I've always been fond of the colorful and humorous sayings that country people have for centuries used to enliven their speech and describe their world. These expressions tend to be both funny and evocative.
My grandfather, Phil Hand, was born in 1878 and first visited Tehachapi in 1898 when he was a young man working as a shepherd. He helped bring 5,000 Angora goats to a shearing station at the Powell Dairy near Cameron (where the "S.S. Minnow" boat now sits). He later drove a horse and team in the Kern Valley area, and he was a wealth of distinctive country expressions. He passed these along to his son, our Uncle Hank, and he passed them along to us.
My dear friend and role model, Anne Marie Novinger, has told me that it's time for me to write about country sayings again, so this column is for you, Mia. There's a couple of other Tehachapi oldtimers that I like to swap these memorable expressions with, including the incomparable Nancy and LeRoy Rice, who know many of the old sayings.
Some of the best ones describe people, and of course not necessarily in complimentary ways. For someone with an inflated sense of self-worth, there's this: "I'd like to buy him for what he's worth, and sell him for what he thinks he'll bring." Or "He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow."
"If brains were leather, he wouldn't have enough to saddle a Junebug," is one of many questioning someone's intelligence. "If that boy ever had an idea, it would die of loneliness," is another, as is "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you." If you're listening to someone but don't get their point, you might say "I hear you clucking, but I can't find your nest," a nod to the tendency of hens to cluck right after laying an egg.
A guy who is frequently in trouble, but has a well-behaved mother, was described as "He's the only hell his mama ever raised." On the other hand, if he came from a family long associated with criminality, oldtimers would say "There are a lot of nooses in his family tree."
There are several expressions that relate to people who live in remote areas, like "They lived so far out in the country that the sun set between their house and town," or "I won't say it's far, but I had to grease the wagon twice before I hit the main road."
"Fat as a boarding house cat," describes a plump person or animal, as does "If he was an inch taller, he'd be round." On the other hand, the phrase "Nothing between horns and hooves but hide" describes skinny cattle or people.
For couples who start living together before getting married, there is "They're hitched but not churched," or "They ate supper before they said grace." A divorced woman who got remarried was described as "She found a new dasher for her churn."
"Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash," refers to someone who can't afford to buy house paint, but doesn't want to substitute with whitewash, which was a cheaper homemade alternative. A poverty expression that came specifically from Texas, a state that supplies a wealth of expressions, was this: "If a trip around the world cost a dollar, I couldn't make it to the Oklahoma line." Describing a wealthier neighbor is this: "If I had his money, I'd throw mine away," or "He's ridin' a gravy train with biscuit wheels."
Many sayings are about neighbors, in one way or another. For people who may have waved to each other, but never been introduced, there is "We've howdied, but we haven't shook." For neighbors who don't know each other well (or don't trust each other) there is "We're not on borrowing terms." And for someone who's not your favorite person, there's "Anytime you pass by my house, I'd sure appreciate it."
Instead of telling someone to "calm down" about a conflict, there's "Wash off your war paint." You might say that if, for example, "She was so mad she was calling me every name but my right name."
Rural folk are typically concerned with the weather, so of course many sayings relate to that, like "It's so dry, the trees are bribing the dogs" or "It's colder than a mother-in-law's kiss" or "It's rainin' like a cow pissin" on a flat rock."
Things that are difficult to do can be described as "Like trying to nail a raw egg to the wall" or "Like putting socks on a rooster."
Many funny expressions are put-downs of one kind or another, like a drunkard being described as "He wasn't born, just squeezed out of a bartenders rag." Or the pungent "You smell like you want to be left alone." Or the one in the headline, which is somewhat enigmatic but describes someone seriously disheveled, and is definitely not intended as a compliment: "He looks like he was in the outhouse when the lightning struck."
Okay, enough of these old expressions for now. I've got lots of things to do, and I'll try to be "So fast, I can blow out the lamp and jump in the bed before it gets dark."
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.