Remind us of the way we word.


RECENTLY, I RECEIVED the following communiqué from Roger Middleton, President of the East Texas Writers Guild. Roger occasionally sends helpful hints to all the members of the Guild. I found this one written by Richard Lederer especially entertaining. It reminded me that those of us who have lived a little longer, just as those of today’s generation who text, had a language of our own. Those of you who were born a little later may not know that about which Mr. Lederer so cleverly writes. To those of you who do remember: Enjoy.


By:  Richard Lederer 

(A remarkable  local Linguist)

About a month ago in this space, I illuminated old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included don’t touch that dial, carbon copy, you sound like a broken record and hung out to dry. A bevy of readers have asked me to shine light on more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige:

Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We’d put on our best bib and tucker and straighten up and fly right. Hubba-hubba! We’d cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitching woo in hot rods and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers’ lane. Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!

Linda Pirtle
Linda Pirtle

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 pill. Not for all the tea in China!

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was swell? Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers. Oh, my aching back. Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore.

Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we have become unstuck in time. We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and 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, hula hoops, skate keys, candy cigarettes, little wax bottles of colored sugar water and an organ grinder’s monkey.

Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. Where have all those phrases gone? Long time ago: Pshaw. The milkman did it. Think about the starving Armenians. Bigger than a bread box. Banned in Boston. The very idea! It’s your nickel. Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper.

Turn-of-the-century. Iron curtain. Domino theory. Fail safe. Civil defense. Fiddlesticks! You look like the wreck of the Hesperus. Cooties. Going like sixty. I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Heavens to Murgatroyd! And awa-a-ay we go! Oh, my stars and garters! 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

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 hourupon 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.

Please click the book cover to read more about Linda Pirtle’s cozy mystery, The Mah Jongg Murders.



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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Each generation has its own way of saying things, Linda. I liked the phrases best that our generation used, but they are fading fast. I lived during a time when google would have been considered a garbled cuss word.

  • Scott Bury

    A much ignored vocabulaic era is the 70s, when I grew up. Some of our now-lost words and phrases: decent! neo-con, right arm, space cadet, gettin’ buzzed, six-pack (as applied to car engines), t-roofs, Trans-Ams, Z-28s, selectric balls, white-out and more.

  • Linda Pirtle

    Words are fun. I’ve always enjoyed the study of the English language and its evolution throughout the centuries. Like us, this new generation is developing its own vocabulary and is writing volumes, 140 characters at a time as they tweet.

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