So this week I’m going to give you a friendly reminder of one of the expressions that most folks who aren’t Southerners might not understand. Here it is, right out of the Bowenian Dictionary:
“TEARING OUT” - a. in most parts of the country, this expression means to rip something away from its previous position, to yank or pull with force. Ex: The school boy tore out his homework and gave it to his teacher.
Most dictionaries would stop there and not give you the rest of the meaning. But we Southerners have to go deeper:
“TEARING OUT” - b. In the South, the concept of TEARING OUT means that you’re taking off in a hurry, that you’re flat getting after it, such as “tearing out” after somebody or “tearing out” to get away from somebody.
Ex: If two kids were out playing, one kid might walk behind the other one and thump them on the back of the head, then run. Well, when the thumper runs, it could be said of him that he was TEARING OUT across the yard, trying to escape from getting the tar beat out of ‘im. And, sure as the world, the thumpee - once the pain of being thumped on the back of the head sets in - is going to TEAR OUT for all he’s worth to catch the thumper before he gets to the kitchen and hides behind mama’s skirt.
I understand that we have a detailed definition there, but you want to make sure somebody who’s been raised on the wrong side of the Mississippi understands this type of terminology fully. Obviously, those folks might describe somebody’s moving from one place to the other in a hurry quite a bit differently. They might say they “took off” across the yard, or they “commenced to running” - nah, that’s too Southern sounding, too. Okay, they might say, “the one fella thumped his buddy on the head, then ran furiously across the yard.” I don’t know about you, but that has too much of a genteel sound to it, kind of like the fella had to run through a warm afternoon game of croquet or through a ladies’ tea party as he was tearing out.
I’m convinced there’s just no better way of expressing the idea of taking off in a hurry than what I just told you. You just “tear out.” You can’t beat that.
That brings me to this little story that will lay the issue to rest. I think you’ll appreciate it, and you’ll probably catch yourself telling the fella who works next to you this story out on the job Monday morning.
This story deals with these two ants. As you’ll see, in the South, some ants even understand Southern terminology.
One time this ant was walking across a soda cracker box. (Note: If you’re telling this story to a Northerner, be courteous and explain that a “soda cracker” box is a Southern box of “Saltines.”)
So, these two ants were walking across a soda cracker box. All of sudden, right out of the clear blue, the first ant starts running as fast as he can, leaving the other one behind in the dust. That kind of scared the second ant and put him in sort of a panic, so he girded up his loins, as they say, and put it in high gear and ran and caught him.
“Whut in the world’s wrong with yuh?” the second ant said, gasping for breath. “Why’d you take off like that for?”
“Well, if you could read you’d have knowed why,” said the first ant. “That soda cracker box we were walking on told me to.”
“Excuse me?” said his ant friend.
“Yep, the box told me to. It said, ‘TEAR OUT across the dotted line.”
Steven Bowen, a LaGrange native, now lives near Dallas, Texas.