my dad was there to answer every question with detailed answers. I will continue to read your blogs -you have inspired me and I think that I will do one of my own
Jeanie Oliver

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, blogging is an intense experience if one puts some time into crafting an entry, but also rewarding, whether for itself or for the comments that people sometimes post.

Fortunately, I was old enough when I began this sort of 'hobby' that I knew to be careful in dealing with sensitive issues . . . such as politics, religion, and family.

I'm pleased to hear that your father considered me a good student. I think that I was more a 'model' student than a good one. I listened, studied, and performed, but the truly good math students in my year were Bruce Cochran and Robert Adler. I lagged behind them in mathematical abilities.

The best of us all in math, however, was Deva Hupaylo, but she was a year behind me, so I didn't have to compete with her. Your father says that she was "phenomenal" -- she'd do her English homework in his class but still promptly answer his difficult math questions with deep insight after a mere glance at the board. Pete Hale also once remarked on this ability of hers, and he himself was no slouch.

I'm glad that my children made a positive impression on your father. They'd heard of him before because of a blog entry that I once wrote on my experiences as a chainman (part of which I cannibalized for the Expat Living column that I posted today).

My kids do love animals. For months in advance, En-Uk had been pestering me with questions about the animals that live in Arkansas, so much so that I finally started telling scary stories about the dangerous ones like cougars and bears . . . but that didn't faze him.

Thanks for writing, and let me know if you begin your own blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One phrase in your blog quoting an author reminded me of a practice every country boy likely has accomplished in winter. Chet Atkins recorded a song with this part, which I quote:
"When those snowflakes start to fall I think I see, that happy you and me that used to be.....And when the snow has covered the ground, I hear your name and have to write it down......Do you think of me when you're feeling low, and wish you could write my name in the snow?"
I also enjoy your blogs.
I hope my emails have helped you see your father in at least a little more favorable light.
Uncle Cran

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cranford, you must have read Randolph's book to catch the full story behind that elliptical reference.

I'm not familiar with the song by Atkins (unless I know the tune but not the words), but it sounds likeable.

I've heard enough positive stories about Bradley that I certainly realize that he had many facets unknown to me. Unfortunately, he made some choices that closed off the possibility of my seeing those facets. People are complex, and I don't doubt that I've alienated many people by their experience of my darker qualities. That's one of life tragedies, I guess.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:17 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

my blog title probably lacks
I find that since I have been benched from teaching by my illness I need some creative outlets. We'll see how the blogging goes. Most of the pics that I post will be my own.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, I had no idea that you were ill. I hope that it's not terribly serious. Is it?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That song is called, "I Still Write Your Name In The Snow." My wife Gay wouldn'g let me put it on any of my taped I recorded to send my school classmates. I did put one on tape by Jerry Reed, titled "PMS, I Guess." I still haven't lived that one down, but every lady who ever heard me sing it liked it....
And you have an uncle here who has never been offended by any of your blogs. I am either very sympathic to your feelings, or too obtuse to comprehend (?).
Actually, I am proud of your accomplishments. Your father was also.
Uncle Cran

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, that song definitely sounds like the story behind the title that Vance Randolph chose for his collection of Ozark folktales.

I'm glad that I haven't offended you by posting some of your emails on my blog. I don't set out to offend anyone -- not even the Islamists about whom I often blog.

Perhaps I'm just too obscure to be noted...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another phrase in Chet's song that struck me: "...I write your name so beautifully, but it's hard to dot the "I's" and cross the "T's."
(Come to think it, Chet had a perverse sense of humor much like ours, and sang, "....It's hard to cross the "I's (eyes?) and dot the "T's)".
But that's enough of that....children and sensitive women man be reading this blog.

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Jeff, I was watching a Mozart Opera performance with a 60's setting earlier this week and the interpretation of one of the lines actually used the word "ken" in the context you have previously written about. I thought it was amusing.

At 3:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word(?) antigogglin, or angtegodlin, brings to mind another word my mother in law uses. She would say, "That house sits a little slonchways." Is that a synonym?

At 4:51 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Hi Jeff
I have POTS Syndrome-you can read about it at It is a dysfunction of my autonomic nervous system and my blood pools in my lower extremities and abdominal cavity. I just hate to go on and on about it-big believer in accentuate the positive-eliminate the negative.
I have a word for you that I am not even sure how to spell-
"whopper-jawed"-I've heard and used it all my life-meaning:out of line or crooked, not in sync. You made me think of it with your surveying story and reference to antigogglin

At 5:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cranford, any sensitive readers lingering here will soon be desensitized.

But enough on that. I gotta go tee my dots and eye the cross I bear...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio al-Ozarka, that little word just keeps popping outside our Ozark context.

The Scots still use it daily of course, but that because so many things are beyond their ken.

Being culturally Scotch-Irish, I hope that I can get off Scot-free saying that...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Slonchways? I've never heard that one. Is Gay's mother an Ozarker?

