Have you ever heard of something being “scarier than a striped haint?” Or someone “runnin’ around like a striped haint?” Striped is pronounced with two syllables in this expression, “stripèd haint.” Southerners will no doubt be familiar with the term haint, which is a ghost or spirit. However, striped haint is an obscure phrase that I have only heard a couple of times in my life, and the internet search results are amazingly scant. Why is the haint striped? And why does it run around? It is scary because of its stripes?
Being from South Carolina and a lover of languages and dialects, I have heard the phrase used only once by an older relative, and an older friend recognized it when I mentioned it to her. The elusive phrase itself is hard to find on Google, only yielding 13 results with an exact match to the search “striped haint.” The search for the striped haint took me to some eccentric corners of the internet.
Corpus of the striped haint
There are only a handful of examples of the striped haint floating around online. One of the best comes from City-data.com, which houses discussion threads based on different locations. The striped haint made an appearance in the “Coastal North Carolina” thread. The user biscman states that his family originated “in the mountains” and settled in Spartanburg in the Upstate region of South Carolina. Spartanburg is my hometown, and as the speaker notes, “what you hear in Charleston may or may not be heard in the Upstate.” This user posted a treasure trove of expressions, but the relevant excerpt was: “Scarier than a striped haint- very scary. A ‘haint’ is a ghost. ‘Hainted’ is haunted. Striped is 2 syllables- stri-PED. ‘Without my makeup on, I’m scarier than a striped haint.'” His post gives us some clues to the geographic origin of the striped haint, but not much on the “striped” part.
Another example comes from a user called Thirsty Hrothgar on Flickr, a photography portfolio site. He titled one of his photographs “Runnin’ around like a striped haint.” I messaged him to inquire what he knew about the phrase. He said that his grandmother from Lincoln County, NC would often use the expression “as a simile when talking about someone who was frazzled or otherwise acting frantic or crazy.” Lincoln County, NC is just outside of Charlotte and is less than one hour from Spartanburg, SC . This is another clue on regional origin, but we still have little on the origin of the “striped” aspect of the phrase.
The remaining examples provide no real context or location clues. I have no real way to contact their authors. The Louisiana-based character Ghislaine LaLaurie apparently uttered the phrase in an issue of Mortal Combat X comic series according to her entry in the Mortal Kombat Fanon Wiki: “‘So everyone you run with is scarier than a striped haint? I like it.’ (to Kano, about Michael Schneider).” It would be interesting to see if the author of that issue was from or connected to the piedmont of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In another example, a Tumblr user posted an imagined scenario of the trial of Mayella Ewell, who falsely accused a black man of rap in To Kill a Mockingbird. In this user’s imagined trial, Mayella fears the questioning of attorney Atticus Finch: “Mr. Finch just put me on the stand and I’ll tell you, he’s scarier than a striped haint.”
The phrase even made an appearance in the wrestling forum in which multiple users continued a story through several posts. The user Skairipa Matrix made use of the expression in their post: “As for you Mr. Corvus, you say you’re fighting against the evils here but your new attitude begs to differ. I don’t know why you changed your ways, but it’s scarier than a striped haint.”
Buffalo Parrot “Parrot Squawk” forum was a place to discuss psittaciforms, but the forum seems to be defunct as of the writing of this post in August 2021. As with many internet discussion boards, it seems to have often devolved into tangents. In one thread (found here), users discuss a list of colorful “slang sayings/words.” One of my favorites: “It’s hotter than a ditch digger’s ass crack in August,” and “hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch,” posted by user BPMar. The same user listed “[s]carier than a striped haint,” but without any commentary.
The examples cited above do not provide any clues to the origin or meaning “striped” in this context. It is clear that the striped haint is scary or frantic based on the phrases and context of meaning. One reddit user hypothesized that the stripes could be referring to being beaten, which would certainly make one frantic and chaotic.
In terms of location, the phrase seems to be centered about the Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina regions, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I messaged Dave Tabler, editor of Appalachian to ask if he had encountered the striped haint, but he had not heard the specific phrase. He did note that it is “common throughout the region to get these very specific twists from a narrow area.”
I hope to hear back from a few more users on their location and use of the phrases, but until then, I will have to keep searching for the elusive striped haint.