Texas Sayings

Anne Dingus teaches you to talk Texan.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am
Texas Sayings
Texas Sayings
Illustration by Edd Patton

Forget that Roget fella—here in Texas we’re more apt to consult Bubba’s thesaurus. In Texas, folks aren’t just rich—locals say they didn’t come to town two to a mule.

Someone doesn’t merely die—she opens herself up a worm farm. A scoundrel is “greasy as fried lard”; a summer day is “hotter than a fur coat in Marfa.” In “More Texas Sayings Than You Can Shake a Stick At,” Anne Dingus compiled a list of 662 regional expressions, categorized from “Acceptable” to “Young.” Readers adored them. Urban and rural, young and old, male and female, they responded by the score, contributing hundreds more. She eventually amassed 1,404 for a book of the same title. If you’re a politician seeking constituent appeal, an expatriate who enjoys strutting your Texas stuff, or a conversationalist with a good sense of humor, you owe it to yourself and your listeners to help keep these Texas nuggets alive. But, hey—we’re wasting time—or, burning daylight: let’s get right down to the lick-log, with a few examples of how to talk Texan.

Weather

Weather

Weather

Texas has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard, and twister. That old saying isn’t far from wrong. Because of its sheer size, Texas experiences all kinds of weather—sometimes all at once. Out in West Texas, the weather can be drier than the heart of a haystack and windier than a fifty-pound bag of whistling lips. A duststorm is dubbed “Panhandle rain.” Thunderclouds might bring some real rain—say, a real gully-washer toad-strangler. And, all over the state, it’s hot—darned hot. How hot, you ask? Hotter than a stolen tamale. Hotter than a honeymoon hotel. Hotter than a fur coat in Marfa.

So foggy the birds are walking.

So dusty the rabbits are digging holes six feet in the air.

The wind’s blowing like perfume through a prom.

So windy we’re using a log chain instead of a wind sock.

Talkative

Talkative

Talkative

Lots of Texans are apt to spin a tall tale on short notice, but some are prone to talking with no notice at all. An observer might note of such a ‘live dictionary” or “chin musician” that “he speaks ten words a second, with gusts to fifty.” The most common construction, however, is “he could talk the [blank] off a [blank]”—maybe “the legs off a chair,” “the ears off a cow,”, “the gate off its hinges.” This handy fill-in-the-blank form easily adapts itself to the speaker’s experience or view.

She speaks ten words a second, with gusts to fifty.

She could talk a coon right out of a tree.

He’s got a ten-gallon mouth.

She’s got tongue enough for ten rows of teeth.

He blew in his own words.

Shy

Shy

Shy

Timidity is not an attribute many Texans would care to claim, but perhaps the very rarity of that quality makes it saying-worthy.

Shy as a mail-order bride.

Shy as sapphires.

Shy as a crocus.

Whey-faced.

I feel like a possum trotted over my grave.

Nervous

Nervous

Nervous

Skittish horses have inspired many an equine expression. Consider “He won’t stand hitched” or “She’s chewing her bit.” Other apt examples: “She’s so nervous she has to thread her sewing machine while it’s running” and “He’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rockers.” But one saying in this category reigns as the undisputed classic: “Nervous as a whore in church.”

He’s grinning like a mule eating cockleburs.

Jumpy as spit on a hot skillet.

Calm as a june bug.

He makes a pressure cooker look calm.

Hotter than a burning stump.

He’d worry the warts off a frog.

Scared

Scared

Scared

There’s some overlap here with expressions for “shy” and “nervous,” but the “scared” file includes such gems as “She wouldn’t bite a biscuit” and “She backed out quicker than a crawfish.” A saying as as old as the state itself is “He’s first cousin to Moses Rose,” a reference to the man (also known as Louis Rose) who has long been said to be the only coward who fled the Alamo before the seige.

He may not be a chicken, but he has his henhouse ways.

Yellow suits her.

He’s as yellow as mustard, but without the bite.

Scared as a sinner in a cyclone.

Scared as a cat at the dogpound.

If he was melted down, he couldn’t be poured into a fight.

Happy

Happy

Happy

Say you’re an expatriate who just moved back to Texas. Upon your return, you might be “happy as a hog in slops” or “happy as a boardinghouse pup.” More convoluted phrasings include: “The greatest thing since . . . (apple burr to bare feet); “She took to you like . . .) a buzzard to guts; a sticker burr to bare feet)”; and “I haven’t had so much fun since . . . (the hogs ate Sister; the legs fell off Nell’s hamster).” Try using one of these, and your spirits will rise like a corncob in a cistern.

Happy as a clam at high tide

Fat and sassy.

If I felt any better, I’d drop my harp plumb through the cloud.

I’m cooking on a front burner today.

She’s got a lot of stars in her crown.

Fine as cream gravy.

Hot

Hot

Hot

Need a Texas-ism to describe the heat? No sweat. There are dozens of steamy similes for summer suffering (not surprisingly, there are far fewer for winter weather). How hot is it? It’s hot as the hinges of hell; hot as a two-dollar pistol; hot as a stolen tamale. It’s hotter than whoopee in woolens, hotter than a preacher’s knee, hotter than a fur coat in Marfa. See? It’s easy to get hot talk down cold.

Hot as a billy goat in a pepper patch.

So hot the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs.

Hot as a summer revival.

Hotter than honeymoon hotel.

Hotter than a burning stump.

Hot as a pot of neck bones.

Lucky

Lucky

Lucky

She’s lucky. Of course, loyalists would argue that all Texans are lucky, simply by virtue of being born Texans.

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