Southern Ohioisms

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During my recent trip to Ohio, I met a man named Don Slater from southeastern Ohio who regaled me with endless examples of how people from his neck of the woods (centered on Noble County, but down into eastern Kentucky and Tennessee) talk.

People from Noble County don't butcher a hog, they "burcher" it.

They don't say "ain't that awful" or "tain't that awful".  They say "hain't that awful".  Don said he thought that pronunciation might have some Irish influence behind it.

One of the most amazing expressions Don taught me was one he said is used around Gatlinburg, Tennessee:  "beyall".  See if you can figure out what it means before you turn to the next page.  HINT:  this expression is often used by waiters and waitresses in restaurants.

Try again.  SECOND HINT:  it is a question — "beyall?"

THIRD HINT:  it is equal to four words in standard English".  NO MORE HINTS.

"Will that be all?"

Here's a set of sentences from Noble County with three homonyms that are completely separate morphemes:

1. How fur is it to Caldwell?

2. What did you do that fur?

3. That bear has thick fur.

A few more words as they are spoken in Noble County:

1. koelidz — a place where you go to receive higher education

2. bulgee — subject you might study at a koelidz

3. daiton — city in southwestern Ohio

4. murrow — large painting on a wall

5. westcomsin — name of a northern state

For southern Ohio "probably" –> "pry", see starting at 0:47 in this YouTube:

Here's another YouTube on "Southern Ohio Slang":

My Mom (and everybody in my family following her) always used to refer to bell peppers as "mangoes"*.  When I joined the Peace Corps and went to South Asia, I got to know what real mangoes are.  The speaker in this video gives a good explanation of why people in southern Ohio call bell peppers "mangoes", starting at 1:56.  Around 5:30 she discusses a "non-verbal 'hey'".  There are dozens of other intriguing expressions that she introduces, including "a lick" = a little bit (8:23), "born in a barn" = be rude, have no manners, forgot to close the door when you came in (my Mom used to say that too; 9:30), "get on" = leave (10:13),  "done did" = did (12:00), "et" = ate (12:43), and many others.  The speaker says "I don't know" about almost everything and giggles a great deal.  Nevertheless, she offers a lot of interesting information about southern Ohio speech.

*[From Portuguese manga, fruit of the mango tree, from Malayalam māṅṅa or a kindred Dravidian source; akin to Tamil , mānti, māti. (American Heritage Dictionary).  Borrowed into Sinitic as mángguǒ 芒果, probably through Malay mangga, with the second syllable, guǒ 果 ("fruit"), being a convenient phono-semantic match.]


  1. Saurs said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 6:28 pm

    Hmm, I would've guessed "beyall?" meant something to the effect of "[if] don't that beat all![?]"

    I don't know about "westcomsin" strictly being an Ohiosm, though. My mother is known to arsk our local lyeber'n about westcomsin pacifically, and she comes from Scandinavian stock by way of Glendoirah and Alter Dina out in Cal-ugh-four-nye-ay.

  2. Saurs said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 6:34 pm

    Oh, and "pry" is a full-fledged Americanism that knows no state lines, no class or pedigree. I grew up thinking it was something trust funded-surfers said, but it pops up everywhere.

  3. Saurs said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

    (And is infinitely preferable to prolly, which looks and sounds like garbagio.)

  4. PedroS said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

    I had no problem with beyall, but I still cannot guess what bulgee could be. Help, please….

  5. Steve Morrison said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 7:40 pm

    Presumably, “biology”.

  6. SlideSF said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 9:45 pm

    Any true Wisconsinite knows the correct pronunciation of their state is Wskaaaahnsn.

  7. amy said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 9:46 pm

    The probably->pry transformation is similar to what was previously discussed at

  8. stephen said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 10:27 pm

    In what part of the country do people add an r after vowels, as in idear and Warshington?

  9. Jonathan Smith said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

    "Biology" phenomenon in part due to aɪ > a in the US south, giving rise to questions I don't know the answer to about whether /baɪˈɑlədʒi/, etc., wind up just with novel hiatuses ≈a.ɑ or to new (here = three) syllable structure (with phonetically or even phonologically long vowels?) Compare "fire", etc.

  10. Chris Button said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

    They don't say "ain't that awful" or "tain't that awful". They say "hain't that awful".

    That reminds me of Audrey Hepburn's "h-adding" in her "h-dropping" Cockney accent in My Fair Lady: "In 'Artford, 'Ereford, and 'Ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen."

  11. Monoglot said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 11:21 pm

    As a Wisconsinite, "Wesconsin" is a common shibboleth for anyone living in the US outside Wisconsin, especially the rest of the Midwest.

    On "koelidz" – am I missing diacritics or is this demonstrating depalatalization?

  12. Tom Davidson said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 11:49 pm

    My Hakka wife will replace the "n" at the end of an English word with an "m," and says "voohgee" meaning "a fly" and "muhn" for the 蚊 in 蚊子。。。。

  13. Colin Watson said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 3:29 am

    Not sure I believe "hain't" as an Irishism (though it reminds me of hypercorrections, as another commenter said), but "beyall" somewhat reminds me of the Belfast gem "yis gettin'?", notorious for perplexing tourists; or, in standard English, "are you being served?".

