Tag Archives: tennessee

“Naked as a jaybird”

1. Text (folk simile)

“Naked as a jaybird”

2. Context 

My informant heard this piece frequently from her grandmother. She grew up in rural Tennessee, a small town with a population of about 900 people. If you’re going outside and looked like you’d be cold based on what clothes you have on, she’d often heard her grandmother say “Put some clothes on, you’re naked as a jaybird!” When asked, my informant made me aware that the phrase is not said in a joking manner, but rather just a normal, everyday phrase. When the phrase is used, she recalls that it is said in a more serious tone and in a way that doesn’t embrace nakedness as natural, but it is taken more negatively seeing it as a shock factor.

 3. Analysis/YOUR interpretation

The folk simile “Naked as a jaybird” to me, originally, seemed to imply one is fully nude. According to my informant’s rural Tennessee background, however, it is not used by her family in the same way. This is a prime example of Von Sydow’s proposed oikotypes as the meaning of this folk simile where one does not need to be fully nude, is a local variant of the original meaning that implies one is fully nude. The implication that the idiom does not always refer to a nude body, is a logical extension of the comparative method. The phrase is likely heard in more rural areas where there is more of a connection between animals and humans as opposed to cities. There also are no sexual connotations meant to go with this phrase, it is simply meant in a harmless way to say that someone simply isn’t dressed properly and should put on more clothes. When I first heard this saying, I immediately associated it with being another way to say that a person is nude but did not associate any sexual connotations. When you hear the phrase “naked as a jaybird”, are jaybirds naked? Birds don’t have clothes hence they are always “naked” and relating nakedness to a bird, lessens sexual connotations.

Gimme some Sugar


“Come ‘er and gimme some sugar”


The informant is my Mamaw, that’s how we say grandma where I’m from. She is sixty-eight years old; she was born in Pennsylvania, then moved to Kentucky, and has now lived in Tennessee for about forty years. She has an incredibly thick southern accent that sounds like most other people over fifty in my town and would most definitely self-identify as a country bumpkin. I called and asked her if she knew any phrases that were specifically southern, maybe that her northern siblings don’t say. As she was giving a few examples in her slow voice, I was reminded of a metaphor that I have only heard her, and my mother say.

Interviewer- What about the phrase you say when want me to give you affection before I leave your house or just got there?

Informant- (contemplates) Oh, (laughs) “come ‘er and gimme some sugar.” (She says the phrase in a tone that is somehow a mix of sternness and love)

Interviewer- So why do you say that, because obviously you don’t want actual sugar?

Informant- Hmm, idk I’ve ‘nt put much thinking to it I guess (laughs)

Interviewer- Do you remember the first time you heard it or who said it?

Informant- Lord no, I’ve just always said it to my kids and grandkids, so someone must’ve said it to me.


This metaphor encapsulates many characteristics of the region I grew up in and the people there. The phrase “gimme some sugar” is pretty simplistic, it means give me a hug or kiss, but the metaphor actually represents much more. First, this saying is only used with family members or close friends and is said to someone much younger than an adult. The tone that is used can almost be described as authoritative, but in a loving and high-pitched voice, so the command cannot be ignored. These characteristics of the metaphor speak to the significance of respecting and obeying one’s elders in Southern culture. Using the word “sugar” adds that warm and affectionate charm that Southerners are known for; they are quite literally “sugar coating it.” Sugar is also a vital ingredient in many dishes, and I have noticed many other examples of ingredients and food being used as representatives in Southern folk speech. This is likely due to the importance of preparing food and eating together which is heavily emphasized in Southern culture.

Tunnel Ghosts

The informant told this story when recounting the local legends of her rural upbringing in Eastern Tennessee. Ghosts are a big part of the local, little traditions that are passed down between family members.

“Okay so there’s another place in Bullsgap that my mom used to take me after we visited my great-grandmother who lived there still, um, and it’s a little, another background that cuts through a bunch of cornfields and there’s a cemetery i think used during the civil war, i don’t know, but it’s old a shit and theres a bunch of unmarked graves there, and once you go past the cemetery there’s a huge drop in the road and it leads to what used to be a train tunnel I think, I don’t know like, if it had a train running through it or what, but it was this concrete thing and the train would pass over it I guess, under it people could walk through. So there’s a legend that because one night, because it drops down really low, like it goes below the water level in the town, when it floods, when it rains, the river floods up and fills the like the road under the tunnel. So there’s a rumour that there’s a family that like, the 50s 60s something like that, and they were driving at night and they had an accident and crashed into the tunnel or something like that, or the tunnel wall, all of them died. and they say if you go into the tunnel at midnight, and turn off all the lights and your entire car and just sit there in the dark in for five minutes when you get out of the tunnel you’ll see handprints from children and the adults, who you know, had an accident there, and the legend is that they’re trying to push your car out, because they think that you’re car is stopped. It’s kinda scary. I don’t know I’ve never done it because my mom was like we can do it, but I was like no, no, no, k, but that one was another [local legend] that i fell in love with the local flavour of where I lived and appreciated it for the quirky little place that it was.”


