Anne Dingus teaches you to talk Texan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I feel like a possum trotted over my grave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She’s lucky. Of course, loyalists would argue that all Texans are lucky, simply by virtue of being born Texans. But this saying conveys the extreme auspiciousness of a four-star fortunate.
She could sit on the fence and the birds would feed her.
They tried to hang him, but the rope broke.
He could draw a pat hand from a stacked deck.
He always draws the best bull.
He’s riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels.
The twentieth-first century may be just around the corner, but staunch moral values—as professed publicly, at any rate—remain a constant in the Texas character, and woe to those who act otherwise. This quotation is a beaut. Not just women are targeted in such zingers: A similar remark for a man is “He’ll take up with any hound that’ll hunt.” Obviously, when it comes to Texas talk, immorality is fertile ground.
They call her radio station because anyone can pick her up, especially at night.
Loose as ashes in the wind.
She’s just naturally horizontal.
He was all over her like ugly on an ape.
They’re hitched but not churched.
He was born on the wrong side of the blanket.
They ate supper before they said grace.
A classic, it’s a succinct and subtle way of perpetuating the everything’s-bigger -in-Texas myth. It also recalls another legendary (if less flattering) quote long attributed to Union General Phil Sheridan, who was posted in Texas after the Civil War: “If I owned hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”
Big as all hell and half of Texas.
He don’t care what you call him as long as you call him to supper.
So big he has to sit down in shifts.
Fat as a town dog.
His butt looks like two hams in a tow sack.
He’s all spread out like a cold supper.
Texans are unabashed braggarts. This saying separates the seasoned boaster from the rest of the crowd.
He’s shot more buck deer in that bar than any other man in Texas.
She’s got more airs than an Episcopalian.
As full of wind as a corn-eating horse.
He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow.
He’s all broth and no beans.
He broke his arm patting himself on the back.
To break a horse is to train or domesticate it. This saying means a person is dangerous and mean—in essence, that he can’t be “broken.” Use it to convey that my-family-has- ranching-roots allure.
He broke bad.
Meaner than a skilletful of rattlesnakes.
So low he’d steal the nickels off a dead man’s eyes.
She makes a hornet look cuddly.
Meaner than a junkyard dog.
He’d start a fight at the drop of a hat—and he’d drop it himself.
In short, he’s ugly. Expressions for homeliness are the most common of Texas sayings. This stellar and venerable example paints a picture, tells a tale, and cracks a joke, all in twelve words.
He looks like he was in the outhouse when the lightning struck.
She’s so ugly she’d make a freight train take a dirt road.
He’s so ugly his cooties have to close their eyes.
So ugly his mama takes him everywhere she goes so she doesn’t have to kiss him goodbye.
She looks like she fell face-down in the sticker patch and cows ran over her.
He looks like the dogs have been keepin’ him under the porch.
Another great saying tied to Texas’ love of the land. Expressions for “stupid” are the second most common in Texas lore.
If dumb was dirt, he’d cover about an acre.
If all her brains were dynamite, she couldn’t blow her nose.
He couldn’t find his butt with a flashlight in each hand.
If brains were leather, he couldn’t saddle a flea.
He couldn’t pour rain out of a boot with a hole in the toe and directions on the heel.
Sharp as a mashed potato.
One of many marvelous references to “crazy.” Quite a few such descriptions spring from vintage homemaking or housekeeping terminology —consider also “She came right off the spool” and “He’s missing a few buttons off his shirt.” Obviously pioneer women were just as capable of coining colorful colloquialisms as were the men.
He don’t know if he’s a-washin’ or a-hangin.
He’s got a big hole in his screen door.
She’s a couple sandwiches shy of a picnic.
The porch light’s on but no one’s home.
Her phone’s off the hook.
He lost too many balls in the high weeds.
He’s overdrawn at the memory bank.