Introduction

What would you think if somebody greeted you with, “How’s everybody on the swamp, cuz?” Or what if your co-worker turned to you and exclaimed, “I’m had a bate of you; don’t you mommuck it up again!”? And what if your friends invited you over for a “chicken bog”? Would you know whether to go or not? These words and expressions, which probably seem very unusual to most outsiders, are part of the everyday vocabulary of the Lumbee Indians, whose home is Robeson County, in the Southeastern part of North Carolina.

Though the Lumbee live side-by-side with European Americans and African Americans, they have developed a unique dialect of American English, which we call Lumbee English. This dialect differs in a number of ways from the surrounding Southern White and African American varieties, including in the pronunciation of words and in the way words are put together to form sentences.

For example, older Lumbee speakers may pronounce a word like high more like hoy (which rhymes with boy), thus changing the sound of the i vowel to more of an oy sound. But African American and European American natives of Robeson County do not typically use this pronunciation, even if they grew up practically next door to the Lumbees who do. Similarly, while a younger Lumbee might say, “It weren’t me” instead of “It wasn’t me,” we rarely if ever hear weren’t for wasn’t among White or African American English speakers in the area. Of course, at the same time, Lumbee English shares the vast majority of its dialect features with other Southern English dialects, particularly Appalachian. In many ways, it is the distinct set of features rather than unique features that distinguishes this dialect from other dialects of English.

Perhaps the most noticeable of all the differences that separate Lumbee English from other dialects we hear in Robeson County is the vocabulary. Some of the interesting words Lumbees use are unique to their dialect, while others are found elsewhere in North Carolina or perhaps in some other region of the country even though they may not be found in some of the surrounding dialects of Robeson County.

In addition to “unusual” words like mommuck (which means “a mess”), ellick (”a cup of coffee”) and yurker (”a mischievous child”), the language of the Lumbees is also filled with more well-known words that are part of the general American Southern dialect. Thus, we can say that words like fixin’ to, tote, and cut on/off (the light) are Lumbee dialect words, even though they’re also dialect words for Southern African Americans and Southern Whites from all over the South, from the Appalachians to the Piedmont to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In this booklet, we present a small sampling of the vocabulary words that are so much a part of what makes Lumbee English a unique dialect. We include words that seem to be found only among the Lumbee (for example, chauld, “embarrassed”), words that are also found in other isolated dialects (such as mommuck, which we also find on the Outer Banks of North Carolina), and some general Southern terms like fixin’ to, so that we don’t mislead you into thinking that Lumbees use only words that no other dialect group has ever heard of. Dialects can’t be divided as neatly as that; and we don’t want to give the impression that deciding who speaks Lumbee English is a simple matter of identifying everybody who uses a word like mommuck.

Acknowledgments

[Editor’s note: The following acknowledgments refer to the original version of this document, which was published as a booklet by the North Carolina Language and Life Project at North Carolina State University.]

This booklet was compiled by Hayes Alan Locklear, owner of Mother Earth Creations in Pembroke, North Carolina, and by Natalie Schilling-Estes, Walt Wolfram, and Clare J. Dannenberg at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Walt Wolfram is the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English at North Carolina State University; and he and Natalie Schilling-Estes oversee the operations of the North Carolina Language and Life Project, housed at North Carolina State University. Hayes Alan Locklear is chiefly responsible for gathering the vocabulary words that appear in this book, while Natalie Schilling-Estes, Walt Wolfram, and Clare Dannenberg worked with Hayes Allen Locklear on the definitions and formatting the entries. The co-authors are grateful to Hayes Allan Locklear for his hard work, knowledge and patience as they continue to conduct an ongoing study of the dialects of Robeson County. Many thanks also go to Tarra Atkinson for her ongoing work and help with this project. The authors would also like to express their gratitude to the National Science Foundation, to the National Endowment for the Humanities, and to the William C. Friday Endowment, for their generous funding of the research efforts of the North Carolina Language and Life Project.

Finally, all four authors would like to extend deepest thanks to the Lumbees of Robeson County for their willingness to give of their language and themselves to help us in our studies. Much gratitude goes to Maybelle Elk and The Indian Education Resource Center for their valuable contributions. We are especially indebted to Professor Adolph Dial, who generously introduced us to people in Robeson County and even accompanied us on some of our initial interviews with residents. We hope that this book will serve as a tribute to his memory. We certainly couldn’t have compiled this book without the help of the kind people in Robeson County; we wouldn’t have enjoyed doing so nearly as much without their friendship, which they have also given freely.

