'Pause, rewind and play some old Conway culture'

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

In our city “of old,” in the mid-1990s before its roundabouts, gnarled traffic and becoming one of the state’s wettest dry counties, there was peace and propriety. Within that peace was a healthy regard for our local culture and history. This was observed in the downtown area by proper social behavior and in all venues by respect for the elderly and their places in our lives.

Men walking downtown wore hats, primarily, and tipped them and nodded when meeting a woman on the sidewalk. When they entered a dining business, hats as well as caps were removed. They hung them on hat racks with no worry of theft.

Families occasionally enjoyed lunch in the small downtown cafes that served blue-plate specials, strong coffee and cotton-clad conversation. Their children might be present, but they had parental control and were not distractions in public places.

Also a part of our earlier culture in Conway were our accents, phrases, words and expressions heard downtown and elsewhere. We commonly used and heard them before the 90s era, but not so much now. While they decrease with the arrival of newcomers from all points of our country and beyond, there are smiles of recognition when some people hear them. Many of the words and phrases originated in England, Scotland and Ireland, eventually arriving here by way of settlers moving west from Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and the Carolinas.

Some folks are “country” and some “hillbillies”; both likely came from the same areas. Some became highlanders in the hills and some lowlanders on the plains. In our family’s case, we were and are proud to be hillbillies, as “billy” is a Scot term for a “fine fellow.”

Regardless of their hill country upbringing, our parents did not use the word “ain’t,” but conceded that it was once a proper 1700s Middle English conjunction for “am not.” In my family, I heard more ancient words and phrases than I can relate, but I do recall a few. Many are omitted because of crudeness, but the influences of living close to the land had an effect on language, too.

As a child, I thought my grandmother was ignorant as she would add an h in front of vowels, as in “hit” for “it,” and in denim “overhalls.” She removed them from the front of words, such as “’ere” for “here.” Our dad revealed that some were “leftovers” from handed down usages similar to Cockney English.

My parents used words and phrases that I thought everyone used. They referred to children as “school butter” or “small change.” Dad described someone as grinning “like a mule eatin’ briars.” As a youngster he got to school by “ridin’ shank’s mare” (walking). I have heard someone say a braggart was “all hat and no cattle.” An opinion with no support was like “trying to poke a cat from under the porch with a rope.”

Instead of “beginning” some action, my mother might say she “commenced” to do it. My dad would speak of someone’s land as “down in the holler” (hollow or valley). He always referred to a bag or sack as a “poke.” Mother spoke of something crooked as being “whomper-jawed.” If she left the house, she said she would be back “directly.”

Once, when I brought a college “beau” home for a Sunday dinner, I made a comment afterward that it was delicious and I was “full as a tick.” Mother gave me the evil eye, embarrassed at my seeming lack of social graces. Not everything one hears growing up is acceptable in every setting!

I can “warrant” that those who read this will have their own lists. They should record them because they were used before we became ultra-refined. Text abbreviations and words and phrases such as, “Anyways,” “Are you done yet?,” or, “I was, ‘like’, so-o-o-o busy,” are encroaching upon our accepted standards. Actually, my grandmother would have said that after she “studied upon it,” “ain’t” is beginning to sound elegant.


A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She is editor of the Faulkner County Historical Society’s semi-annual publication, “Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings.” She can be reached at [email protected].