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Cattywhompus

I know...I know.  I recently wrote an essay on idioms, but I’m doing it again.  Heck, I confess, I love idioms.


What brought idioms back to my mind was a doctor.  Let’s just call him “Bob” for his own protection.  He was new to me, a young fellow who seemed to have a sensible approach to his work.  After a brief examination of my suspected problem, he dismissed my fears with logic I could understand and appreciate.
  He said my odd skin growths had a 1% chance of being cancerous.  I’ll take those odds.  Being that we had settled that matter so quickly, we had a little time to chat and share amusing doctor story.  I won’t trouble you with my doctor stories because his was a much better one.  He began his story by explaining that after medical school he went to New Orleans for his internship.  The first day on the job, he was observing an operation by a Cajun physician.  After completing the operation, he turned to the young intern, Bob, and told him to close the incision.  Bob explained that he was surprised by the request being that it was his first day on the job and must have stood staring at the incision for a long time planning how he would close it.  Finally, the old Cajun physician drawled, “ Ya’ll
need to close the incision pretty quick or it might become cattywhompus.”  Bob searched his mind for the medical meaning of “cattywhompus” fearing that he hadn’t studied hard enough in medical school.  Finally, giving up on his memory, he confessed that he didn’t remember what “cattywhompus” meant.  The Cajun physician simply smiled and slowly replied, “Off kilter, askew, Bob.”  Problem solved.


Heck, I thought everyone was familiar with the word “cattywhompus.”  As I often am, I was wrong.


The Cajun doctor might also have used “whoppyjawed” which has a similar meaning: not right, sideways, off-centered, weird shape...askew.  He might have also used “cockeyed,” “wonky,” or simply “lopsided.”


I occassionally hear someone use the word “askew,” but I’m more shocked by that word than “cattywhompus.”


H. L. Mencken described American English to be more interesting and vibrant than the original version from England.  I submit that the Southern American language is more interesting and vibrant than the language of other parts of the country.


Here are a few expressions I grew up with which I think might prove my point:


About to pop - means you are full after eating a lot

A mind to - means you are thinking about doing something

Huzzy - means a bad woman, like one that would take your husband


He doesn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of-poor

The lights are burning but nobody’s home-stupid

They’re off like a herd of turtles-slowly

You could start an argument in an empty house-argumentative

He could irritate a billy goat-greatly irritating or argumentative

Arkansas toothpick-a large knife

Bowed up-ill humored

Darn tootin'-for sure or correct

Egg on-to urge to do something

Fit as a fiddle-in good shape, healthy

Fit to be tied-angry

Hunkey dorey-everything is great

Laying out all night-staying out all night, often drinking or doing something illicit

Lickety split-very quick

Nearabout-almost

No 'count or Good for nothing-worthless individual

Ornery-having an irritable disposition.


People-relatives, kinfolk

Piddlin'-small or inferior

Snug as a bug-comfortable, cozy

Tarnation-euphemism for damnation

Tarred and feathered-denote great suprise

Tore up-upset

Tote-to carry by hand

Uppity-conceited

Varmint-man or beast considered a pest

Yaller dog-a coward

Yankee-someone from the North


Yonder-at or in that indicated more or less distant place usually within sight

Your druthers is my druthers-we agree

Hankering-a strong or persistent desire or yearning

Heap-a large quantity


These are all Southern regional terms or Southern colloquialisms.  I thank I may have mentioned before my encounter with the very local colloquial expression, “You old water moccasin,” meaning a good fellow.  I suspect its use doesn’t range beyond 20 miles. 

enough