Hayes Allan Locklear
Natalie Schilling-Estes
Walt Wolfram
Clare J. Dannenberg
June 1996

a-
A prefix that attaches to verbs or adverbs ending in -ing. They went a-fishin’ in the river, He’s a-tellin’ the truth.
according to conj. ph.
Depends upon. It’s according to what you’re talking about.
across the river prep. ph.
Although this term often indicates a specific location, it can also be used with the more general meaning ‘on the other side of the tracks,’ that is, the poor side of town. Daddy used to tell me, “You’ll just have to do like those folks across the river and do without.”
aim to
To plan or intend to do something. A general Southern use. They’re aiming to go to Lumberton this weekend.
airish adj.
Chilly and breezy. After that squall came through, it was right airish out.
bate n.
A lot of food or drink. Fed up or tired of. I ate a bate of collards. I’m had a bate of you.
big road n.
A larger, paved road. You children be careful crossing the big road.
booger n.
A ghost or haint. My grandmother told us scary stories of boogers that haunted the corn fields.
bog n.
A large dish of chicken and rice. Lucille invited us all over for a chicken bog.
breath it v. ph.
Tell anybody. Notice that the pronunciation of this word is like the noun breath rather than the verb breathe even though it is used as a verb. You better not breath it.
buddyrow n.
Friend. How’s it going, buddyrow?
cam adj.
Calm, still. The river looks cam today.
carry v.
To take, bring. To escort, accompany. A general Southern term. Would you carry me to school?
catawampus adj.
In a diagonal position, crooked, not square. The boxes in the back of the store were piled up all catawampus. Also cattywampus.
chauld adj.
Embarrassed, disgraced. I was so chauld I didn’t know what to do.
chicken and paysta n.
Chicken and dumplings. We had chicken and paysta last night.
chunk v.
To throw, particularly natural objects such as rocks or sticks. Chunk the rock in the water.
Co-cola n.
A soft drink. Used for the trademark drink, Coca-Cola, or, by extension, for any carbonated drink. This general Southern term is used as a single word and results from the loss of the unstressed syllable in Coca-Cola. Would you like a Co-cola?
common n.
Refers to someone’s character or actions as immoral or no good. That was right common of her to talk like that about her friend.
conjure v., n.
To invoke spirits, a magic charm. They don’t conjure folks much in this day and time.
cooter n.
A large swamp turtle. Also a term of endearment for a female. Probably comes from the word kuta ‘turtle’ in the African languages Bambara and Malinké. Did you see the cooter in the swamp?
corn crib n.
Storage bin for corn. Put that corn in the corn crib.
cracklins n.
A crisp piece of skin or tissue which remains after fat has been cooked from a hog. They had some good cracklins at the pow wow.
crop v.
General farming term meaning to harvest tobacco. It bes hot out there cropping tobacco.
crotched up adv.
Caught up. His dog got crotched up in the barbed wire.
cruisin’ v.
A slow ride in a car for the purpose of visiting with people along the way. Sunday night people go cruisin’ in Pembroke.
cuz n.
A term of address used in greeting a fellow Lumbee. Hello, cuz! How’s it going?
cut on/off n.
Switch, turn off or on. A general Southern usage. Please cut off the lights when you leave the room.
Damn skippy adj.
Right! An affirmative response to a speaker’s comment. You going to take care of things? Damn skippy.
dib n.
Baby chicken. Also biddy. Did you see that dib in the yard?
dirt dauber n.
A wasp that builds a nest out of mud. The children upset a nest of dirt daubers.
dost n.
An amount of medicine; a large amount. I gave him a dost of cough syrup.
druthers n.
Preferences. Originally from a shortened form of would rather, now used as a noun in its own right. General Southern. If I had my druthers, I’d be home instead of here working.
ellick n.
Coffee. I sure could use a strong cup of ellick.
everwho, everwhat, everhow, etc.
Whoever, whatever, however, etc. This is a retention of an older form in which the item “ever” comes before the indefinite pronoun rather than after it. Mostly used by older speakers. She said that everwho told you that was not telling the truth.
fatback n.
Also whiteside. Fat meat from the back of a hog, with little lean meat. Also used occasionally for bacon. Did you like the fatback?
