If you aren’t from around these parts, there are plenty of Arkansas sayings that will make you scratch your head and wonder what in the world we’re talking about.
In fact, I say these crazy sayings so often that I don’t even realize it anymore!
There is usually a circumstance when the only thing you can say that makes sense is an Arkansas saying that sums up everything you have on your mind. I’ll do some explaining for you and, before you know it, you’ll be speaking like a true Arkansan.
Crazy Arkansas Sayings
Stick with me here and you’ll learn a few things. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!
32. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle
This happens to be my most used Arkansas saying. Let’s say you walk into your child’s room fully expecting it to be a mess (because it always is) but, instead, you find it perfectly in order. In fact, they even made the bed and dusted the furniture.
The only thing you can do is stand there in awe and say, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”
This means, I can’t believe what I’m seeing but it’s amazing! It’s an expression of great surprise.
“Why that particular animal was chosen is no longer known, and indeed the cliché, which dates from the early 1900s, is heard less often today.” source
This saying isn’t exclusive to Arkansas but it’s definitely popular here.
31. It’s hotter than two squirrels kissing in a wool sack.
There’s no denying that when it’s hot in Arkansas, it’s very hot. In fact, summers here can be so hot and humid that you typically get angry for no reason.
I don’t know where this saying originated from but what I do know is whether those two squirrels are kissing or not, it would definitely be hot in that wool sack.
I can break a sweat just thinking about it.
30. Send him to me and I’ll show him how the cow eats the cabbage.
If someone is about to tell you how the cow eats the cabbage, it means that they are about to either tell you a hurtful truth that you don’t want to hear or they are about to “tell you off.” Either way, it’s not going to be good.
This weird Arkansas saying dates back to the 1940s. It comes from the punchline of a slightly crude joke.
It goes like this:
A circus had arrived in a small town, and one morning one of the elephants managed to escape. The fugitive pachyderm made its way to the backyard garden of an elderly (and very near-sighted) woman, where it began hungrily uprooting her cabbages with its trunk and eating them. Alarmed by the apparition in her garden, the woman called the police, saying, “Sheriff, there’s a big cow in my garden pulling up my cabbages with its tail!” “What’s the cow doing with them?” he asked, to which the woman replied, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you!” source
Now you know. Maybe you wish you didn’t know!
29. I’m working harder than a one-legged cat spreading litter.
This Arkansas saying sure paints a picture in your mind doesn’t it? It’s not a hard one to figure out either. I’m sure no one works harder than a one-legged cat spreading litter.
28. Put a little paint on the barn
In the South, if a woman says she needs to put a little paint on the barn, that means she needs to put on her makeup.
You might also hear someone say, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!”
Personally, I feel like it’s a bit degrading to associate a woman’s face with a barn. However, it’s such a funny Arkansas saying that I catch myself saying it too!
Sometimes you just have to “roll with the punches” and not “get all worked up.” Do you catch my drift?
27. Busier than a cow’s tail in fly season
If you have ever spent time around cows during the summer in Arkansas then you know just how busy a cow’s tail can be!
If you’re familiar with the Andy Griffith show from the 1960s (and you should be) then you know that this Arkansas saying was even said by Andy himself!
In the 1961 episode called “Andy and the Gentleman Crook”, Andy says, “Slow down, Barney. You’re busier than a cow’s tail in fly season.” source
Barney was running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off while he was trying to prepare for a “high profile criminal.”
26. Can’t never could because try a little harder always did it for him.
A friend told me that his dad always repeated this Arkansas saying to him when he had obviously made up his mind not to do something. It was clearly the push he needed to try a little harder.
This saying reminds me of a poem I recently read online. Part of it goes like this:
“A wise old man once told me
That can’t never could
For if you never try
Things that are to be, never would”
You will also like: 12 Arkansas Slang Terms Us Southerners Love
25. I’m finer than frog hair split four ways
“How are you?”
“Well, I’m finer than frog hair split four ways!”
