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Kentucky phrases are like music for those listenin’

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By Joan Burke

“Lord have mercy, children,” my mother would say, when something really bad was going on.
She used another colloquialism; it was “Law-zee-day.” I spelled it phonetically because I don’t really know what she was saying. But when she said it, I knew something wasn’t right, for sure.
I grew up in Harlan, so of course I heard plenty of colorful phrases.   
When I moved to California, people were great, but I didn’t hear those words and sayings, so I pretty much forgot about them. So when we moved back here, all those odd, Kentucky phrases came back to me. And with the Southern drawl, it’s music to my ears.  
There’s the classic, “Bless his/her heart,” which usually precedes a semi-snide remark – as in, “Bless his heart, he won’t stay long at this new job. He’s been “slippin’ around” with so-and-so, and her with two babies already, bless her heart.” Good grief, if you get your heart blessed enough times, you’re done for.
I also love “ornery.” I used to think it meant just stubborn. Silly me, it has a whole array of meanings.
It can imply that you are lazy, hard-headed, caustic, eccentric, peculiar or just plain bad.
 “I mean, I think the world and all of Uncle Leroy, but he’s about as ornery as you can get!” And what does “the world and all” mean exactly? More than just the world? Isn’t the world enough?
My husband loves the superlatives we use. For instance, it’s not just cold outside. It’s freezin’ cold. It’s not just hot, it’s boilin’ hot, blazin’ hot, or the old stand-by, burnin’ up. It’s not raining. It’s pouring down rain. Here in Lawrenceburg is where first I heard “It’s spittin’ snow.”  
“So, after it stopped pouring down rain, it got to be boilin’ hot, and right about that time, here come this truck down the road, and he was just a-flyin’!” Some of us have the habit of using the “a” before those “ing” verbs, and I hope we always will.
That has to be old English, or something medieval.
While I was in Kroger the other day, some sort of tape was playing in background. I saw a gentleman standing nearby, and he said to me, with a complete poker face, “That’s me a-singin’ there.” His delivery was perfect.
Later on I saw him again as I was leaving the store. “I really enjoyed your singing,” I said. “I’ll probably be in here tomorrow,” he said, straight-faced. “I don’t know what I’ll be singin’, though.”
I so appreciate the words, and this very dry, peculiar to Kentucky, sense of humor. But I’ll save that for another column. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

Joan Burke is a guest columnist for The Anderson News.