Terms of Ag-dearment by Addie Carstensen


Raise your hand if you’ve watched someone at their very happiest enjoying every minute of whatever they’re doing and the phrase “they’re happier than a pig in shit” popped into your head [both of my hands just flew off the keyboard and were raised up high].  Have you ever thought that this week has been so exhausting, I’m looking at the same faces, doing the same things, and I “need to get the heck outta Dodge”?  And finally (my personal favorite), has that husband (or wife or kid or cow) of yours done nothing to help you and you’ve totally hit your wall of frustration and you find yourself muttering, “he’s as useless as tits on a boar”?  If you’re nodding along and can admit that you’ve said or heard any of these charming phases,

a.) your name is Kristin and you’re my best friend,

2.) your maiden name is Lust,

iii.)  or simply, you are a member of the Small Town USA crowd!

I was recently chatting with a girlfriend about whether or not I want to be a member of the local PTA, and I believe my exact words were, “I’d rather pick shit with the chickens”.  She looked at me like I was from Planet Crazy and then ROARED laughing.  I was sincerely taken aback.  I mean, we drink wine together, we go for walks together; at this point in our friendship, how does she not know that being a member of the PTA isn’t exactly my jam?!  Waaaaiiiiittttttt a minute, it took me a second…she didn’t have any issue with my unwillingness to selflessly volunteer my time (don’t judge), she had never heard the phrase “pick shit with the chickens” before!  This was one of my mom’s and Grandma’s favorites and one I have in heavy rotation.  I mean think of all the applicable uses…do laundry ?…cook supper?…take the dog for a walk?….parent?…NOPE, if these are my choices, well then I’d rather be a piece of poultry ass pecking both food and poop off the ground! 

All slacker PTA stories aside, if you want to sound wise and dole out some sage advice, look no further than the phrase, “you can’t get blood out of a turnip”. When using this farming idiom, make sure to include a look of utter seriousness and for added effect, slowly shake your head.  Though I haven’t entered this season of life, I’m sure there will be a day when my daughter comes to me and tells me a story about how a friend isn’t listening, and just doesn’t understand.  To this story I shall respond in the most empathetic, kindly manner, “Sis, ya can’t get blood out of a turnip”.  She will immediately know from my astute observation that this friend of hers just isn’t going to give an inch in this situation, and girlfriend—you need to move on. Now be honest, at 13-15 years old when you went to your mom with an issue, wouldn’t you rather have your mother talk to you about bleeding vegetables than deep dive into the intricacies of female friendships?  Exactly.

Growing up in rural Eastern Washington to parents whose pasts were steeped in farming history, lead to a wonderful array of farm idioms or sayings for my sisters and me to pick up on.  Though I think there are some universally used, understood, and recognized farming idioms such as “a hard row to hoe”, or “beating a dead horse”, some of my favorites are the ones that I grew up hearing around my house and my grandparent’s house.  I can easily smell my Grandma Hazel’s basement in my memories (it smelled kind of like dill and bread and dirt as she was both a canning and baking master) and hear her gently teasing us as we got older and it became more difficult to carry our lazy bones back upstairs “you’re heavier than a sack-a-pataytas”.  But what does that and other farm idioms actually mean?  You can Google these phrases and I’m sure something would come up, but I’m not sure if they really need to be formally defined.  It’s what they mean to ME and MY family.  My mom and dad’s families farmed in Endicott, Washington, right in the heart of the famed rolling hills of the Palouse, and the ag surrounding them was wheat, barley, lentils, peas and of course, the off the back porch ranch gardens that all the German farmers grew to put food on the table for their families at night.  So quite literally, my Grandma’s teasing term of endearment for how fast we are growing up (and out!) came from what she and her parents and grandparents before have always done—sowin’, growin’, and haulin’ from the farm to the table! 

Traditions and phrases like these are meant to be kept alive through sharing them and handed down from generation to generation.  If you’re lucky enough to know some of these yourself, make sure that you use them with new and old friends alike, but most importantly, with your family. Nothing makes me feel more grounded to my rural roots than watching our two kids “run around like chickens with their heads cut off” and knowing that my small-town husband knows exactly what that means.  



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  • Pam on

    He is like a “Fart in a Skillet “. Basically can’t pin him down. And a little all over,

  • Alyson on

    My great grandma would never tell anyone her age. She would just say “too old to cut the mustard”. I will never forget that😊

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