A few months ago one of my favorite people, English language maven Richard Lederer, identified a few old expressions we knew in the 60s that have become obsolete.
These phrases included
don’t touch that dial,
you sound like a broken record and
hung out to dry.
A bevy of readers asked him to shine his own particular insightful light on other faded words and expressions, and he was happy to oblige…
To enjoy these fading expressions you have to go over them slowly to understand why they don't make any sense any more.
Slowly now, pls..
back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie.
We’d straighten up and fly right.
We’d cut a rug in some
juke joint and then
go necking and
hot rods and
jalopies in some
passion pit or
Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!
We were in like Flynn and
living the life of Riley, and even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being
a knucklehead, a
nincompoop or a
Not for all the tea in China! Back in the old days,
life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was
swell? Swell has gone the way of
spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers.
Oh, my aching back.
Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore. Before we can say,
“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” or
“This is a fine kettle of fish!”
We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards. Poof, poof, poof go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind. We blink, and they’re gone, evanesced from the landscape and wordscape of our perception, like
Mickey Mouse wristwatches,
candy cigarettes and
little wax bottles of colored sugar water.
Where have all those phrases gone?
Long time passing. Where have all those phrases gone?
Long time ago: Pshaw. Who says anymore
The milkman did it.
Bigger than a bread box.
Banned in Boston.
The very idea!
Knee high to a grasshopper.
Don’t take any wooden nickels.
Oh, my stars! It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter had liver pills. This can be disturbing stuff, this winking out of the words of our youth, these words that lodge in our heart’s deep core. But just as one never steps into the same river twice, one cannot step into the same language twice. Even as one enters, words are swept downstream into the past, forever making a different river. We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times. For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age.
We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory. It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have “archaic” and eat it, too.
But listen, all these beloved phrases now departed notwithstanding, there are some phrases that are just fading. You still hear ‘um, but they are goin’… goin’ … goin’… Like old slang when we were kids and 20 somethings – that you’ll find in Rants and Yarns # 80… they are – these and those from # 80 - comparable to texting brevity slang with kids nowadays.
A Gas – Having a lot of fun.
Ape – Used with verbs gone or went. (i.e. “When I came home an hour late my parents went ape.)
Bad – Awesome
Bad Ass – Tough guy
Bum a Smoke – Borrow a cigarette from another person
Beat Feet – Leave the area quickly.
Bitchin’ – Good, great, or awesome
Blast – Had a great time like “I had a blast at the dance.”
Blitzed – Drunk
Boss – Cool or fantastic – The new album I just bought is boss!
Bread – Money
Bug Out – Leave the premises
Bummed Out – Depressed
Burn Rubber – Squeal out with your tires spinning and leaving rubber on the asphalt.
Candyass – A Wimp or uncool thing or person.
Catch some Z’s – Go to sleep
Cherry – Pristine or mint condition. That car is cherry!
Chick – girl or woman
Church Key – Before poptop cans, there were openers that were designed to puncture the beer can to drink from it.
Chrome Dome – Bald Man
Cool – Nice
Cop a Feel – Touching a girl’s no touch zone pretending it was accidental.
Cotties – Unkind remark, As in “Stay away she’s got cooties” (bugs)
Crash – go to bed / sleep
Cruising – Driving up and down the strip, street or town looking for members of the opposite sex.
Dibs – Used with the word got. “I got dibs on that seat.” Meaning you own it.
Dig – Do you understand?
Ditz – An idiot
Don’t Have A Cow – Stay cool
Don’t Sweat It – Don’t let it bother you.
Drag – Race for a short distance. Also means dull. Also, a puff from a cigarette.
Fag – A cigarette
Far-out – awesome Also see outta sight
Fine as Wine – Good-looking – as The guy or girl is “fine as wine”
Fink – Tattletale
Flake – A useless person
Flip Flops – Thongs that you wore on your feet
Flower Child – A Hippie
Fox – An outstanding looking chick
Freakin’ Out – getting excited or a panic attack
Fuzz – The Police
Go All The Way – Have Sex
Going Steady – Dating only one person
Groovy – Nice or neat
Hacked or Hacked Off – Mad or teed off.