In case you didn’t know, frogs do not have hair. So, if you’re finer than frog hair, you must be feeling pretty good!
A friend’s husband used to say that he was “finer than frog hair split 8 ways!” He must have been a very optimistic guy!
This phrase comes from C. Davis’s Diary of 1865.
24. Lying like a dog in the shade
“Did you eat the last Oreo?”
“Of course not!
“You’re lying like a dog in the shade! You’ve got chocolate in your teeth!”
If someone says you are “lying like a dog in the shade,” what they mean is that you are telling a lie and you seem very comfortable doing it.
Another variation is “lying like a rug.” I use this Arkansas saying all the time. It always makes my husband laugh. However, I tend to use it in a funny way. Like this:
Husband: “You’re right. We should have done it your way.” (said while smirking)
Me: “You lie like a rug!”
What I mean is, “You’re flat out making that up! You know very well that you don’t think I’m right. You’re just making fun of me!”
Then we all start laughing.
However, upon deeper investigation, I learned that the root phrase “lying like a dog” could have originated as early as 1777.
In John Williams’, The Rise and Progress of the Northern Governments; viz. the United Provinces, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and Poland, volume 2 (1777), a judicial punishment is explained that involves a calumniator having to actually lie down on the floor like a dog. At the time of writing, this punishment was “still practiced in Poland.”
“When a calumniator is judicially convicted of his crime, he is conducted into the great hall of the senate, where he is obliged to lie down under the seat of him whom he has offended and there, in this humiliating situation, he is obliged to pronounce, with a loud voice, that he repents sincerely of the calumnies and falsehoods that he has wickedly spread against the reputation of the person whom he accused, and that he lied like a dog; and after this public confession the guilty person is obliged to counterfeit three times the barking of a dog, which terminates this singular scene.” source
The point is that Arkansans will call you out for telling a fib…and, apparently, they won’t go easy on you in Poland either.
23. Snug as a bug in a rug
It’s a cold Arkansas winter evening and you’re wrapped up in blankets while watching a Christmas movie. You’ve got a warm cup of hot chocolate in your favorite mug and your Christmas tree is glowing. You are snug as a bug in a rug.
Benjamin Franklin used the expression back in a 1777 epitaph memorializing a friend’s pet squirrel.
In a letter to this family friend, Franklin writes:
Here Skugg / Lies snug, / As a bug / In a rug. (Skugg is believed to be a nickname for the squirrel.) source
Clearly, this isn’t just an Arkansas saying but it’s quite common here. Although, I’ve never heard anyone use it to describe a deceased squirrel.
Most often, when I tuck my children in bed at night, I always say that they are as snug as a bug in a rug.
22. Mad as a little red chicken
“What did she say when you told her that her potato salad needed more salt?”
“She was as mad as a little red chicken!”
That’s pretty mad, y’all. Trust me.
Another variation is “mad as a wet hen.”
Several years ago, we had a coop with 6 chickens that lived in our backyard. We thought it would be fun to feel like urban farmers in our tiny, suburban backyard and we were right!
It was a ton of fun until we realized that chickens are very dumb.
I’ll go ahead and apologize to all the chicken lovers out there but it seemed like our chickens were always trying to find a way to kill themselves. One thought it would be a great idea to fly over our very tall fence and play with our 70 lb dog. It didn’t go well.
After we spent a week building more fence and making the chickens’ area “chicken proof”, everything went a little smoother. However, when it came time to collect eggs, I was always terrified to collect them if one of the hens was in the coop.
Those ladies do not like it when you take their eggs. I had always seen in the movies how farmers would just reach under the hen that was sitting on a nest and gently pull out the eggs while humming a tune. Either that’s just a Hollywood falsehood or I was doing something wrong!
I’ve definitely seen a little red chicken get mad!
21. Crazy as a betsybug
“How is your sister doing?”
“Girl, she’s crazy as a betsy bug.”
Some of you can relate. If you know, you know.
