Monday, January 12, 2009

Stinking to the Max!

Our southern forefathers and foremothers had a way of expressing the ultimate stink, the smell to high heaven where the buzzards soar. They would say "It stinks like cyarn!"

Now that we have Google, we can learn more about rare topics such as cyarn. First we found that some people spell it with a "k" - kyarn.

If Gary Carden is not the expert on cyarn, at least he seems to be the person most fascinated about it. In Appalachian Rant he writes: "Well, several weeks ago, I published an article in two regional newspapers asking for responses from folks who had ever heard anyone use the word "cyarn" which usually refers to "carrion" or something dead in the woods. The response was amazing and contradictory. I got responses from Winston-Salem, Kentucky, Maggie Valley, Sylva, Bryson City, and Seaford, Virginia. Most responses was very firm in the belief that the word did mean "carrion," but the most interesting one was from a columnist on a Winston-Salem paper who insisted that the word was Scot in origin and was spelled with a "k" (kyran) and referred to manure. Interesting disagreements. My own grandmother definitely said "kyarn" and she definitely meant that something was rotten." - Dec. 23, 2004

Carden was responding to Richard Creed's comment in a Winston-Salem newspaper: "the word was Scottish, not Irish, in origin, that it was spelled with a "k‚" and that the meaning which I had given (a variation of the word "carrion") was also incorrect since the word actually denotes manure."

Urban Dictionary uses the "k" spelling:
(n) A southern derivative of the word carrion, meaning dead and/or decaying flesh.
That bag of rotten potatoes smells like kyarn.
Yuck! This tastes like kyarn!
You are as lazy as kyarn.
keyarn keeyarn kiyarn qyarn carrion carcass dead

Carrion and carcass have similar sound, spelling, and smelling to the word cyarn.

We asked a writer friend to give the pronunctiation and quick definition of the word spelled c-a-i-r-n. She pronounced care-n meaning death.

Webster's online dictionary describes cairn: "Middle English (Scots) carne, from Scottish Gaelic carn; akin to Old Irish & Welsh carn cairn, 15th century: a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark."

But McFarlane's Gaelic-English defines the word "cairbh" as carcase, dead body. (The term Gaelic refers to Scottish and Irish.)
CAIRN, Carn(e), Cyarn, Kairn
A pyramid of stones specially built in memory of the dead.
"Cairns of stones, heaped up above layers of flat stone-coffins, replete with human bones, are to be found all over the shores of Scotland."

Therefore cairn is more than a pile of stones, it surrounds a dead body. In the days before embalming, it was a rotting body.

Nowadays we heirs to the "Cracker Culture" (Google it) still wrinkle our noses at the mention of cyarn.

What stinks more than a decomposing body, especially a human body? Call it carcass, carrion, or cairn, it still stinks like cyarn.

Comments invited.
Posted by Bill Ricks of Soperton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vindicated, the wife never heard of the word. I recently used it in a sentence referring to sour smelling wet towels and she was perplexed. I am from the Tennessee hills and heard my mom used the word quiet often. She came from the North Carolina and Tennessee hills from Scottish decedndants. Wow. Vindication is good.