Hang Loose – Take it easy
Hauls Ass – A car really moves. “Tom’s Chevy sure hauls ass.”
Hickey – Mark left from the suction of a kiss, often found on the neck
Hip – Very Cool
Hunk – What a girl calls a good looking guy
Kissup – Teacher’s Pet or person that will do anything to please another person in authority.
Later – Goodbye
Lay It On Me – Tell me or speak your piece
Make Out – Kissing
Meanwhile Back At The Ranch – It was used to get the storyteller back on track to the story he was telling. In other words, get to the point. It was meant to keep it short. Phrase came from serial westerns.
Moon – To drop your pants and show your bare butt
Neato – Sharp
Old Lady or Old Man – Referred to Mom and Dad [Now a days may refer to wife of husband]
Outta Sight – awesome
Pedal Pushers – calf high pants worn by girls called today “capris”
Peel Out – Burn or leave rubber with your car
Pig – Cop or ugly person
Pig Out – Overeat
Pits – the worst, nasty, bad, awful, meaningless (i.e. “this place is the pits”)
Q-tips – Little old retired people driving big cars. Their white hair is all you see of them from the rear.
Queer – Something to be considered dorky or dumb, as in: Those shoes are so queer! Also, a derogatory slang word for a homosexual person.
Rap – to talk
Retard – A really socially inept, dorky person
Ride – car, truck, or motorcycle
Right On – exactly or I second that.
Score – Going all the way with a girl
Shades – Sunglasses
Shotgun – Passenger seat in the front seat of a car next to the door. The place of honor. You had to call out “shotgun” first to win the honor. Once you vacate the car the honor is once again up for grabs.
Skag – An ugly girl
Skank – See Skag
Split – leave the scene or area
Solid – I got it or I’m with you
Square – Somebody not cool
Stacked – A well endowed girl
Stood Up – A no-show for a date
Stuck Up – Conceited
Swapping Spit – French Kissing
Threads – clothes
Twitchin – Like Bitchin. Means the same thing.
Wedgie – When somebody pulls your underwear up from the back and ends in the crack. Some of today’s underwear are made for that purpose; they call them thongs.
Wiz, Take a – Urinate
Woody – An erection
Zits – Pimples
oin’… Goin’… Goin’…
Some phrases are temporal in their application… that come and go as we wade in the river of time… some of the phrases above we don’t hear so much anymore because they don’t apply to us 60 somethings and 70 somethings and have gone downriver… like “Hey John, let’s go out cruising and pick up some skanks to swap some spit and go all the way, if we’re lucky,” is not a practical statement for us. We don’t use those phrases anymore, and if those younger – who’ve come into this ol’ man river after us – don’t pick them up, they lapse.
But here’s something, since we’re having fun with words… how ‘bout your basic Heteronyms? Most stand the test of time. Like:
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
7) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
8) They were too close to the door to close it.
9) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
10) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
English is just a crazy language, ain’t it?
There is no egg in eggplant,
nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France.
Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.
If we explore the paradoxes in our language, we find that
quicksand can work slowly,
boxing rings are square and
a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but
fingers don’t fine,
grocers don’t groce and
hammers don’t ham?
If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t he plural of booth, beeth?
One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese?
One index, 2 indices?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.
In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?
Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.
When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
All this old and fading slang, these contradictions in sounds and usability is because our earthy English language was created by people, not computers or verbal purists. English is the produce of expressive terms from dozens of other tongues.
It can be vibrant, mellifluous, deep with meaning, but then, in the same context, just adding a one or two word phrase, the language can be startling and shrill.
It can hurt and heal, bring giddy happiness and deep sadness. Tears and laughs. Express bellicose anger and tender kindness.
It came conjure the sweet smell of roses and the stench of the sewer.
Our quirky wonderful colorful language makes us rich as a people, because it gives us the tools to express ourselves clearly in a range of emotions.
All that said, he’s the classic question - why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?
And try to say the letter “P” without moving your lips.