One of the books that my son had for required reading at Ole Miss was Albion's Seed, by David Hackett Fischer. This volume comprises a cultural history of the United States, or a history of American folkways, and a discussion of cultural origins.
Certain chapters dealt with the language, and old sayings that are still being used in many areas today.
These were especially interesting to me since I have heard so many of these sayings that have to do with the weather, the planting of crops, death, marriage, birth, and life in general.
Fischer wrote that in 1717 Quaker merchants of Philadelphia noticed the arrival of immigrants in increasing numbers, more than their usual numbers.
They came from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England including London. They brought with them a new way of dress, which the Quakers called "outlandish' and a new way of speech. Most of them were extremely poor but extremely proud. One Anglican clergyman described them as the "scum of the universe."
Fischer writes of the influence of the "Scots-Irish" speech, which is strikingly similar to the dialect that is spoken by some of the country western singers, cowboys and backcountry politicians.
I might add to that list some rural people in North Louisiana. Many of the people of this area are descendants of these people, and that includes my husband's family who were Scots-Irish, and my own father who was Irish, and my maternal ancestors were from England. Some of the figures of speech and their meanings have lingered until today.
We have heard people make statements about the weather, about funerals, illnesses and weddings, and about all phases of life here in the South,
This type speech has long been distinctive for its pronunciation. I know you have heard folks say "whar" for "where," "deer' for "deaf,' "winder" for "window," "bidness" for "business" and "widder" for "widow."
You probably have also heard folks say "he done did it," "he like to fell," "fixin" for getting ready, "he done come in" and "he don't have none," "nekkid" for naked, "far" for fire, and "young uns" for young ones. Some say "critter" for creature. You can hear someone talking about seeing a "hant", meaning a ghost, and a boy "sparkin" a girl, meaning courting a girl.
When you pretend something, it was said that you were "lettin' on" that you knew. I have heard someone say "she 'askes' me whar he is" meaning "she asks me where he is." Some have said "hit" for it.
All these are regarded as dialects that have evolved from the Scots-Irish pattern of speech. Along with these patterns of speech there were sayings about weather, and other events.
Just recently a friend reminded me that "as late as it thunders in February, it will frost in April". My mother always said that "an early Easter meant a late Spring". My friend and I both remembered our mothers saying that "Friday will be the fairest or the foulest day of the week."
There were many customs that they observed in planting their crops. The old 12 days were the first twelve days after Christmas. That was the accepted time to put out cabbage plants, onions, English peas and some others. Always the Irish potatoes were to be planted by February 14.
I remember my mama saying that the corn must be planted on March 23. There were several sayings about what phase the moon was in for planting. Root crops are to be planted on the dark of the moon.
Also, cows had to be de-horned on a certain stage of the moon. Some surgeries needed to be on either dark nights or light nights to keep from having excess bleeding.
Another old weather saying was "if it rains the first day in June it win rain for forty days." I remember hearing some of the older folks saying "Evening red and morning gray sends a traveler on his way, Evening gray and morning red sends the traveler home to bed."
Another that I remember is "if the rain starts before seven, it'll quit before eleven." I have heard old folks say on the day of a funeral "blessed is the dead that it rains upon" if it were a rainy day.
And then there are the sayings on snow that I remember. If snow stays on the ground until the third day there will be another snow.
In 1966, J. C. went to Ford Marketing Institute in Dallas for a week's training in sales and marketing. He called me each night. He was astonished to learn it had snowed that Wednesday and school was dismissed.
By the time he came home, the snow had all melted and he pretended that we had made it all up. The next two Wednesdays it snowed and again it had all melted by Friday. Then he believed what we had told him.
One saying about marriage was "change your name but not the letter, change for worse and not for better," and that meant if a girl married and her new married name began with the same letter as her maiden name that she had changed for worse not better.
Another custom at the turn of the nineteenth century was what the country people called a "chivaree," which was a variation of a European custom called a "chirivari." This was a group of people who went to the home of the newly married couple on their wedding night and serenaded them, singing all the old country ballads that they knew.
Most of the time they were invited in and served cake or pies or cookies and coffee. Women were not supposed to whistle. One of my mother's sayings was "a whistling girl and a crowing hen always come to some bad end."
I might add that she loved to whistle and often went about her work either whistling or singing.
The pecan trees are the last to bud out and put on their "blooms", and I was always told that when the pecan tree budded out that winter was past and spring was here.
Also when the foliage was heavy early in the season my mother said that foretold a flood, or if the roses bloomed profusely, that also indicated a flood.
Often late at night, in the still of the night, my mother would tell me to listen to the wild geese as they flew south. She said that meant a cold front was on the way and that was why they were going south. If they flew over in the daylight hours, they were in an inverted "v" formation with one goose leading the way.
A friend called my attention to the fact that when the sap rises in the spring and when the sap goes down in the autumn, many old people who have been ill for a time will die.
We lost my mother and my father-in-law in the spring, and my father and my mother-in-law in the autumn. So many of these old sayings have proved true that 1 cannot believe that it is just a coincidence, and there must be a physical reason.
Have you heard some of these old sayings?
Juanita Agan passed away in October, 2008 at the age of 85. She had been a Minden resident since 1935 and a columnist for the Press-Herald since 1995. A constant writer, Mrs. Agan had many stories written but unpublished. The Press-Herald will continue to publish these articles as long as they are submitted.