Merry Christmas, 2013


Leaning Toward Sawyer
     When Sal asked me to research the term “leaning or tilting toward sawyer”, I was in a pickle.  Every explanation that I found was different from any other.  Even the labels for such a saying:  colloquialism, Yankeeism, Down-East expression, regionalism, to name a few,   stirred up a muddle of confusion.   

     Fortunately A Treasury of Vermont Folklore[1] sat covered in dust on my bookshelf and under the section Folk-Say I found the following explanation: 
“Leaning toward Sawyer’s” was said when someone went out of a house surreptitiously or as though going for a drink when he should not.  A family by the name of Sawyer kept a store where drinks could be purchased many years ago on Sugar Hill.”[2] 
While I do not doubt that this was said somewhere in New Hampshire on Sugar Hill, it did not quite fit the bill.  I kept looking. 
     I felt that I was getting closer to the interpretation of Sal’s old timer when I read the following: 
“Lean toward Jesus” —a carpenter’s expression for something slanted, out of plumb.”[3]   The old building in Sal’s watercolor was definitely slanting, tilting and leaning.
But leaning toward Jesus was not leaning toward Sawyer.
     Was Sawyer a family name as described in the tavern on Sugar Hill?  That idea picked up some steam when I read an article on-line.  It seems there is one phrase book for down-east talk which says a man named Sawyer owned a junk yard somewhere on the coast of Maine.  When a dilapidated boat would be hauled there, the locals would say that it was “Leaning toward Sawyers” meaning that its sailing days were over and the boat was ready for the junk yard. 
     But the writer of the article absolutely states:  “This is not correct.  If a thing leans toward the sawyers, it means we’re in a bind, a fix, a to-do.”[4]  His idea that the term comes from the logging industry and refers to a tree being cut and might be leaning toward the guy who was cutting the tree—the sawyer-- makes sense.  I, on the other hand, do not feel that we can be so definite about Yankee expressions. 
What means one thing in one part of the country might be adapted to mean something else in another part of the country?  A Vermonter visiting in Maine might hear that the old boat was leaning toward sawyer.   Back home he might see an old barn that was ready to fall down and say to a neighbor that it was “leaning toward sawyer.”  Perhaps even in the old days someone was trying to be politically correct and decided to use another term for Jesus and substituted Sawyer. 
The idioms in our language spice it up and give it  local color.  These sayings have been passed on in an oral tradition and we all know what happens as the story is passed from one individual to the next.   When Sal sent her watercolor of the old mill,   I could see that it was aptly named Leaning toward Sawyer.



[1]   A Treasury of New England Folklore:  Stories, Ballads. and Traditions of the Yankee People, Edited by      B.A. Botkin, Crown Publishers, New York, 1947, p.805.
[2]   Manuscript of the Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of NH.
[3]  Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 2000), p.385.
[4]  “The deep-woods origins of Down-East Expressions by John Gould, The Christian Science Monitor—CSMonitor.com, April 26, 2002.  




watercolor by Sally Wickham Mollomo, 2013
This painting was inspired by a photo taken years ago in Chittenden, Vermont. I didn't know if the local expression is "leaning,"or "tilting to Sawyer." Eons ago, an old timer told me it referred to old barns that are about to fall down. Linda solved this question!