Town and Country
City and suburban dwellers tend to look down upon country folk. They dismiss and disparage “fly-over” country these days as if the landscape between East and West coasts were exclusively rural, occupied largely by marginalized hillbillies. The political cleavage so apparent at present also has been expressed in the divergent loyalties of urban and rural voters, and that, we’re reminded, relates in part to a cultural clash that sets them apart. But this may not be as stark as most assume. Let’s examine one aspect of a cultural crossover, a shared vocabulary, namely the presence of country expressions and colloquialism embedded in our everyday speech.
As one might predict, familiar animals figure prominently in the words and phrases we commonly employ. A sampling of such would include – High on the hog – Don’t count your chickens… – Get one’s goat – Pig in a poke – Stubborn as a mule – From the horse’s mouth – Cattle call – Cash cow – ‘Til the cows come home – Cock and bull story – Busy as a beaver – Cry wolf – Bee line – Dog and pony show – Wild goose chase – Bull’s eye – Open a can of worms – Black sheep – Night owl – Playing possum – Etc.
More revealing are the words and phrases that derive from rural life and experiences. Among these we would include – Hard row to hoe – Reap what you sow – Sow wild oats – Dirt cheap – Smell the roses – Trunk line – Root – Rut – Corral – Stump speaker – Water shed – Countryside – Grub – Grape vine – Cave in – Bloom – Hard scrabble – Stone wall – Branch out – New leaf – Glean – Locking the barn door – Hayseed – Bet the farm – Separate the wheat from the chaff – Weed out – Off the beaten path – Put out to pasture – In the weeds – Circle the wagons – Putting your eggs in one basket – Straw man – Nest egg – Dirt poor – Earthy – Haymaker – Mountain of details – King of the Hill – Roll in the hay – Over the hill – Barnburner – Barnstorming – Grass is greener – Riding shotgun – Sitting on the fence – Hill of beans – Country bumpkin – Farm out – Bumper crop – Up the creek – Roadkill – Axe to grind – Harvest – Cherry picking – Out on a limb – Cotton pickin’ hands – Take to the woodshed – Brushfire – Mudslinging – Crop – In the hunt – Logrolling – Dead Wood.
Whether a shared vocabulary can bridge the gulf between urban and rural America is not clear, but perhaps we can all gather “under a big tent,” do a little “horse trading,” and, if differences exist, avoid “making a mountain out of a molehill” and instead focus “on the forest, not the trees.”