fetched (fotched) up v.
Raised or brought up. He was fetched up right here in Prospect.
fine in the world adj. ph.
Doing quite well. I’m fine in the world today.
fixin’ to v.
To plan or intend to do something. A widespread Southern term. They’re fixin’ to go to Lumberton.
frock n.
A woman’s dress. Used mostly among older speakers. She had a new frock on yesterday. In the phrase frock up it refers to ‘dressing up’ as in They come all frocked up.
gambrel n.
A construction made of sticks which is used to spread and hang a carcass. Used in hog killing during the process of draining blood. Also pronounced gambro. Did they put the hog on the gambro yet?
gaum v., n.
A mess, to mess up. As a verb, it frequently occurs with the word up. She gaumed up her frock with that sticky food.
a good piece
Far. He walked up the road a good piece.
Gotdat, Jack!
An expression used to indicate strong refusal to perform some activity. Derived from “Forget that, Jack!” He told me to climb up on that roof, but I said, “Gotdat, Jack!”
gallanipper n.
A large mosquito-like insect. Turn off that porch light; you’re drawing the gallanippers.
goanna n.
Fertilizer, often from fowl such as chickens or coastal birds. By extension, it can refer to any type of fertilizer, including commercial fertilizer. Comes from the Spanish term guano (from Peru) where it was used to refer to dung from coastal birds. Did your neighbor put plenty of goanna on his garden? Also goanner.
gyarb n.
A mess. Look at all those wrinkles! You really made a gyarb of that ironing!
gyp n.
Female dog. He took that gyp hunting for the first time last week.
gut of snuff n.ph.
A quantity of snuff that is packaged in a casing of animal intestine. This is the usual amount in which snuff used to be sold in the days before mass manufacture. He bought him a gut of snuff. Also bladder of snuff.
haint n.
A ghost. Some people think they’ve seen haints in that old house; an older pronunciation of the negative ain’t when in an accented position in a sentence. Háin’t that nice that y’all have come back to visit us!
headnes’ adj. superl.
Worst. She had the headnes’ mess in her house.
hear tell v.
Heard. General Southern rural usage. I hear tell those two are actually going to get married.
heist v.
To lift, raise. She heisted the window because it was too warm in the room.
Hoddah, pappy!
Same as Gotdat, Jack! (See above.)
hog jowls n.
Hog meat from the jaw area. They had some good hog jowls at the pow wow.
hope m’ clare v.ph.
Do declare. I hope ‘m ‘clare, This is one mischievous young’ un. From hope and declare.
hope m’ die
Same as hope m’ clare. (See above.)
I’m pro.
I’ve. Used for contracted form of I have. I’m got four young ‘uns. Can also be used for the main verb have as in I’m a notion to run to the grocery store.
index v.
To stop. We indexed the train.
in the pines prep. ph.
Snobby, uppity. You can’t even talk to them because they’re in the pines.
jubous adj.
Strange, eerie. I heard that noise outside, and I started feeling jubous.
juvember n.
Slingshot. Daddy said he used to make juvembers all the time when he was a boy.
kelivinator n.
Refrigerator. This use, now fading among the current generation, shows how a brand name may be used as the word for a general object. Put it in the kelivinator so it won’t spoil.
kernel n.
A bump. She had a kernel on her arm that had to be removed.
killin’/ain’t worth killin’ v.ph.
Lazy, idle. He hasn’t cleaned up his room today; he ain’t worth killin’!
kin(folk) n.
Relatives, family. Not all people with the last name Locklear are kin.
kiver n.
An older pronunciation of cover that has taken on status as a word in its own right. This pronunciation can be traced to dialects in the south of England. You better use your kiver tonight.
law n., v.
Police. The law is here. As a verb, it is used to mean ‘to sue’. I’ll law him for what he did to me!
kyarn n.
Something nasty or rotten. I don’t know what in the world he was cooking, but it smelled like pure kyarn!
liable (to) adj.
Likely, apt to. A widespread dialect term. She’s liable to run when she sees you.
lighterd n.
Kindling. We got some lighterd in the yard.
lightbread n.
White bread. Mama got us some lightbread at the store.
liketa adv.
Almost, nearly. From like to have, but now functions as a single word. Often used in exaggerations, as in I liketa froze to death it was so cold.
listen at v.
