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BRENDA LOOPER: Woman of words

Nerdiness abides by Brenda Looper | September 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Taking the week off from column-writing last week (no, the shovel hasn't returned) gave me a little time to think about things I love.

And we all know what that means: The Word Nerd strikes again!

Letter-writer Karen Woods of Flippin contributed a wonderful idiom in her letter printed Tuesday: "licked the red right off my sucker." I hadn't heard that one before, but I did find it in The Boys from Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation through a Google Book search, in a quote from Herbert Jackson Youngblood III: "The first day I had to go through the drills with Jim Benson, it was like somebody had licked all the red off my sucker." I'll guess that means he was plumb wore out. There's also that song from Little Jimmy Dickens from back in the '60s, "Who Licked the Red Off Your Candy."

This is one more reason you don't take candy from strangers, y'all: It might have already been licked. Also, don't Google phrases like "licked the red off my sucker" without SafeSearch on. (Yeesh.)

After my last column on Southern idioms, several readers sent me some of their favorites, such as adding "Honey" to the ends of names, like "Sheryl Honey." That happens all across the South and elsewhere, and in places like Baltimore it gets shortened to "Hon" ... and then embroiled in a trademark battle when someone decided to trademark the common expression in 2010. The owner of Cafe Hon canceled the trademark in late 2011 after protests and dropoffs in sales.

Sometimes "Honey" is sweet and pleasant. Sometimes not so much for women. I remember not so fondly a visit with my first adviser after I changed my major from political science to radio/TV news just before my second semester in college. He looked at my proposed schedule for the next semester that included a required lab hour for my physical science course, then looked at me and said in a patronizing voice, "But Honey, you can't take 19 hours!" My reply: "Sweetheart, yes I can. Look at my GPA." Yep, I was sassy then, too.

I got through that semester with a 4.0, and found an adviser who wasn't condescending. She was also my brand of weird, and that helped.

When I was a kid, I remember my grandpa telling people on the phone that he'd "be by directly." There was never a definite time involved, but before too long, he'd head over there, usually coming back with a mess of whatever he traded something from their garden for.

He actually pronounced the whole word, as opposed to many now who say "dreckly." As a word nerd, I have to wonder if the people who say that mean "directly" or "with a great amount of dreck" (that's rubbish, if you're not sure).

Enunciation can really make a difference sometimes, you know.

Another word I heard a lot when I was a kid and still use: "blinky," as in blinky milk. It never fails to confuse at least a few people, though the use seems fairly common throughout our region. It's when milk is juuuust starting to sour, so you might not want to drink it, but you can still use it to fix up a pan of cornbread (no sugar unless you want to incur my wrath). My grandma always used to say that you call it blinky because the smell makes you blink a little.

That use might have come along due to an old British definition of the verb "blink": to turn slightly sour, such as from a witch's curse. We do have a lot of people around here with Scots/Scotch-Irish ancestry, so I wouldn't doubt it.

And if anyone lost power in the latest series of frog-stranglers we just had, they might be dealing with some blinky milk of their own. That and a bunch of dead frogs. (You're supposed to gig those frogs, not strangle 'em, so you can fix up a mess of frogs' legs and get fuller than a tick.)

There's something I've learned over the past several years working on this page, and it's that there is nothing I can do to please some people. They'd rather spend their days complaining than being kind and thoughtful. (The Golden Rule? What's that?) They want special treatment, and anything less will get them all bowed up. (See, you knew I'd bring it back to words.) They want to fight, and they don't care with whom.

It seems they prefer to get ugly, as if being polite and considerate--just a little common decency--would lessen them. Insults, lies, selective thinking ... that's all part of their toolbox, and all that they will willingly share.

I wonder if adding a mirror to that toolbox would do any good ... or maybe a persnickety grandparent ...

A housekeeping note for those using the online form: We've been having issues lately with error messages after people submit their letters. Sometimes the letters make it through (regardless of the error message, and sometimes in multiples) while some don't. If you're not sure your letters are going through, you can always email them to our Voices address, Remember to put your name and town on the letter, as well as a daytime phone number.

And don't be ugly. My grandma is not beyond coming back from the grave to smack you.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at

Editorial on 09/12/2018

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