Like We Say Back Home

My great-great grandfather, Sylvester Kinchen, driving Granny and her little sister somewhere in his wagon, with a very hungry horse.

A tree full of owls, a calf at a new gate, a mouse peeing on cotton — my mom and I disagree on many things, but one thing that brings us joy together is remembering my Texan granny’s expressions. Grannyisms, my mom calls them. Granny was born into poverty in Dallas in 1905. She was no stranger to subsistence farming, and her expressions reflect that. Here are some favorites.

  • A calf is unable to recognize a new gate in its pen until it’s led in and out a few times.
  • Don’t look so surprised or stricken. Said to a group.
  • Used when someone reacts with stunned silence to some sort of diatribe or revelation.
  • Can’t get everything you want.
  • A serious dressing-down.
  • Self-explanatory.
  • In preparation to sting, like a scorpion. (Granny called scorpions “stinging lizards,” my mom says.)
  • In blissful unawareness of some terrible or embarrassing thing.
  • A phrase Granny used when schooling my father on my mom, the intractability of Texan women in general.
  • A show-off or big talker, with nothing to back up the bragging.
  • To the best of my understanding, shitting while flying (as a pigeon would) is glamorous to anyone who would wear a mink coat and drive a Corvette to go grocery shopping. In this context it’s a condemnation, but it can also be lighthearted. If you get a new mug to drink your coffee on the patio, you too can be shitting while flying.
  • Sometimes desires are the equivalent of excrement — you can’t always get what you want.
  • A bad rainstorm.
  • Usually used in reference to my parents.
  • Self-explanatory.
  • Exasperating occurrence. We never understood this one, but it could involve thievery of laundered menstrual rags.
  • M“Rockers” here are rocking chairs.

These are culled from a series of posts I did on my blog starting in 2009 (warning: extreme early aughts design): Talking Texan; Like we say back home; Like we say back home, volume 2. The second of those includes some great contributions from readers.



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Maud Newton

Writer. Ancestor Trouble (Random House). Work in NYT Mag, Harper's, Esquire, the Guardian... Newsletter sign-up in Linktree. Opinions mine. she/her