Her face would stop an 8-day clock.
My grandmother first heard this folk speech when my great-grandma, her mother, said it. She was referring to a rather ugly woman. My grandmother thinks she was around the age of a teenager. She comments, In my humble opinion, I think they were no doubt quite descriptive of the feelings of the speaker. This phrase is not widely used in todays society. As a young adult, I have observed people being more honest about their opinion and simply stating what they truly feel. Instead of beating around the bush, many would just say, Damn, shes ugly! I think this is partly due to our society becoming more liberal. Not only is it socially acceptable to be homosexual but it is also okay to have a child out of wedlock. The times have certainly changed and so has the speech. In the era of my grandmother, people were much more conservative and subtle in their opinions. I am not sure how popular this phrase was but I am confident it was only used among friends or with people one was comfortable with. Like any comment that is not particularly complimentary, it is refrained from use in the presence of many people.
Contrary to the real meaning of this phrase, when I first heard it, I thought it was referring to a very attractive womanso good looking that she would stop the normal work of people. This, however, proved to be quite the opposite of what it is. I am not sure why this was my initial reaction to the phrase. Thinking back on it, comments and jokes about ugly people are more frequent that compliments. This is probably because of human beings natural desire to make themselves feel better and put others down when feeling insecure.
Although my grandmother grew up on the west coast of the United States, I found out this phrase was quite popular in Middle America. For further reference on this folk speech refer to Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of Illinois.
Barbour, Frances M. Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of Illinois. Southern Illinois: University Press, 1965. Page 60.