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Milk is blinky or blinked
Stan St. Clair

Two things I truly enjoy are studying old dialectal sayings and, as I mentioned last week, finding the likely origins of phrases nobody else seems to know. This one is both.

My mother was born in Ducktown, Tennessee and I was brought up in Western North Carolina not too far from there. I was raised on a farm and when I was a kid everyone I knew used this saying.  

Blinky is an old mountain term for milk that has turned slightly sour. It was commonly used in the Appalachian region of Western North Carolina, Northeast Georgia and East Tennessee.

In a Jan. 12, 2017 entry, Blind Pig and an Acorn, an online site for Appalachian dialect, lists a number of references, the oldest being: “1956 Hall Coll. Del Rio TN You cain’t drink it. It’s blinked.”

Del Rio is a small community in Cocke County where some of my cousins still live.

The next one is for the most common term, ‘blinky.’

“1961 Seeman Arms of Mt 38 We are a long way from a cow; besides, without ice, the local milk turns ‘blinky’ almost at once.” 

Three of my first cousins were on the staff of Foxfire, now famous for its preservation of the old Appalachian ways of life. The original Foxfire Book written by students overseen by Elliott Wiggington of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, Rabun Gap, Georgia in 1972, in the chapter on ‘Churning Your Own Butter’ has this definition:

“If left too long, the cream will curdle and separate, and it will not make good butter. On the other hand, if churned too early, while it is still ‘blinky milk,’ or sour milk, it won’t make good butter either.”

But this odd expression goes back much further. Dialect Notes, Volume II, 1890, has this entry on page 229 in ‘Pioneer Dialect of Southern Illinois’:

“blinky, adj. Applied to milk just beginning to sour, as ‘The milk is blinky.’ Cf. D. N. i, 370, 384.”

In the introduction to this section the following statement is made which explains why this term would be used there:

“Any one at all familiar with dialect usage in this country need not be told that this people must have been of Southern origin, or must have been profoundly influenced by Southern speech.”

The dialect of the Appalachian region largely came from Scots-Irish immigrants who originally settled there in the early 1800s. The Scottish word, blink, used in ‘blinking’ a question, means to trick or deceive. ‘Blinky’ milk looks good until it is tasted, then it is discovered to be slightly soured. I believe that this is likely the true origin.


If you have a phrase you would like to see featured here, please text Stan at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.