A Google search reveals that this word means "sideways," which you probably knew already, and I suppose that it comes from "slouch" -- as in slouching one way or the other.

Any other suggestions?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, I'll look that illness up online.

Meanwhile, "whopper-jawed" -- as I see from Googling -- means "out of alignment" and is thus another close synonym of "antigogglin'" and "slonchways."

My vocabulary is really growing these days...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a fish in our creeks that are called "goggle eyed perch."
They do have large semi slonched eyes.

I know Jeanie & Eddie Oliver. My son James is a little older than Satch, now an attorney,.... but for now I can't think of the younger' name. They were smart boys, and good athletes.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cranford, do those perch have especially large eyes? If so, I'd go for that explanation of the name.

Doesn't "goggle-eyed" mean "big-eyed" -- as if surprised?

As for Eddie Oliver, he was a big fellow who played basketball for Viola and was, as I recall, no slouch (nor was he google-eyed).

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:45 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

It is amazing carrying on a conversation of sorts with people that I can't even see!! I have always had to be forced to talk on the phone because I hate to talk to people when I can't see their faces and watch their body language as they converse. I could never be stopped long enough to e-mail. So, I know what you, Jeff, look like when you're speaking and I can see you in my mind. But, I just can't place Uncle Cran. So if you read this,sir, did your son graduate with one of the Taylor boys?
You are right, Sach is an attorney who practices in Mountain Home and Bentonville. Jake-the younger!-lives in New York City and is a designer of menswear clothing. Jeff, Jake is our gypsy, having traveled everywhere he can in Europe. He was headed to London last year to graduate school when the bottom fell out in the currency exchange. He decided to stay in New York for this year.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, I'll alert Uncle Cranford to your message.

So, you have a gypsy son? Eventually, though, we all settle down somewhere...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeanie, my full name is Cranford (which I never liked) so I have shortened it to Cran, as my Granpa Stephens did. I used to do carpentry work with brother Woodrow before I went on my on. Eddie used to come out with the NAEC crew to our work projects. He also liked to talk. My son James played basketball with Mike & David Taylor, Lyn Cotter, cousin Greg Hodges, Steven Shrable, etc. He was the blonde kid who could jump so high. I remember you working at the bank, then teaching school. I went to all the games from 1981-1-87, when James graduated and went on to the US Air Force Academy, then sporadically. I went to several of your boys' basketball and baseball games. I was just a face in the crowd. I graduated from Viola with Marvin, Jim Webb, Jan Horton, Becky King, etc. Sorry to hear about your medical situation, a new one to me. My wife Gay & I have three boys, James is the youngest. My email is

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are two varieties of goggle eye fish. One is also called a rock bass, similar to a largemouth bass, but smaller, shorter body and biger eyes. The other is a perch in Little Creek with more of a reddish color, and reddish eyes. Another local phrase for someone who is buying and living beyond his means is "He's boring with too big an auger." I hope none of us reading this ever do that.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran (minus "ford"), I've never had any means to live within.

Thanks for the lowdown on the big-eyed fish.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Likewise, I never had an overabundance of "means," consequently, and with Gay's supervision we never tried "boring with too big an auger." At least I never have to worry about anyone having "big auger" envy toward me.

My mother in law, when losing a card game with family, would say, "My cake is dough." I thought that was her made up phrase, until reading a Civil War book, found that Admiral David Porter, fighting up the Mississipi River, ran into severe bombardment from rebel bombardment, said, "Our cake is all dough." There is nothing new under the sun, said the King Solomon.

At 3:22 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...


At 6:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"There is nothing new under the sun, said the King Solomon."

Words truly spoken, but was King Vice Height the first to utter them?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Catty-whonkered? Never heard that one before!

Daddio, did you come up with something new under the sun?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't a clue who first used the phrase, "Nothing new under the sun." Solomon likely knew a lot of sayings, and repeated them without documentation and applying footnotes. He might have been guilty of plagarism. After all, there is nothing new under sun. (OR IS THERE??????).

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose that Solomon's point has to be taken generously.

If we want to nitpick, of course, then each newborn baby is something new under the sun, but Solomon -- knowing a thing or two about babies through manifold experience with his many 'porcupines' (as one innocent child put it) -- obviously didn't mean all babies were identical.

I think that Solomon meant that neither natural law nor human nature changes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:33 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

I've heard "catty-whonkered" used many times to describe something in utter disarray.

At 6:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, I'll add it to my mental list. I've been learning so many expressions from my fellow hillbillies in these comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:31 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I saw your reference to a song I wrote for Jerry Reed. P.M.S., I Guess. Very strange that you would fid it of interest.
I live in Arkansas. Hot Springs Village.
My email address is Would love to hear from you.
T. Thompson

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. Thompson, I'll contact my Uncle Cran and let him know of your message.

Jeffery Hodges

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