You could spend a long time going over a list of folk sayings that are uniquely American. I did it in my Introduction to Folklore class at Western Kentucky University. The whole class had a ball.

But "uniquely American" is one thing; "specifically regional" is another thing entirely. And I've heard phrases my whole life that I've never heard anywhere else. Even my aunt, uncle, and grandfather who are/were native Owensboroans never dropped the phrases I've commonly heard other family members use over the decades. I guess if you're in New Mexico long enough, you either forget or pick up new lingo.

My sister and I have often had good laughs discussing things my mom, dad, and Kentucky grandparents used to say with frequency. So I did a little research to see how widespread such colloquialisms are.

THE LANGUAGE OF KENTUCKY OR THE ENTIRE SOUTHERN U.S.?

 

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My paternal grandmother used to say "I swanny" or "I swanee" all the time. We were smart enough to figure out that she meant "I swear." But back when I was a kid, even "I swear" was considered cussing in my house, so bring on the euphemism.

SUBSTITUTES FOR CUSSING

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My dad said this all the time and usually in frustration. Since I can't find anything about the phrase when I search--I get plenty of gardening tips, however--I'm going to go with what we always thought, which is that it's a substitute for cussing. And if you can call a phrase I've only ever heard ONE Kentuckian say, I guess you can call it a "Kentucky saying," right?

 A SURPRISING DEVELOPMENT CALLS FOR JUST THE RIGHT PHRASE

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You'll gather that a lot of these old saws came from my dad, but we've always wondered where HE got them. Isn't it silly we didn't think to ask while he was living? Anyway, this one popped up whenever Dad was surprised by something, but I can't determine its origins as a SAYING, per se. There's a 1977 album with that title by John Davis and the Monster Orchestra (never heard of them), so that's not it. There's a song with that title on the 1988 album Tender Prey by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. I KNOW that's not it. So I'm going with the 1941 movie of the same name (never heard of that either). My dad was a big movie fan growing up and saw a lot of them. So that's my guess.

 SUBSTITUTES FOR CUSSING -- PART II

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Once again, we have my dad avoiding cussing within earshot of my mother. But this time, we have a phrase I've heard someone ELSE say, and it was none other than fellow Kentuckian Loretta Lynn...well, it was Sissy Spacek PLAYING Loretta Lynn, but Coal Miner's Daughter was so authentic, Loretta MUST have said it.

 SOMETIMES IT GETS A LITTLE GROSS

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I don't want to dig too deep on this one. Let's just say that phrase usually follows, "That'll go through you..." and leave it at that. What you think it means is EXACTLY what it means.

AND WHEN YOUR DAD'S A FUNERAL DIRECTOR...

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We always heard this when Dad would get mad about us reacting negatively to something he said. I could only find the origins for "Excuse me for living!" Dad must have added the rest; as a funeral director, that makes sense. It also makes that phrase uniquely Kentuckian, as far as I'm concerned.

SOMETIMES IT GETS A LITTLE GROSS -- PART II

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The actual phrase is "gag a maggot OFF a gut wagon," but whatever. What's one little preposition switch? It's a pretty gross statement used when something wreaks to high heaven.

SOMETIMES IT GETS A LITTLE GROSS -- PART III

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A friend of my mother's HATED this phrase and would chastise me every time I used it. And I still do. Yes, it's an unpleasant image, but can you think of another creature that can claim "being full" as a trademark? But you know something, when you put an image with it, I kind of get her point.

MOM COULD 'CUSS' TOO

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This was Mom's version of cussing. We have no idea where she got it and neither does Google. Again, how foolish not to have asked her about it while she was still with us.

IN CASE YOU HAVE MORE THAN YOU NEED

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This one I've heard from quite a few people, but they have all been Kentuckians. And you should've seen the reaction from my cousins in New Mexico when my sister tossed it into a conversation. There was a long pause followed by uproarious laughter and then a "WHAT?!?" Her explanation was pretty sound..."Just stop and think about ALL the things you can shake a stick at all at once." The phrase's origins actually involve sheep. Seriously. As in having more sheep than you need or...say it with me...more than YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT.

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Well, I've come to the conclusion that the majority of these aphorisms belong to the south, not just Kentucky. But I swear I've only ever heard them here.

I mean, "I swanee" I've only ever heard them here.

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