Listen to. She was listening at David last night.
Lum n.
Lumbee. Is he a Lum?
malahack n., v.
To mess up or mommuck. The tornado malahacked his house.
meddlin’ v.
Interfering. General Southern usage. They were meddlin’ in my business.
middlin’ meat n.
Homemade bacon. We had lots of middlin’ meat after the hog killing.
mommuck (up) n., v.
A mess, to make a mess of. I told him, “Don’t make a mommuck of it,” but he still mommucked up his homework.
mou’ful n.
A meal; something to eat. I’m going home and fix me a mou’ful.
munk up v.
To mess up. He tried to build his own house, but he munked up the job.
murdered v.
Suffered. That poor child’s pure murdered her entire life.
nary adv.
Not any. He had nary a thought about it.
no’rs adv.
Pronunciation of nowheres. Harley couldn’t find the hog no’rs.
on the swamp prep. ph.
In the neighborhood or community. How’s everybody on the swamp today?
orta notta v. ph.
Should not have. Derives from ought to not have. You orta notta put off doing your homework until the last minute.
outdone adj.
Disappointed, fed up with. I was so outdone I couldn’t go to town.
overhauls n.
Overalls; bluejeans that have a part covering the chest area. Less commonly, regular bluejeans. The man in the overhauls is my father.
pappy sack n.
Also pa sack. Term of endearment for a male child. Come here, my little pappy sack!
pearly adj.
A small, dainty piece. Don’t give me a pearly piece of pie, I’m hungry!
piccolo n.
Jukebox. I found that old piccolo at a yard sale, and it still plays.
pizer n.
Porch. From Italian piazza. Used only by older speakers now. We sat on the pizer and watched the young’uns.
pocosin n.
Big swamp. In the old days, they would hide out in the middle of the pocosin, and no one would ever find them.
pone n.
Loaf, loaf of bread. used mostly by older speakers. They bought a pone of bread.
poor creeter n.
Pitiful person. This term comes from the pronunciation of critter as creeter. The pronunciation of the i vowel (as in sit) as ee (as in seat) has become so common among the Lumbee that certain i words like critter have turned into new words. Would you look at that poor creeter standing out in the rain?
pow wow n.
A celebration which emphasizes themes from traditional Native American culture. There’s a big pow wow in Robeson County in September.
proud of adj.
Thankful for, grateful. Be proud of all the good things you’ve got.
pure adv.
Certainly, definitely, undoubtedly. This adverb can only be used to intensify the meaning of verb phrases which indicate something negative. You pure made a mess in here.
pure arnt v. ph.
Sure have, certainly. Probably derives from pure haven’t/ain’t, although pure arnt is not used in a negative sense. Arnt seems to be similar in usage to Standard English haven’t in non-negative expressions such as Haven’t you made a mess!, in which the speaker is talking to someone who HAS made a mess. You pure arnt made a mess!
purty adj.
Unattractive or ridiculous-looking. This adjective obviously derives from pretty but means its exact opposite. She came in here with that wild haircut, and, gal, if she weren’t purty!
purty n.
A knickknack, brick-a-brack. Momma keeps lots of purties on her shelf. Also used in the expression I wouldn’t take a purty for you, which means ‘I wouldn’t trade you for anything’.
pumpkin seed n.
A fish in the bream family. We caught lots of pumpkin seed on our fishing trip.
pyert adj.
Lively, good. I feel pyert today.
reckon v.
To guess or suppose. A general Southern usage. I reckon it’ll be cold by then.
right adv.
Very, really. Intensifies the quality of an adjective or adverb. A general Southern usage. He’s been gone a right long while.
right many adv.
A lot. She took right many pictures of her.
right smart n.
Quite a bit. I’ve got a right smart of peas over at my house. You want a mess?
sack n.
Paper bag. Generally replaced by bag, but still used to a limited extent by older speakers. Help me with this sack of groceries, will you?
set it down v. ph.
Write it down. I need your phone number. Set it down so I don’t forget it.
sharp ‘un n.ph.
Aware, alert. If you ain’t a sharp ‘un, you’ll get in trouble.
shet (of) v.
To get rid of. If she could just get shet of that man, she’d be a lot better off.
since the shake prep ph.
In a long time. This expression originated shortly after the 19th century earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina, which was felt in Robeson County. I haven’t seen you since the shake.