But what does this Arkansas saying mean and is a Betsy Bug a real bug?
Actually, a Betsy Bug is real! It’s also called a “Bessie Bug” or “Bess Bug.” It’s a 1.5 inch long black beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus). It can also be referred to as a patent leather beetle, pinch bug, horn beetle, or horned passalus.
“The phrase “crazy as a Betsy Bug” may refer to the sounds that these insects make – at least 17 different types! As a mode of defense, adults will make a noise when disturbed (some say that it sounds like they are saying “Bessie”), created by rubbing parts of their hind wings against their abdomen.” source
21. Go around by Laura’s house
“What took you so long to get here? We put the burgers on the grill an hour ago!”
“There was a detour on Hwy 7 because part of the road was washed out, then we got behind a tractor for several miles that was going incredibly slow. We decided to hang a right by that old barn and we had to go around by Laura’s house to get here!”
“Going around by Laura’s house” is simply a funny way to say that you had to take a long, meandering (and often unplanned) route to get where you wanted to go.
20. Hotter than a hot tin roof
“Do y’all want to go camping next weekend?”
“Girl, no. It’s July. It will be hotter than a hot tin roof out there!”
This Arkansas saying doesn’t take much explaining. If you’ve ever touched a tin (or metal) roof on a hot, summer day, you know that you can easily burn your hand!
That’s basically what Arkansas summers feel like. If you spray some water on that roof to make it sizzle and get humid, you’ve “hit the nail on the head.”
19. Feeling lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut
“I heard you lost your job today. How are you?”
“I’m feeling lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut.”
This Arkansas saying means that you are feeling sad or depressed. You can’t get much lower than a snakes belly…unless, of course, it’s in a wagon rut.
If you ever feel that low, just read my article about weird Arkansas town names and have a laugh!
18. Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs
“The choir director asked me to sing the special during the Easter service at church.”
“Really? That’s wonderful!”
“I’m honored but I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
This saying pretty much sums up what being extremely nervous feels like. You don’t know where to go or what to do. You feel extremely nervous about something. So, you freeze and sit in a corner chewing on your tail…I mean, fingernails.
This is why I’m thankful that I’m a terrible singer. No one will ever ask me to sing the special at church!
17. Now we’re cooking with grease!
“So, what you’re saying is that I need to chill my mixing bowl before beating the whipping cream so it beats easier?”
“Now you’re cooking with grease!”
This phrase has several variations:
Now we’re cooking with heat!
Now we’re cooking with fire!
Now we’re cooking with gas!
And the list goes on…
All of these variations mean the same thing. It means that something is finally working or that you are doing something the right way.
The version about gas seems to date back to the early 1940s.
Gas cookers began to replace wood-burners around 1915, and the actual phrase was used by Hollywood radio comedians around December 1939, and then appropriated by gas companies to promote gas cooking from around 1941 onwards. The phrase has been attributed to Deke Houlgate, who after working in the gas industry, wrote the line for Bob Hope. source
Do you know who is really cooking with heat? The BEST catfish restaurants in Arkansas! YUMMO!
16. Cause a ruckus
“Listen kids. I’m going to go type an article about iconic restaurants in Arkansas for AllAboutArkansas.com. Play in your room quietly, be kind to each other, and please do not cause a ruckus! I’ll be back shortly.”
This is an Arkansas saying that’s popular in my house. I use it when I want to remind my children to stay calm and polite.
Ruckus means: the act of making a noisy disturbance source
15. Raise a stink
“Ma’am, the service man accidentally voided the warranty on your camper while trying to fix your air conditioner. So, you will have to pay the bill in full.”
I know someone who took their camper in to be serviced and the repairman walked on the roof of their brand new RV and voided the warranty. (It was a model that strictly prohibited walking on the roof due to the type of roof it was.)
Therefore, the owners were told that the repair would no longer be covered by the warranty and there was nothing they could do about it.
If it was me, I think I might have to raise a stink.
