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Old Time Farm Talk: A Homesteader's Narrative

| 2/18/2015 8:59:00 AM

Rag-tag two-horse team from the Fullington Farm

Every occupation has its own specific vocabulary. Spinners ply, millers brew, carpenters plumb, and social media enthusiasts tweet. Farming certainly has its own slew of specific vocabulary—like the complex system of names for the genders and ages of animals. An adult, intact male hog is a boar, the female a sow, the little ones piglets…but if they’re girls they’re gilts and the boys are barrows. When pigs have babies they “farrow,” while sheep “lamb” and cows “calve.” Hmmm…

But what really sets farm talk apart is the use of phraseology. We’ve all heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, from those who are fit as a fiddle and merry as a lark. But here are a few that, unless you’re a farmer, you might not have encountered before.

Many of these sayings involve animals, such as the notion that you shouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time and it annoys the pig. Good fences make good neighbors, but the best fences are horse-high, pig-tight, and bull strong. We all know that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Crying over spilled milk isn’t quite as bad as when someone notes that your behavior is like locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.

References to people and their particular ways of doing things are also common. Someone new in the neighborhood might not know you from a bale of hay. Another fellow might be deemed slower than molasses in January. A chatterbox might well be caught chewing the fat with a neighbor, while the patient type will explain that they ain’t in an all-fired hurry. It’s all six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Is it a playful sense of language, its own form of insider’s code talk, or just plain old fashioned farm humor that stands behind these sayings? Of course, if you’re a city slicker who doesn’t know sh*t from Shinola (as Grandpa likes to say), then you might have a problem catching on.

2/21/2015 8:12:38 AM

good article, but included some folk etymology. Here is the real origin of the vulgar term for feces. Long outdating the times when anyone thought of feces as something useful.

2/20/2015 6:31:30 PM

Great article !!! Here's another one! "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"!

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