Chewing The Rag
Vermonters Say It Right
By Molly Walsh
Have you ever been so hungry you'd eat the north end of a southbound skunk? Ever met someone as stubborn as a pig on ice? Ever headed "downstreet" to do some shopping? Vermonters are known for speaking their minds in a unique way. Last month, The Burlington Free Press published an article about the Vermont dialect. With it, we invited readers to send in some of the expressions - current and old time - that they associate with Vermont.
Now the mail bag is full with more than 200 words and sayings. Many contain references to farming, the land, animals and Vermont's cheapest form of entertainment - the weather. Vermonters also have developed many ways to say a person is stupid or lacking in virtue.
Many readers also shared memories of hearing a friend or relative in Vermont use a particular phrase, underscoring the fact that language is an important element of character. The list of sayings here does not include the good dozen off-color submissions that were not fit to be published in a family newspaper.
From Joseph W. Boulanger, Newport:
- Broad shelf (counter)
- Drier than a covered bridge
- Darker than a pocket
- Downstreet (downtown)
- Harder than Chinese algebra.
From Alice Peabody, Middlebury:
- Least said, soonest mended
- As independent as a hog on ice.
From Kit Andrews, Burlington:
- I may be a fool, but I'm not a damned fool.
- "I remember as a small child hearing my parents say this to each other," Andrews writes, "sometimes in kidding disagreements, sometimes remarking about current events. Then as a teen I gave my mother plenty of opportunities to drum this phrase into me as I tried to talk her into schemes or sneak around her rules."
From Carole Lucia, Enosburgh Falls, sharing expressions used by a dear friend originally from North Troy:
- Well, I'll be a son-of-a...(not completed)
- Who cut your hair with a bucksaw and made it turn out curly?
- I can't remember two times 'round a broomstick (somewhat forgetful)
- That man's not worth a peanut shuck
From Arlene M. Wimett, Salisbury:
- Higher than a woodpecker's hole
- Too much for the pump
- He doesn't need that any more than a frog needs sideburns
From Carolyn Siccama, Burlington:
- A couple-three (two or three)
From Craig Reynolds, Charlotte:
- So dry the trees are following the dogs around
- My back is stiffer than a wedding drink
- The wind blows hard, so often, that it quit one day last week and everyone fell down.
- Hotter than a little tin hell with a cover
- Stubborn as a pig on ice
From Judy Cleary and other staff members at Johnson State College:
- Slower than molasses running uphill in January
- It rained enough to wrinkle the spinach
- There'll be frost on the pumpkin tonight
- Snow deeper than a tall Swede
- Scarcer than hen's teeth
- Side by each
- Slicker than snot on a doorknob
- So noisy it could wake the living dead
- I'm so hungry I could eat the northend of a southbound skunk
- I'm so sick that I'd have to get well to die
- I'm so broke I can't even pay attention.
- Dumber than a stone.
- Handy as a hog winding a watch.
- Hotter than the hubs of hell.
From Philip M. Pierce, Franklin:
- Tighter than the bark on a tree (stingy).
- It's a matter of horse sense.
- Cats granny! (an exclamation of surprise or disgust).
- He thinks he's top turd on the wheelbarrow.
From N. Houston, Wolcott:
- Pret-near (almost).
- A chewing match (an argument).
- Right out straight (busy).
- Thicker than hair on a dog (close).
- So homely his face hurts.
- Fog goes up the mountain a-hoppin, rain comes down a droppin'.
- Rain before seven, done by eleven.
From Robert E. Field, Bridport:
- Wouldn't run uphill after it.
- Two clapboards below zero.
- Tougher than boiled owl.
- A frog-hair more (a bit more).
- Poor man's got two dogs; damn poor man's got four.
- Cut cross-lots (take a short-cut).
- Doesn't know enough to suck alum and drool.
From Gary Irish, Jericho:
- Doesn't know enough to pound sand in a rat hole.
- He'd never lay out for lack of a handle to drag him in by. (He's got a big nose.)
- By gory.
- Sugar snow (big flakes that fall during sugaring season).
- I feel like I've been drug through a knothole (all tuckered out).
- Irish also remembers that as a child, if he walked into the house and did not shut the door behind him someone was sure to ask him, "Were you brought up in a sawmill?" -- a reference to the fact that sawmills have no doors.
From Jerry Highter, Shoreham:
- Dryer than a popcorn fart.
- Pretty rough sleddin'.
- He/she's quite a riggin' (an outlandish character, but likeable).
- A hell-a-tee-ding-dong (going fast down a hill).
From Lucille West:
- God all fishhooks!
- Down-country (any state south of Vermont).
- Poorer than Job's turkey.
- There'll be white blackbirds by the time he gets done.
