Saturday, July 30, 2011

How we talk: Colloquialisms and Me

I think I love
Arizona because it
reminds me of
my Eastern Oregon roots.
I'm from a small town in eastern Oregon.  It sets in a small valley with big hills surrounding it on all sides. We have a flat sound to our voice and, when I was growing up, we talked about ranchers and cows and the railroad and the neighbors. Most of our way of talking or explaining anything was related to what we knew.

Now I don't mean we were uneducated. Even though we did not have a public library my family was well read. Book of the Month club and the Reader's Digest Condensed Versions came on a regular basis. Magazines of all kinds came in the mail box. I remember how I would look forward to those. Every gift giving occasion saw a book in one package. My mother ordered a box of books from the state library every summer for me. Still we talked like we were raised in eastern Oregon. Well there was one difference...none of the children in our family ever said the word "ain't" although it was commonly used.

My children were raised with the jargon left behind by our small town experiences. They carry the outdated phrases and images with them around the world. My son talked this summer about using the phrase "steeper than a cows face" during a business meeting in Shanghai, China. He was describing the learning curve for a new technology application they were introducing in their schools. His co-worker from New York laughed out loud. Of course, that brought on a Google search revealing that "steeper than a cow's face" was a colloquialism used in Eastern Oregon. Go figure!

I heard my mother talk about worthless dogs using the phrase "he is not worth taking out in the back yard and shooting." I actually used that phrase in front of my grandchildren without thinking and my grandson caught the words in mid air. When he repeated it in front of his parents, I was in deep trouble. I guess the phrase works better on dogs and milk cows that is does in modern life. I don't say that anymore.

My youngest son did not get the phrase "sleeping like a log" and informed his father he sleep like a "meatball"...all curled up. That same child did not like his bedroom to be "darker that the inside of a cow's belly" and didn't mind telling us so.

My oldest son has gone back to China after a long visit this summer.  His two girls are both learning to speak Chinese and his wife is studying Cantonese. But you can bet that those girls will know about cow's faces and the inside of a cow's belly just like my children did.

Have a wonderful weekend.



  1. This is a beautiful post.

    When my father had a stroke and was in a coma,my mother said "he's lying like a lox." (smoked salmon) In the then 40 years I had known her I had never heard say anything so not proper. My sister and I couldn't help cracking up and so did our mother and it made a horrible situation tolerable

  2. You know Pia, I actually believe that a lot of those phrases were for that very purpose...especially the "shooting in the backyard" one!


  3. Lovely! And on that note, I'm putting the phrase "darker than the inside of cow's belly" in Amelia's night time routine! :)

  4. Love these! As an English teacher, I hope these regional expressions don't die out in the digital age. Then again, I love how language is a living thing that changes depending on how we use it. So I suppose I should embrace "friending" and "tweeting" and "LOLing." But I'll always feel more affection to language that reflects a specific time and place. Your examples made me smile!

  5. Thank you for your comments. There are so many more I find myself using without thinking. I would love to create a list of regional colloquialism. The one I love the best is one that southerners use. It seems that they can say anything about another person as long as they end the sentence with "bless their little pea pickin' heart". As in "You know ,he is dumb as a stump, bless his little pea pickin' heart!"



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