Author Archives: cmbourne

Good Enough For Government Work

Text: “Good enough for government work” (folk speech/proverb)


G is my father, who was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, who now lives in Salem, VA. His family owned a lot of farmland and they didn’t quite live in Richmond, but about 25 minutes outside of the city. It was pretty rural, definitely not suburban, but there were a few neighbors every once in awhile. He has many many pieces of folklore that he says, he has heard people say, and he has from books or movies, in my family he is pretty much known to have a proverb or saying for everything.

G- “I have done a job, be it raking leaves, or cutting grass, or painting a big round table, where I did the best job I could do but it could never be perfectly done and when I finished the job, I say ‘that’s good enough for government work’, meaning if it had been inspected by a government official, they would sign off on the work being done and complete.”

Interviewer – And where did you first learn of it, or if you don’t remember, have you heard anyone else ever use it?

G- “I learned it from my father, but I have heard many people use it.”


The phrase “Good enough for government work” is a colloquial expression often used to suggest that a task or job has been completed adequately but not necessarily perfectly. It implies a level of acceptable or sufficient performance, often in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. When researching where it cane from, the origin of the saying is not precisely known, but it has become a common part of American English, particularly in informal settings. In my interpretation it is somewhat of a criticism or social commentary of the government and the checks that go into things It has evolved into a broader expression acknowledging that achieving perfection in certain situations may not be practical or necessary. It can be used humorously or pragmatically to convey a sense of meeting a standard without excessive attention to detail.

Bless Your Heart

Text: “Bless your Heart” (folk speech/saying)


G is my father, who was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, who now lives in Salem, VA. His family owned a lot of farmland and they didn’t quite live in Richmond, but about 25 minutes outside of the city. It was pretty rural, definitely not suburban, but there were a few neighbors every once in awhile. He has so many sayings and comebacks and jokes that I have heard my entire life I don’t even know where to begin on asking him about a piece of folklore, but when I asked this is the first one he came up with.

G- “Okay I’ve got one. In my experience, the old saying of ‘bless your heart’ is a kind way of saying to, or about, someone that you are a moron (chuckles)”

Interviewer- When have you experienced this piece of folklore before?”

G- “This is a saying that a good friend of my wife has used in conversations about a mutual acquaintance and her apparent ineptitude. It is used as a way to not openly criticize someone but everyone in the conversation understands the use of it. It is, as kids today would say, a polite way to ‘burn’ someone.”


“Bless your heart” is a versatile Southern American expression that can carry varying shades of meaning. It is commonly employed as a genuine expression of sympathy or good wishes, especially in response to someone sharing a challenge or difficulty. However, its interpretation can shift based on the tone and context. In a positive light, it conveys understanding and support. Yet, when accompanied by a certain tone, it may carry undertones of condescension or pity, subtly addressing someone’s perceived shortcomings. The phrase is known for its ability to navigate between sincerity and subtlety, making it a nuanced part of Southern folk speech. In my experience ‘bless your heart’ or ’bless her/his heart’ has been in a condescending manner in an almost passive aggressive way.

You Can’t Get Blood From a Turnip

Text: “You can’t get blood from a turnip” (Proverb/folk speech)


K is my sisters fiance, they’ve been together for about 9 years so he is pretty much a part of the family already. He lives in Salem, Virginia and grew up right by Salem, in Roanoke County. He often heard this piece from his father or grandfather when asking for money from them as a child.

K- “You can’t get blood from a turnip, you know like the vegetable. My father says this all the time really, I’ve heard it all my childhood and when I was little I never understood what it meant”

Interviewer- What does it mean?

K- “It means you can’t get any money out of someone who doesn’t have any (begins laughing) I would ask my dad for money when I was little and he would say ‘you can’t get blood from a turnip son’…yeah that was always pretty funny”


The proverb “You can’t get blood from a turnip” is an expression used to convey the idea that someone cant extract something valuable or useful from a source that lacks that particular quality or substance. In this case, the metaphorical image is of trying to obtain blood, which is often associated with vitality or essential components, from a turnip, which is a root vegetable with no blood or valuable content. In this particular setting the person was comparing the blood to money and the turnip, their father/his wallet. The saying is often used to emphasize the futility of expecting more than what is realistically possible from a given situation, person, or resource. It suggests that one should not demand or expect something that is simply not present or available. It encourages a practical and realistic approach to expectations and outcomes.

My Dogs Are Barking

Text: “My dogs are barking” Folk speech/colloquialism


M is my older sister who is a middle school teacher. While she has heard this expression before, it has had a resurgence with her students recently as it become a trend to call your toes “dogs”.

M- “My dogs are barking. (Laughs) I know it’s a funny one and it’s has even become a meme nowadays with my kids, my kids at school I mean. They love to say it if they’re tired or were running in gym. It means that your feet really hurt.”

Interviewer – Can you remember a time when you have heard it?

M- “Yeah, actually, Gran (our grandmother) would say it all the time when we were growing up. I was probably like 12 when I remember her saying it but you were probably too young that’s why you don’t remember. But yeah she would sit down and say ‘whew! my dogs are barking’ after we would take a walk or if she had been standing while cooking in the kitchen for a long time”


In my interpretation I would guess that not only does this have to do with your feet being in pain, but also with them possibly being stinky. It is a pretty silly phrase, especially when used today with a younger audience. I would guess though that someone might say their dogs are barking if they had sweaty feet and the odor was giving off something that would alert you to their smell like a bark. However, it does make sense in the idea that people will say a part of their body is ‘barking’ in pain, which in this case would mean that their feet are barking in pain.

Country as Cowshit

Text: (Folk Simile/Colloquialism)

“Country as Cowshit”


T is my mother who lives T heard this from neighbor/friend who lived and grew up deep in the Appalachian Mountains. She lives in Salem, Virginia, but grew up all around the country traveling with her family as her father’s job took them to new locations often. She has lots of folklore experiences from her own family to ones she has heard while traveling and those from the friends she surrounds herself with. She decided to share this simile/colloquialism when I asked for a piece of folklore she has heard a lot.

T- “When someone is describing someone they can’t understand because they talk so country they’ll saw they’re Country as Cow Shit.”

Interviewer- Which means they are from so far out in the country that you can hardly understand what they are saying, like they have a really deep accent?

T- “That’s what country as cow shit means, it means they talk like a hick, yeah, just really hard to understand them, they’re just very country.”

T told a story she was told by her friend who she heard it from. T said that he would talk to his wife and call her name and his wife would call his name back, and no one else knew what their names were because they couldn’t understand what they were saying. He would call her and people thought her name was “Janey” and people thought that his name was “Mack” (neither names are their actual names).


In my interpretation this can be seen as something that is silly and said lightheartedly back and forth to one another, or it could come off as an insult to a group of people. I have heard this expression myself before, and in most cases it is other people who are country (but not as country) have said this either about someone or right in front of them. When looking it up, it seems to actually be the title of a country song, on Spotify and Apple Music. The word “cowshit” is similar, but not as popular in my experience as “horseshit” or “bullshit”, both of which are usually used when calling someone’s bluff. The word is described in Green’s Dictionary of Slang as an unpopular person, or nonsense/rubbish. I think the second definition fits best, at least in this saying, as it is saying that the way speak is as country as nonsense.