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Pine Curtain Dictionary Excerpts

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Folks in East Texas like to say they live behind the "Pine Curtain."

The Pine Curtain is not like the old Iron Curtain during the Cold War days. No one tries to shoot you if you desire to flee the eastern third of the Lone Star State, but in the pines you might indeed get shot if you get caught trespassing. (Well, that's not really legal unless a land owner were in fear of his life, but a good lawyer from San Augustine could argue that a landowner with a shotgun became frightened when he found someone poaching deer on his place.)

This coniferous barrier is actually evident to anyone from West or Central Texas who heads eastward. Suddenly the land goes from flat, open farmland to pine forest. The farther east you go, the taller and thicker the pines. Indeed, if you are headed east beyond the Sabine River, the pine trees continue on through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

As is the case with any region, those who live behind the Pine Curtain add their own nuance to our common tongue. Not to mention accent, which is far different from say, someone living in San Angelo. Of course, Pine Curtain people speak English just like most of us, but their dialect and use of words definitely would stand out at the upcoming Royal wedding.

Back in the mid-1980s, the ladies of the Woodville Women's Study Club published a small booklet they called, "Can We Talk." For whatever reason, they didn't think a question mark was necessary for the title.

"Every area of the country has developed its own specific expressions which are so graphic, vivid or charming that they need to be preserved for future generations to savor and appreciate," the booklet's brief introduction says.

The sayings compiled in the book are "particular to East Texas piney woods." Some they believed originated behind the Pine Curtain, other expressions came from the South as the forebears of present East Texans moved westward to settle in the right hand of the state (looking down from above).

"No matter where they came [from]," the introduction continues, "here they stayed and were used—and are used."

A longtime student of Texas talk will recognize a lot of the expressions in the booklet as common anywhere in Texas, but some do seem particular.

A few examples:

"He hasn't got the sense of a summer coon." True enough, in following its mating instincts or searching for scarce food, a raccoon does not do its best thinking in the warmer months.

"Lick that calf again." Translation: "I don't understand. Could you repeat what you just said?"

"Turning over dry goods and chinning." Acquaintances visiting at the store, their topic leaning toward gossip.

"As tight as the bark on a hickory tree." They might turn over dry goods, but good luck on the proprietor making a sale.

"Don't worry about the mule, load the wagon." Focus on the job at hand.

"Got no more nature." Can you say Viagra?

"In bed with the doctor." Describing the status of someone very ill with the flu or some other disease who is under medical treatment. "Sick abed" is another way to characterize someone with severe health woes.

"Funeralized." Having gone through the often extended rituals that follow in the sad event that having been in bed with the doctor leds to a bad outcome.

"Friendly as two strange bulldogs." Actually, not so much.

"Got all over him." A way to describe someone's reaction to an offensive or disturbing statement or behavior, as in, "What he said about his biscuits got all over him."

"Tail over the dashboard." Being annoyed, a reference to how a horse would feel if his tail got tangled over the dashboard of a buggy. (No, back then a dashboard was not where your speedometer and gas gage could be found.)

"Shoot a button." An expression of scorn.

"All wool and a yard wide." An honest, loyal, standup person.

"So crooked he has to screw his socks on." The opposite of being all wool and a yard wide, even if the socks happen to be wool.

"Not worth a mashed bullet." See above. A mashed bullet, obviously, is one which has been fired from a gun and hit something—or someone.

"Fair off." What happens when the sky clears up.

"Carry." Transport, as in, "She carried me to the doctor last week."

"No bigger than a washing of soap." Not much, easy to carry somewhere.

"Prissy prune." Miss Manners on steroids.

"Plow mule in a buggy harness." Someone not particularly fitted for the job at hand.

"She couldn't decorate a tin barn with a bucket of red paint." Clearly not the Martha Stewart type.

"I didn't go to school just to eat my lunch." You can't pull that on me, I'm smart. And now you're better prepared for your next venture behind the Pine Curtain.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" February 7, 2018 column
An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters. A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at texasmikecox@gmail.com.

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