Although spooky, it seems the ghosts are trying to help push the car out of the tunnel. This tale also serves as a warning to those who drive recklessly during the night and rain, showing the consequences of what could happen if one was to crash.

Haunted Victorian House

This story was told when the informant was explaining the local legends of growing up in Eastern Tennessee.

“So there’s other little town called Jefferson city, it’s pretty small, pretty rural, all farms and shit, it’s kinda like midway between Bullsgap and Morristown which is my hometown, it’s kind of off the map places in east tenessee, but Jefferson City is particularly interesting because there’s this very, very big beautiful victorian house that’s like white and has a sprawling landscape and whatever, and nobody lives it, ever, it’s never ever been bought and I don’t think it’s even for sale anymore but that’s because there was a lady who lived in the house, and she had like fifty pets I think? Like, very many cats and dogs, so she died one day, because she was old, and then no one really, and she didn’t have family or anything, so she just, like, stayed there, dead, and eventually her pets, once they ran out of things to eat they started dying too. So by the time anybody came, they came because they could smell like the rot, overwhelming, so they come, and see this absolute horror scene of rotting bodies and stuff and they clean it out eventually and try to put the house back on the market. And every time it goes on the market and someone moves in, they say they cannot sleep because they hear the dogs and the cats all night rattling and moving around the house all night, and you can smell the rot and the decay still. Which is crazy! But there it is.”



The story is interesting because the house is empty now, and the local legends have become so engrained in the culture that it would be strange to occupy the house because you of the suggestion of the cats and dogs running around, you’d probably hear them!

The Bell Witch Haunting

“The legend of Bell Witch is a famous haunted house story in Tennessee.  There was once a farmer named John Bell who moved to a farm land in what is now known as Adams, Tennessee.  One day, John saw a strange animal in the field, so he tried to shoot it and it disappeared.  After that incident, the members of the family began hearing strange noises around the house.  The noises got worse and the family started hearing voices as well.  Soon, they were physically affected when the spirit would actually pull their hair, slap their faces, throw things, and much more.  After the presence became extremely unbearable, John decided ask around to receive help.  No one was able to get rid of the spirit because it was so powerful.  In the end, John got very sick and the spirit finally killed him after it poisoned him.  Today, it is believed that some areas in Adams are haunted because of Bell Witch.  Visitors have supposedly heard voices and sounds of laughter.  Also, people have taken pictures on the property, but the developed pictures would show a man standing behind the visitor in the picture.”

This legend is popular in Tennessee, so my informant heard about it after she moved to Tennessee from Texas several years ago.  Her friends and neighbors also mention the Bell Witch legend occasionally because of its popularity.  Theresa learned more about the legend after the movies Bell Witch Haunting and An American Haunting were made.  The movies provided her with a more thorough understanding of the story and the haunting that went on in the Bell house.
Because she has been exposed to this well-known legend as a Tennessee resident, my informant thinks about the story when the topic of haunted houses comes up.  Haunted houses remind her of the legend of Bell Witch, so she shares what she knows with people who don’t know the story.
Even though she shares this legend with those unfamiliar with it, she does not believe that it is true.  She does not believe in ghosts, so she does not think that the incidents that happened at the Bell house had to do with spirits and witches.  Although the tale of Bell Witch contains many supernatural occurrences, she does not have any explanation as to why the Bell family was taunted by a spirit.
Since I do believe in ghosts, I think that this story is highly credible.  Some of the incidents in the story do not really make sense, but I think that the Bell family could very likely have been haunted by Bell Witch.  There would not be a legend like this or recent incidents if none of this were true.  The fact that there are museums, researchers, and attractions dedicated to Adams, Tennessee reveals the legitimacy of the legend.  Visitors have experienced supernatural confrontations that relate back to the Bell family.  I do think that the property is haunted, even though I’m not quite sure I believe the entire background story.

Fitzhugh, Pat.  “The Bell Witch Haunting.”  The Bell Witch “Keeping the Story Real.”  16 Jan     2007.  21 April 2007 <http://www.bellwitch.org/story.htm>.