This Arkansas saying is a funny way to say that you strongly disagree with something and you are taking forceful action to express your discontent. Basically, you’re choosing to get loud about it.
So, in the case of the camper, a person might be tempted to start yelling right there in the dealership so everyone there knows what terrible service they give!
14. Over yonder
“Hun, will you go get my sewing basket?”
“Sure Grandma. Where is it?”
Grandma is just trying to tell you that it’s “over there.” I’m sure she would be pointing while she said it. If it was by the window and my Granny was giving the directions, she would say, “Over yonder by the winder.”
Granny was full of great Arkansas sayings!
15. Fair to middlin’
“Hey Grandpa! How are you today?”
“Oh, fair to middlin.”
This was a favorite expression by my husband’s Grandpa (which happens to have been one of the neatest people I have ever met). He would always say that he was “fair to middlin’.”
It was his way of saying that he felt average.
I loved it.
16. I’m fixin’ to…
“When are you going to mow the yard? It’s getting hot out there.”
“I’m fixin’ to.”
If you’re “fixin’ to” do something, it means that you, someone else, or something are/is going to, about to, or planning to do something.
However, in Arkansas, you better mow your yard early in the morning in the summer because it’s fixin’ to get hot!
15. Don’t tump it over!
“Hey kids, be careful! Don’t tump over your juice please!”
What in the world is “tump”? Well, it’s tip + dump.
According to my research, this phrase has been used in Savannah, Georgia since at least 1800. However, it’s definitely an Arkansas saying too. I said it all the time when I was a child!
“Mom, we were horsing around and I tumped over my cup.”
Cue angry mom face.
14. That’s a tough row to hoe
“All of my college professors gave us projects this week and I have to put in extra hours at work. I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done.”
“Girl, that a tough row to hoe.”
Translation: “Girl, that is an extremely difficult situation and your current set of circumstances have left you with a problematic task to contend with.”
It’s more fun to just say, “That’s a tough row to hoe!”
13. I’ve had worse than that in my eye!
Your child dramatically limps over to you and says, “Mom, I hurt my knee and I don’t think I can finish folding the laundry today.”
So, you exclaim, “I’ve had worse than that in my eye!”
A friend told me about this Arkansas saying. It was the first time I had heard it and I have to say that I think it’s hilarious. It’s a fun way to say, “I think you’re exaggerating and need to calm down.”
12. That’s as steep as a horse’s face!
“I’m thinking about riding my bike to the top of Mt. Nebo. What do you think?”
“That’s as steep as a horse’s face!”
Some of the best hikes in Arkansas are around Mt. Nebo but the ride/drive to the top is full of switch backs that are extremely steep. Actually, steep as a horse’s face!
And, if you’ve ever seen a horse’s face, you know that it’s very steep!
11. A hill of beans
“That lady was so mean to me today. She said the article I wrote about the best restaurants in Hot Springs was no good because I didn’t include her favorite. Actually, I took a poll online and everyone voted for those awesome restaurants. No one even voted for the one she mentioned!”
“Her comment isn’t worth a hill of beans! Just ignore it.”
Honestly, it’s an amazing article and everyone LOVES those restaurants! But, there’s always one person who likes to gripe. Don’t be that person.
Definition of hill of beans
: something of negligible importance or value —used chiefly in negative constructions
// doesn’t amount to a hill of beans
// not worth a hill of beans (source)
Sometimes, these Arkansas sayings come in very handy. As in my case, that rude comment wasn’t worth a hill of beans. It’s not worth entertaining in my mind.
“Beans, being fairly easy to grow, are commonly used in everyday expressions to indicate something of little value. Consequently, someone who isn’t worth a hill of beans is seen as being worth very little…” –source
10. Another white belly up
“I finally finished painting all the trim in my house. I can’t tell you how relieved I am!”
“Well, there’s another white belly up!”
A friend told me about this saying. It was used in her family and it’s a funny way to say “another job done.”