- Early to bed and early to rise makes a man father of a large family.
- If he had half a brain, it would be lonesome.
- Too lazy to shake the dead flies off.
- So lazy he married a pregnant woman.
- Rollin' around like a sow on an apple barrel.
- He hasn't got a pot to cook in, or a window to look through.
- Disgusting enough to make a minister swear.
- Colder than the south side of a light pole.
From Glenn W. Skiff, South Burlington:
- Worth about as much as a hole in the snow.
- That coffee's colder than Billy-be-damned.
- Them heifers took off in forty-'leven different directions.
- Uglier than a hedge fence.
- I don't read music enough to spoil my playing.
- If you ain't never done it before, do it by guess and by gosh.
- It's plumb some, but not plumb plumb (almost perfect).
From Marylin Melendy, South Starksboro:
- Yes, sir, Mr. Dooley!
- Colder than a witch's brass broomstick.
- Lazier than a peach orchard bull.
- Tighter than a boar's rear end in fly time.
- Hard telling, not knowing.
From Marjorie S. Timbers, Essex Junction:
- Drier than a cork leg.
- Down cellar behind the axe (Two meanings: busy or hiding).
- Like cold potatoes, better warmed up.
- Get your hair cut pompadour (Get it cut very short).
From Robert L. Coon, St. Albans:
- Chewing the rag (Light conversation).
- The silent hog eats all the swill.
- Built close to the ground (A short person).
- An educated fool.
- Can't blame a fool for what he doesn't know.
- Homely in the cradle, pretty at the table.
From Richard E. Robinson, South Burlington:
- So don't I (So do I).
- Robinson has been hearing this expression since the 1970s when he moved here. He confesses it drives him crazy. "For years I have had to listen to Vermonters say 'so don't I,' when they really mean 'so do I.' " He "thanks God" that his son never adopted this usage.
From Robert Lutz, Burlington:
- 'Bout as sprightly as a dead tree.
- Snow butt-high to a tall cow.
- The lord made her ugly; then he scared her.
- He was the meanest man that ever wore a pair of shoes.
From Gussie Levarn, Bristol:
- The patient was on dizzytalis and trampilizers (Digitalis and tranquilizers).
- Familiarity leads to conception.
- As well as a June bride.
From Iola Atwood, Waterbury:
- Happy as a toad lapping lightning.
- Hen wet her apron! (A substitute for profanity).
From Peter Morris, Burlington:
- Height the land.
- Harder than Chinese algebra.
- Well, snatch me bald-headed.
- Well, that just eats my lunch.
- Vermonster (What Vermonters call themselves but will not allow flatlanders to call them).
- Outlanders: those from away, or dudes (Urban people who come to Vermont looking like L.L. Bean or Orvis centerfolds).
- How many Vermonters does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to change the bulb and two to sit around discussing how they liked the old one better.
- Volvoful (of tourists).
- He was so crooked, when they buried him, they had to screw him into the ground. And not only that, when they screwed him into the ground, they made sure it was head first, just in case he ever came back to life and tried to dig his way out he'd have to take the long way 'up.
From Patricia and Edna Bean, Burlington:
- Sweet Jerusalem on a bicycle!
- Don't get your bowels in an uproar.
From Lou Dorwaldt Jr. of North Hero, who heard these from his good friend and neighbor, Gerald "Junior" Tudhope:
- As free from brains as a frog from feathers.
- Howling like the hounds of hell.
- Goin' down to Canada.
From Georgia Christiano, Grand Isle:
- Colder than your grandmother's preserves.
- More nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
- Straighter than a die.
Christiano writes: "My dad was an old-time Vermonter from 'Bah-ton' (Barton), and I used to love to listen to his stories, anecdotes, humor and accent."
From Nona Flint, Brookfield:
- Flint writes: "My husband and I have lived in Vermont all our lives, as our parents did before us. We use an expression that I cannot find in any dictionary. It's "big and gombin'." I have no idea how it's spelled. It rhymes with bomb. It means big and clumsy, hard to maneuver because of its size and construction."
From Mary Elizabeth Koll, East Middlebury:
- About as useless as a screen door on a submarine.
- Got more brass than Carter's got liver pills.
- As crooked as a lawyer.
- It's enough to jar your mother's onions.
- Rather have what he owes than what he owns.
- One of those side-hill clodgers (A rather unrespectable person).
- Skinny as a rail fence.
- Mister, I tell you (or: mister, I'm a-tellin').
- Homely enough to stop a freight train.
Have we missed any? If you have more Vermont expressions to add, send them to Molly Walsh, The Free Press, P.O. Box 10, Burlington, 05402.
Burlington Free Press
April 2, 1995
Used with permission