What's Wordsworth's Words Worth?

Dick Gumshoe, Private Eye here.

I have been hired for what is probably my most difficult case to date. I am charged with investigating the disappearances of words and phrases. It appears that some thief is up to no good. Words and phrases, part of our vernacular, have been vanishing at an alarming rate.

Back in the good old days life was a real gas. It was flipsville and endsville. Our friends were the bees knees, the cat's pajamas, and the cat's meow. We could be found down at the soda shop or at the drive-in diner, if we weren't out sparking with our steady.

It's funny that none of us ever found out who won those submarine races.

When we were knee-high to a grasshopper we were always reminded to pull the chain, and not to take any wooden nickels. The boys wore knickers and sported a DA. The girls' fashions included poodle skirts and pedal pushers and on their heads they had pageboys or beehives. Parting company wasn't noted with a simple good-bye, it was "catch you in the funny papers" or "see you later, alligator." (After while, crocodile!)

Oh my stars! The English language is an ever-changing reflection of the times. Each generation brings with it a unique vernacular and slang. To be hip, you had to talk hip if you wanted to be a part of the in-crowd.

Remember when hunk meant a large lump of something? Crack was a small opening. Ice was frozen water. Pot was a cooking utensil. Rap meant to knock on a surface. Do you recall that a pound was British currency or a measure of weight? Now it is that tilted tick-tack-toe thingy above the 3 on a keyboard or beneath the 9 on a telephone.

A stay-at-home mom used to be a housewife or a homemaker. Somewhere along the way the stewardess morphed into a flight attendant. When I was a boy, my mother wasn't pregnant, but in a family way or expecting, and it was the stork she was expecting.

We had our own words for money: greenbacks, cabbage, moolah, dough, ticket to ride, and jingles (coins). Today the kids use: cheddar, shekels, benjamins, dead presidents, duckets, ends, grain, paper, scrilla, and dough.

Yes, the times they are a-changing as we try to keep up with the lingo of the kids today, as our parents tried to understand us.

The following disappearing words and phrases still hold meaning to some of us:

Jeepers. Swell. Spiffy. Hunky-dory. Groovy. It's your nickel. Pshaw. Nifty. Just ducky. Spooning. Billing and cooing. Flivvers. Hubba-hubba! Moxie. Cut a rug. Straighten up and fly right. Put on your best bib and nickers. Juke joints and Juke boxes. Life of Riley. Copacetic. Kilroy was here. Skate keys. I'll be a monkey's uncle. Candy cigarettes. Passion pit. Lovers' lane. This is a fine kettle of fish. Rumble seats. Peachy-keen. Fountain pens. Nincompoop. Fridgidaires. Victrolas. A dilly. A doozy. Heavens to Betsy. Not for all the tea in china.

Case closed?

( Some of the words and phrases, which appeared in the article "The Way We Word" by Richard Lederer, from the Mar-Apr '05 AARP Magazine, have been excerpted into this post.)



John Pangia said...

How true... how true... how true... and unfortunately I remember all of them.

Serena Joy said...

Dang, I must be slightly past 17 now because I remember a lot of those, too.

Hale McKay said...

The best determination of a person's age can be best measured by wwhat they rememember and have experienced.

I remembered all of hem too.