Snakes often die with their bellies facing upward. If you’re familiar with any of the snakes in Arkansas, you know that some of them have white or cream colored bellies.
9. Batting your eyes like a frog in a hailstorm
“That neighbor boy came over here again. He’s always batting his eyes like a frog in a hailstorm.”
“Girl, just ignore him.”
Can you just imagine that poor frog sitting in a hailstorm. I bet his eyelids are going 90 to nothin’!
That reminds me, you’ll love the true story of Toad Suck, Arkansas!
Since we’re talking about it speed…
8. 90 to nothing
“Y’all, don’t you get excited when your baby learns her first word? I do. But now, my baby is 4 and she talks 90 to nothing. I’m not kidding. The girl is never quiet unless she’s asleep!”
I know some of you can relate! Chatter, chatter, chatter…
You can also use this saying to describe how fast you were working, driving, running, etc.
“I was mowing the yard today when I noticed some storm clouds brewing overhead. I heard a crack of thunder and, y’all, I started mowing 90 to nothing! I finished just as the first raindrop fell.”
The term is slang, used heavily in the South. It means you have a million things to do and you are moving fast to get those things finished. source
7. Hoe your own row
“Mom, can Jenny help me with the laundry? I don’t want to do it today.”
“You need to hoe your own row.”
Basically, this is a way of saying that you need to do your own work.
No free lunches around here!
After all, let’s not make a mountain out of a mole hill.
6. Eating high on the hog
“Roast beef? It’s not even the weekend! We’re eating high on the hog tonight!”
There was a similar line in one of the episodes of the Andy Griffith show where Aunt Bee serves roast beef on a week night. It was uncommon to eat such luxury food when there wasn’t a special occasion.
“Eating high on the hog” means that you are eating well. It doesn’t even have to refer to meat.
Note: The best meat, the ham and loin, is located on the upper part of a hog’s body. So, if you’re actually eating the meat that his “high on the hog,” you are literally eating the best portions.
5. I don’t chew my terbakker twice
“After you unload the dishwasher, I need you to put away your laundry then start your homework.”
“I don’t chew my terbakker twice. You need to start listening.”
If someone says this to you, they are letting you know that they won’t repeat their statement or instructions again. You better listen the first time.
Another variation is “I don’t chew my cabbage twice.”
4. Jump the broomstick
“Well, Jack and Anna are finally going to jump the broomstick!”
This is an Arkansas saying that simply means someone is getting married.
Jumping the broom (or jumping the besom) is a phrase and custom relating to a wedding ceremony where the couple jumps over a broom. source
3. Take a gander
“I fixed the leak on your kitchen sink. Everything should work now. Here is the bill.”
“Let me take a gander first.”
To “take a gander” means to take a look. You can take a gander of anything.
“Why don’t you take a gander at my garden. I’ve grown the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever seen!”
“Take a gander at these spreadsheets. I think you’ll find everything in order.”
“Take a gander at the outfit he’s wearing! I don’t think he’s got one thing on that matches!”
2. Slicker than snot on a doorknob
“Jake’s drawing must have fallen blown off the counter last night and landed in the kitchen floor. I got up in the dark to get a drink and stepped on that paper. A piece of paper on a tile floor is slicker than snot on a doorknob!”
Another true story.
“Doorknobs, generally being made of smooth materials such as brass or glass, are somewhat slippery. Snot, also being made of smooth materials, is comparably slippery. Combine the two and you have quite the traction-less situation.” source
Gross, I know.
“Do y’all want to go get some ice cream?”
“Are y’all going camping next weekend?”
“What do y’all want for supper?”
Y’all is an extremely common word in Arkansas that simply refers to “you all.”
Are you still confused about these Arkansas sayings?
If y’all are confused, I understand. Sometimes, we can be some pretty strange birds here in Arkansas. But, I reckon, if you make a trip over here, you’ll have fun until the cows come home! …as long as the creek don’t rise.
Bless your heart.