  14. boynamedsue said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 5:35 am

    butcher = burcher

    Is this a rhotic dialect? So this would represent something like /ɜr/?

    If so this probably shows the input of a non-rhotic variant into the development of the variant at time of settlement. As the regional koine' developed 2nd/3rd generation speakers mistakenly included 'butcher' in the /ɜ:/ group used by non-rhotic elders and so generalised it to /ɜr/ in the new rhotic variant alongside words like "burn" and "bird".

  15. Norval Smith said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 5:44 am

    There are people in Scotland who believe(d) that the English not only have an intrusive /r/ in cases like India-r-Office, but always pronounce the word India as Indiar.

  16. Rose Eneri said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 7:10 am

    Do southern Ohioans use "jeet?" as we do in Philly? (Did you eat?)

  17. galanx said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 8:27 am

    "Born in a barn" is a common North America-wide expression. I heard it growing up in Vancouver B.C.

  18. Rodger C said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    There are several Appalachian pronunciations that seem to arise from re-rhotacization. "Warnuts" comes to mind.

  19. Robert Coren said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 9:53 am

    @stephen: These are, in my experience, two different phenomena. Idear is mostly Northeastern, esp. New England (although I have burned into my memory the sound of a classmate, in my NYC middle school's production of The Mikado, identifying herself as the Mikado's "daughter-in-lor elect"). I associate Warshington and the like with the Pittsburgh area.

  20. Nick Kaldis said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    I'm from Athens Ohio, in Athens County, which is properly "southeastern Ohio"; Noble County is more accurately "southcentral Ohio" in my book, and most of the examples in Victor's original entry are not common in my area, in my experience (I and/or my family lived in Athens from 1967-2010). I will try to recall some local slang; for now, the familiar "feeshin' in the crick" comes to mind as I recall. Also, my friend's father from nearby Chauncey ("Chance-ee" is the correct local pronunciation) used to say "at'all" for "at all".

    I had a linguistics professor in college (Ohio University) who loved the local languages; one of his challenges to us one day in class was to determine how many different places in the following sentence the modifier "fuckin'" could be inserted: "I ain't goin' to school today". I aced this one, although we has some debate about one particular location. I have always been curious if this usage actually had anything to do with Appalachia or if it was just a fun experiment…

  21. ohwilleke said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

    I grew up in SW Ohio and some of these are hard for me to follow (I could not figure out "beeyall" without seeing it, for example). I suspect that this accent/dialect is stronger in SE Ohio which is part of Appalachia proper than in SW Ohio, were it merely spills over in substantial Appalachian migrant populations.

  22. ohwilleke said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

    One strong litmus test of regional dialect in Southern Ohio is pronunciation of "Louisville, KY" (Loo-ville in Kentucky dialect).

  23. Ed M said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

    Many of these "Nobleisms" are common also in south central Kansas where I grew up. I can still hear "ain't gonna do a lickagood" as a peevish comeback to a far-fetched suggestion.

    Farther afield — my grandmother, born and raised in the Colorado Rockies in the 1890s, was fond of "born in a barn" as a put down to impolite children.

  24. Joyce Melton said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    I'm from Arkansas (originally) with most of my relatives from the Ozarks and none of these "Ohioisms" are that strange to me except "beyall." That just sounds like someone who is "too triflin' to trouble the'self" (lazy).

    My joke is that I was in the fifth grade before I realized that Warshington State (where we had relatives) and Washington, DC (which I heard about only in school and on TV) were spelled the same.

    Buddy Ebsen was from Southern Ahaiah which he especially let loose when playing his famous hillbilly patriarch. It's one of a continuum of "hillbilly" accents that stretch from southern New York to West Texas. Most of them seem rooted in the Scots-Irish-and-German-flavored immigrant mix to the area. You can hear echoes of it in eastern California towns like Brawley and Bakersfield.

  25. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

    How is the city in Southwestern Ohio normally pronounced?

  26. John Rohsenow said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 3:42 pm

    Years ago a man from S. Ohio told me that you "weren't REALLY from
    Ohio", unless you pronounced it as one syllable: "?hai?" (where ? indicates glottal stops.

  27. mark dowson said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:19 pm

    "Lick", meaning a small amount, is common in Brit English, as in "a lick of paint", and is the first definition in OED. And "a lick and a promise" for a quick cleaning with the thorough version postponed was common currency in my (southern English) youth. This makes me wonder how many of the ohioisms derive from colloquial or regional British roots.

  28. Bloix said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 8:12 pm

    Haitch is well on its way to becoming standard in parts of southern England.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 7:32 am

    @Nick Kaldis

    I was born and raised in Ohio. Since I did well in geography and history, I know where all 88 counties of the state are located. If you look at any map of Ohio counties, you will see that Athens County and Noble County are both located in the southeastern portion of the state. My brother went to Ohio University in Athens and worked there for about two decades, and I visited him often. My sister went to Marietta College, and I was the one who drove her down there when she enrolled. Caldwell, Marietta, and Athens, respectively the county seats of Noble, Washington, and Athens counties, which adjoin one after the other in that order, are all within a radius of about twenty miles.