skeeters n.
Mosquitoes. This specialized pronunciation has become a word in its own right. There are some real large skeeters in the swamp.
skeeter hawk n.
Dragonfly. This term derives from mosquito hawk, since the dragonfly eats mosquitos. The wings on that skeeter hawk sure are beautiful.
slam adv.
Very, extremely. I ate so much I got slam full.
sorry in the world adj.
Doing badly, not feeling well. The old man has been sorry in the world since his wife passed on.
sow cat n.
Also cooter cat. Term of endearment for a child. Come to grandpa, you little sow cat!
smash v.
To press. This term is related to the General Southern term mash ‘press’. Jane smashed the wrong button on her computer.
spider n.
Frying pan. General Southern term. Also skillet. Fetch me the spider, so I can cook us some breakfast.
stay v.
To live, reside. She stays over there in Pembroke.
stout adj.
Heavily built, stocky. He was looking kinda stout.
sucker v.
General farming term meaning to cut off a portion of the bottom of a tobacco stalk. Suckering baccer is back-breaking work.
swanny v.
Swear. I swanny, I told him to stop.
sweetnins n.
Cakes, pastries. Do you have some sweetenins for after supper?
‘tall adv.
At all. A specialized, older pronunciation that has become a word in its own right. They don’t like her ‘tall.
the colic/the toothache/the cramps, etc. n. ph.
Colic, toothache, cramps, etc. Terms of illness and sickness may be preceded by the word the, following an earlier pattern in English which is still found in some British dialects, including Irish English and some Northern English varieties. In other dialects, the forms are now generally referred to without the definite article. The baby had the colic; I had the cramps.
this day and time adv. ph.
Nowadays. In this day and time, we watch a lot of videos instead of going to the movies.
th(r)ow v.
To hit. Derives from throw but is often pronounced without the r. Th’ow her with the ball!
top v.
General farming term meaning to cut the flower off of the top of the tobacco plant. We saw several workers out in the fields topping baccer.
toten n.
Unusual sound, smell or sighting which indicates the presence of a ghost or spirit. Probably derives from token but is not pronounced with a k in Lumbee English. The appearance of a toten may indicate that someone is about to die. I heard a noise that sounded just like hundreds of children running across the floor, and I said, “That’s his toten.”
tote v.
Carry. A general Southern usage. Did she tote the stuff over here?
tote sack n.
A bag for carrying items. Miss Georgia brought it in a tote sack.
tow sack n.
A burlap or paper container for carrying objects, often groceries. She put the things in a tow sack.
tow sheet n.
A large burlap sheet tied at opposite corners to hold cotton.
tower n.
Pronunciation of towel. Get yourself a paper tower.
treebrand n.
Pocketknife. From a particular brand name. Other brand names might be used as well for general reference to pocket knives, such as hawkbill. Also called blade. Did you see that treebrand?
turn out v.
Dismiss, let out. The principal turned out school because of the flooding.
upside adv.
On the side of, alongside. This is a general Southern term. She hit him upside the head.
woodses n.
Woods. I’ll never walk in them woodses at night again after I seen that haint in there.
woodjam n.
A container for holding firewood. She put some more logs in the woodjam.
wrongsididas adj.
Turned inside out. Your shirt is wrongsididas.
yet adv.
Still. Now used only by older people with this meaning. A similar use is found in Irish English and a few small dialect areas in England. He eats a lot of fish yet.
yonder v.
Being more distant, further. A general Southern usage. The tobacco barn is over yonder.
You see me.
Just ask me about it. Gal, if she weren’t purty--you see me.
young ‘uns n.
Young children. The young ‘uns don’t like the same games we played in our day.
yurker n.
Mischievous child. I’ll get you for breaking that window, you little yurker!
veil n.
A thin layer of skin present at birth that allows a person born with it to see supernatural phenomena. Uncle Harry was born with a veil, and he saw all sorts of haints in his lifetime.

Abbreviations

adj.adjective
adv.adverb
conj.conjunction
n.noun
ph.phrase
prep.preposition
pro.pronoun
superl.superlative
v.verb