Adam’s Off Ox

Whenever I have an out of town appointment of some kind, I often ask my mother if she would like to go with me. That gives her a chance to get out of the house, and we’ll have lunch somewhere, and we might go shopping for an hour.

Recently, I had doctor’s appointment in McComb, Mississippi and had to go to the hospital to get an x-ray before seeing the doctor. My mother and I were walking up to the hospital when, all of a sudden she said, “Cut the butter!” And I said, “Whaaaaaaaat?”

Mama Hill called her cornbread dressing "cush."  And when they got a few years older Charlie and Zelda would be sure to say "cut the butter" when they were supposed to.
Mama Hill called her cornbread dressing “cush.” And when they got a few years older Charlie and Zelda would be sure to say “cut the butter” when they were supposed to.

She said that the way we were walking that we had “cut the butter.” After some questioning, I came to realize that we had walked past a pole, and she had walked on one side, and I had walked on the other. She said that when that happens, someone is supposed to say “cut the butter.” And my question then was “why?” She said it was a good luck thing. I asked if it was like “knock on wood,” and she agreed that it was. She said that when she was a teenager in the 1950s no one would fail to say “cut the butter” when it was called for.

I did a quick internet search and found only one reference to “cut to the butter” as it applied to walking, and in that one reference it meant “to take a short cut”.

Have you ever said “cut the butter” in the same way my mom did today? Or do your parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles know this expression? Ask ‘em, please, and let me know what you find out.

Mama knows that I love words and expressions, and after one comes out, she’ll try to think of others. While in the waiting room, she told me that her mother and others of her generation often referred to cornbread dressing (or stuffing) as “cush.” I easily found several references to and explanations of this, but I had never heard it. Have you?

From August of 2012, here’s a column I wrote about other great expressions that I have come upon. I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to comment. Also, thanks to all of you for visiting “Drippin’ Ink,” and especially to all of you who have signed up to follow the blog.

Just a few days ago I was showing Zoom Garrett something odd or funny or controversial (I can’t remember) that one of my “Facebook friends” had put on Facebook. He asked me, “Who the heck is that person?”

Without thinking, I immediately answered, “I don’t know her (or him) from Adam’s off aunt.”

Right after I said it, I paused and asked myself, “What was that I just said?” As I applied my brain toward answering my own question, I started thinking movie, movie, movie. From there my brain took me to the great 1946 Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and to Bert the Cop or Nick the Bartender. After a little internet searching, I found out that in the movie Nick the Bartender utters the sentence, “I don’t know you from Adam’s off ox.” I had said “Adam’s off aunt,” but that was wrong.

From there, I just had to know what “Adams’s off ox” meant. This is what I found out: “I don’t know him from Adam” is a term that has been used for at least a few hundred years. It refers to the Biblical Adam, who, being so far back in time, one could not possibly know. So “I don’t know him from Adam” is an exclamatory utterance meaning “I have no idea who this person is, any more that I could know Adam.” Over time people began to feel the need to make the statement more exaggerated or forceful, so they began to say things like, “I don’t know him from Adam’s brother” or “Adam’s uncle” or “Adam’s housecat” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But what in the world does “Adam’s off ox” possibly mean? Any guesses?

In the days when ox teams were used for pulling loads on wagons or skids—which was not all that long ago; I’m pretty sure my own grandfather used them—the “driver” of the team would walk on left side with his right shoulder near to the left-side or near-side ox (looking from behind). Consequently, the driver would get to know every little quirk or idiosyncrasy or habit of the left side ox. But the “off ox” or the right side ox was much less known because he was blocked by the “near ox.” Thus we have, “I don’t know you/him/her from Adam’s off ox!” Pretty good, huh? Pretty good.

As much as I like the “off ox” saying or idiom, I really like it when my own family members come out with something that they are carrying forward from their teenage years or from something they heard an older family member say. Not too long ago my mother came out with something I heard as “Well, you know, she’s always thought she was mizzaster.” After questioning her about it, we decided that it wasn’t “mizzaster” but “Miss Astor.” What Mama meant was that if someone thinks she’s Miss Astor then she think she’s “all that” and is “uppity.” That made some sense to me as I thought of the very wealthy John Jacob Astor (who actually died when the Titanic went down). “Miss Astor” is certainly referring to one of the Astor women, the wife or daughter—not that I have any knowlege that she thought she was “all that,” and no, I can’t remember who Mama was referring to—and I’m sure she can’t either!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard older folks in my family say, “Well, he thought like lit!” which meant that he or she thought all wrong or he was way off base in his/her thinking. I still don’t know who or what “lit” is, but I did find out that “Thought like lit” is from an old rhyme. And I don’t think I can tell you the rest of the rhyme here in “The Press.” Take my word for it: I can’t tell you.

A few months back I heard an aunt on my father’s side of my family say, “Boy, he’s really set in Jake.” I told her “Whoa! Wait a minute; what exactly was that you said?” I heard right. She said that her daddy, my grandfather, used the term a good bit, and she had always wondered where it came from. Again, after some internet digging, I found out that “Jake” was a very popular term in the 1920s. My grandfather was born in 1909. “Jake” was a popular term in his teen years! Fascinating. “In like Jake”; “set in Jake”; “that’s Jake”; “everything’s Jake”: It seems like “Jake” came to mean “good” or “great” or “in the know” or “in a good situation.” I’m not sure about this one, but I found where there was a Chicago news reporter during the 20s named Jake Lingle who was renowned for having contacts and friends galore; he was big-time in the “in crowd.” Was he the “Jake” of my grandfather’s expression? (Turns out, a large part of Lingle’s “in crowd” was a Chicago mob who murdered him in 1930; I guess he was no longer set in Jake.)

I’m sure that most of you have phrases (idioms) like this that you’ve heard in your family. Ask questions of those who utter them. Write ‘em down. Do some digging. It’s good stuff.

11 thoughts on “Adam’s Off Ox

  1. My mom always said”bread and butter” when you walked on opposite sides of a pole, etc.

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  2. Cut the butter to me was as you said, taking a short cut…..I’ve always said “from Adams house cat”…..There are sooooo many slang (southern expressions) that we use, handed down from generations……I remember calling a waterhose, a hosepipe, and someone in my family laughing at me..My parents called it that. Ha ha…Funny things.

  3. Some I have heard, have said, and…still use include: “Katy, bar the door” meaning something will stop happening, “Don’t sit there like a knot on a log” meaning one needs to do SOMETHING, “Tighter than Dick’ s hatband” meaning something is too tight fitting….Anyway, I think we all use sayings we grew up hearing as it helps us remember people we loved….Keep on writing, Tony. We enjoy your posts! 🙂

  4. My husband is Cajun and we had some communication issues when we first met. He would say “I’m gonna come ride”, meaning he was coming to my house to see me. “You gonna get down”, means are you coming over to see me. And his father would say “wrench it in da zinc”, meaning rinse it in the sink. And they “make groceries”, meaning go buy groceries. And they save the groceries, meaning put the groceries up. But the one that all of my family and friends in Monticello love is when my husband said to our son when he was misbehaving, “Come here and let me pass you a slap” (spank you).

  5. Anybody ever heard of “I’m gonna jerk a knot in your tail!” My grandmother said this, and don’t know if something she made up or it had a history.

    1. Jack, I haven’t heard that in quite a while, but I have certainly heard it. Now you’ve got me wondering which of my kinfolks would say that to us kids. Sounds very much like an “Uncle” Tom Garrett or an Uncle Gene Hill. (By the way, they were both born in the 1930s.) Thanks for bringing this back to memory, and thanks for visiting the website.

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