    The Ohio Department of Transportation states that "Noble County is located in the southeastern portion of the state".

    Noble County participates in or is associated with many organizations such as the following:

    Southeastern Ohio Legal Services,

    Southeastern Ohio Port Authority

    The SouthEastern Ohio Joint Solid Waste Management District

    For the history of the region, see:

    Thomas William Lewis, History of Southeastern Ohio and the Muskingum Valley, 1788-1928. In Three Volumes. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1928.

    As for the profligate use of the "f" word, that has nothing in particular to do with southeastern Ohio or any other part of Ohio. I've heard it all over America. It's like China's "national cuss word" (guómà 國罵),
    tāmāde 他媽的 ("his mother's"), for which see:

  30. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 9:21 am

    I pronounce "wash" (and the first syllable of "Washington") to rhyme with "marsh". That's something I picked up from my Pennsylvania Dutch mother.

  31. Ellen K. said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 9:39 am

    @ Andrew (not the same one)

    Dayton = /ˈdeɪtən/

    I think "daiton" is meant to represent /ˈdaɪtən/.

  32. Nick Kaldis said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

    @Victor Mair: I stand geographically corrected, but still, if invited to participate in a re-appellation of regions, as I look at the Ohio counties map, I would perhaps place Jefferson through Monroe counties in an "East-Central" category, and Warshington through Lawrence in "Southeast" proper…

  33. Terry Hunt said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

    Re galanx: "(Were you) born in a barn(?)" is also a common British expression, often enquired of someone who has entered a room and left the door open. And as mark dowson said above, "lick" is also standard BrE, though perhaps now semi-fossilised in set expressions rather than a free lexical item.

    There seems to be a widespread phenomenon of local speakers believing certain expressions, etc., to be unique to their locality when in fact they're used quite widely – I wonder if there's a recognised term for this in linguistics?

  34. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:48 pm

    Obviously the particular expletive referenced in Nick Kaldis' memory of his undergrad linguistics class is widespread throughout the Anglophone world. But it would be interesting to know if there are any regional variations in acceptability judgments re where it can and can't be inserted into the proposed sample sentence.

  35. antimony said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

    Being from Northeast Ohio, but with extended family from Newark, Ohio (so the accents/slang were familiar but not mine), I can corroborate a lot of these. I'll note that Newark, Ohio are each one syllable — Nerk, plus that odd conglomeration of vowels and glottal stops run together that someone upthread mentioned.

    Another vowel merging — the popularity region of the card game Euchre overlaps with this regional dialect, and there are special cards called "bowers" in the game. Having been taught the game by my relatives, I assumed the cards were "bars" until I played with folks from Northern Ohio. The word "hour" rhymed with the card name in both dialects, but the number of syllables was 2 in the north and 1 in the south. "pry" for "probably is not one I remember hearing, but "prolly" sounding like "pry" seems perfectly normal so I'm sure I'd understand it if I heard it.

    The only other thing I can think of was remembering people saying "We was over to [location]" rather than "We were at [location]".

  36. CuConnacht said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

    antimony, the right and left bower in euchre get their name from German Bauer = farmer but also jack.

  37. Xmun said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 11:29 pm

    Choice of vocabulary can be as odd sometimes as the pronunciation. I remember in Fiji hearing a waiter — a handsome young man, barefoot, wearing nothing more than a lavalava — ask us "Do yous want buns?". We understood him to mean "Would you like some bread rolls?" (with our soup).

  38. boynamedsue said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 3:12 am


    I suspect the lad knew exactly what he was about.

  39. Dagwood said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 3:39 am

    A while back I read Thomas E Murray's book "The Language of St. Louis, Missouri: Variation in the Gateway City," wherein he discusses the pronunciation "warsh". He described it as bit of dialect which Missourians believe to be their own, but which has been documented across a large swath of the U.S., as far east as (of all places!) Washington, DC.

  40. Rodger C said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 7:06 am

    Nick Kaldis, I grew up right across the river from South Point, and my impression coincides with yours. But the view from Columbus seems to differ from the view from WV. (My grandmother, by the way, was from Noble County, and I wouldn't have called her a Southern Ohioan from her accent.)

  41. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    September 27, 2017 @ 10:35 pm

    When we were transferred from Ithaca, NY, to Mason County, Ky., there were several new expressions I had to learn. I was used to waiting in line, but most of my new neighbors waited on line. People would also use "waiting on" in contexts where I would have used "waiting for."

    Women would sweep their carpets with a sweeper — that is, they vacuumed their floors. Someone told me she had to "carry her mother to the doctor," which meant she was giving her mother a ride. In a casual context, I would have said I was giving someone a lift. I believe there was also an idiomatic use of the word "pardon" that someone explained to me.

    Mason County is on the southern side of the Ohio River across from Brown and Adams counties in Ohio. The video with the young women lists a lot of words I heard in Kentucky, like crick, but that was a word I had heard growing up in rural upstate New York, too.

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