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OPINION: Here are some expressions you don't hear every day

February 17, 2021 at 5:30 a.m.

Back in the days when most of us in northwest Arkansas spoke the Ozark language, there were lots of expressions used by people to describe common things and situations, some of which the rest of the world didn't seem to know or use. Some of these may be more common than I am supposing, but I don't hear them every day anymore.

One of these is the idea of being peekid, as in, "You're lookin' kinda peekid today!" That was a more elegant way of sayin' "You ain't lookin' so good today!" Peekid meant that you appeared to be pale and flushed, and you might be sick, or you might be gettin' sick. There was "bein' bad sick" and there was "bein' a little sick," and peekid was like a little sick but not too bad. This may be a variation of the word piqued, but "piqued" can mean that you are a bit provoked. To be piqued is not to be really angry, but kind of on the way to being angry.

We also had an expression for distances when you were talking about a place that would be quite some distance away. If you were asked how far is it to Lincoln, Ark., you might answer, "Oh, it's a pretty furr piece over there." A "furr piece" is not any definite number of miles away, it's just a pretty "furr piece" over there. A "furr piece" can be about a half-a-day's travel, but it's not necessarily far, far away. When you get into great distances, that's kind of beyond a "furr piece" and you go to talking a long trip out there, like to California or Washington state.

One expression that became an inquiry in our family was "over yonder." My nieces, who had grown up in Chicago, once asked me "where or what is over yonder?" What does "yonder" mean? Well, it's like, you know, you know what it means but you can't describe it in words kind of thing. No, "yonder" is quite a ways over that-a-way (and you point to show which direction you mean). There is "over yonder," which is not all that far away, but quite a ways away, maybe still in seeing distance but not very close. Then there is "way over yonder," which usually means beyond where we can see, maybe over a hill or over the hills that-a-way and a pretty good distance away. "Way over yonder" is much like "a furr piece."

Then there is "onlyest" or "onlyest one." This expression is the onlyest one I will mention that doesn't come from the Ozark language. This one is from the Arkansas Delta, the river bottoms of east Arkansas. A person might introduce you to his cousin, saying, this is Jake, Jake is my "onlyest" cousin. He's the onlyest one of my family that don't live in Arkansas.

Sometimes people get flustered. I expect people today quite often get flustered, but they usually don't describe it that way. Maybe they are "upset." Quite often we say we are "stressed" or "stressed out." In the Ozark language that is to be flustered, or to be "in a tizzy." When you say that Sister Sue is all in a tizzy today, it usually means she is not all together, she can't get herself organized, she is strained and worried, and dibbling and dabbling without getting anything done, going round and round and all in a flutter. Being "in a tizzy" is sort of like being a "nervous Nellie," but being a nervous Nellie is an every day all the time thing, whereas being in a tizzy is usually short term temporary, and it'll soon pass.

"That's a Doozy!" This is an expression that helps you remark on something that is remarkably fine and impressive. Some of us are pretty sure the expression "a Doozy" comes from a magnificent 1920s automobile, called the Dusenberg. The Dusenberg was a very expensive, very resplendent, very powerful, very fast car of classic 1920s design. Some would say you couldn't find anything any more impressive than a Dusenberg. So, in common usage, if a thing is really outstanding, it's a doozy. You could even have a doozy of a bruise, or a doozy of a headache, or a doozy of a mess up.

There were always lots of ways to get "bunged up." If you get into a rough game and come away bruised and scratched and hurting, you are "bunged up." If you have a car wreck and come away with an injured back, or a broken arm or leg, and are battered and beaten, you are bunged up. Being bunged up has several degrees, all the way from being bruised up in a way that will heal in a few days, to being badly bunged up in a way that will have you laid up for months.

Then, we had expressions to describe inexperience and immaturity, or being unprepared for tasks and responsibilities that a person was trying to take on. One was, "He's too soon out of the next!" Like a little bird which gets kicked out of the nest too early, "too soon out of the next" is saying that he is too young or that he is too inexperienced to take on the job he is trying to do. A similar expression was, "He's still wet behind the ears." That means very young, like a newborn calf.

Ozark was and is a pretty fine colorful language, very expressive in its ways. So many people from everywhere have come to live in the Ozarks, and our common language is changing. But there are still Ozark speakers out there.

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Editor's note: This article was first published Feb. 13, 2019. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. Opinions are those of the writer. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.

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