Part of the wonder of a living language is reviving dead words and phrases. When I recently began to toy with the idea of doing a series of novels set in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s, I began to wonder if my knowledge of The Little Rascals would be enough to create that period dialog that would truly zing. While doing a scant bit of research on the internet, I came across some of my favorite sayings and words from those “Old Timey” days. It was quite funny to realize many of these antiquated phrases have been used by me for some time (for instance, my favorite, For the love of Pete!, or my referring to friends or contemporaries as kids). Anyone who knows me knows my fondness for creating catch phrases and playing with words, so here’s a list of some of the best that I think should be put back into everyday use:
For the love of Pete! — a versatile exclamation that can be used in almost any situation but is often delivered as a complacent complaint.
Source: Pete, the dog from The Little Rascals.
Usage: Ethel said to Abner, “When’re you gonna cut that lawn?” To which Abner replied, “For the love of Pete, Ethel! I woulda done did it yesterday if it would get you to shut your trap!”
The Wreck of the Hesperus — a mess; a fiasco; a potentially calamitous situation.
Source: 19th century poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow.
Usage: The apartment looked like the wreck of the Hesperus after the party.
Affrighted — to become frightened or scared.
Source: Victorian Era novels.
Usage: The sallow specter of the dead governess left me quite affrighted.
Side Note: Adding a soft “a” to the front of any verb will make the cut of your jib jive in that Old Timey way. For instance: Last Sunday I went avisiting and met a baby and a dingo. Tonight, I plan to go out adrinking.
Dinners — a woman’s bosom; visible cleavage.
Source: Old Timey grandmaws.
Usage: Oh dear, that little trollop has her dinners all ashowing in that dress!
A Real Brick — a good friend or confidant.
Source: The book and the film Atonement.
Usage: Gee, Sally, you’re a real brick for listening to me tonight.
Rather — an often sarcastic declaration of a defeatist attitude or disgruntled agreement in the wake of a long story or statement.
Source: Graham Greene novels.
Usage: Martha said to George, “Well I’d say he slipped off the wagon tonight with that old scallywag.” To which George might have replied, “Rather!”
Get out but quick — self explanatory, see?
Source: The classic noir film Double Indemnity.
Usage: Laura said to Clyde, “Suppose you get out of here before I slap you.” To which Clyde replied, “Suppose I do get out, get out but quick.”
I’d say we start using at least one of these phrases everyday! So hop to it, kids!
And we’re off…
(in a cloud of dust).
What are some of your favorite Old Timey phrases and words?
For further Old Timey fun, check out these hilarious explanations of Old Timey names:
Written By David H. Schleicher
Here are some of my favorite words:
Aces (as in “that’s aces!”)
gumshoe (as in “private dick”)
Micky (a sleeping pill, usually slipped into a drink)
shake a leg
and of course any reference to “speakeasies” is always good
Megan, great list! I was actually flim-flammed once when I worked as a cashier while in college. Also, one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld was when George wanted Elaine to slip his boss a micky. Classic! –DHS
These old time phrases are great! I think of “Leave It To Beaver” when I consider my absolute favorite (albeit “LITB” was a product of the 50s):
As in, “What are ya, some kinda wiseguy or somethin’?”
Some other good ones:
– Throw In The Towel (apropos for me considering my love for the Rocky movies and boxing in general)
– Double-Crosser (a term that was often used in the Heathcliff cartoons of the 1980s)
– All Wet
– Hit On All Sixes
Joanne, awww, your list is all wet, see? 😉 –DHS
Wow another excellent blog—and a terrific conversation starter.
Since my aspiration is to one day be a 50’s housewife—I need to start brushing up on my old phrases.
– Too big for their britches (Refering to a person whose ego has outgrown them)
– The cat’s meow (what a lovely way to express affection)
– Crying quarts (appeared in the horrific movie “The Village”)
– My favorite old time word——SLACKS! I am sorry, but it doesn’t get any better than that.
C, I suppose I can cut you some slack and let your list stand. In the vein of slacks, I always liked the word trousers as well. –DHS
Here’s some of my favorites (and translations):
Scram! (self explanatory)
Hey, [fill in name], what do you know? (but must be pronounced as: whaddya know?) This was an earlier version of “How are you doing?”
That’s jake with me. (meaning everything’s OK)
You’re an OK Joe (or, alternately, a regular Joe) meaning you’re a good guy.
That’s screwy. (self explanatory)
Eight to the bar (boogie-woogie music reference meaning everything’s going well).
Is eight to the bar synonymous with hit on all sixes? –DHS
Fact: I use it at every available opportunity. It rarely fails to elicit some sort of giggle.
Erin, I love it and I shall use it! –DHS
I don’t think eight to the bar and hit on all sixes are the same at all, although I’ve never heard the latter before. But “eight” is a reference to eight music notes on one bar, typical of the new style of music; sixes doesn’t seem to lend itself to musical interpretation, or am I wrong? What does hit on all sixes mean, anyway?
Here’s two more I came up with:
Get it in the neck = get the s*** beat out of you, later more generalized to you’ll get what’s coming to you.
In your eye = drop dead, go to hell, etc. Must be said with a sneer.
My guess is hit on all sixes is a gambling term. Both seem to have a positive connotation. –DHS
Jeepers Creepers Dave, this is a gosh darn fun time. I wish I had a knuckle sandwich to give to Michael Bay too.
Horsie, WHY I OUGHTA…(shaking fist). –DHS
“Not hitting on all six” is car talk, from the days of hot rods, when guys were always talking about their cars. 6 = the V6, the six cylinder engine. It means the pistons are not firing the way they should (which usually meant a loose spark plug); in other words, the person is not quite hooked up right in the head, is a few bricks shy of a full load, a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, not playing with a full deck, etc.
Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! I woulda never guessed that–certainly the opposite of what I had wrongly surmised. Thanks for clearing that up. –DHS
I still use this instead of some of the harsh phrases of today….as in, “That girl is as wild as cat’s fuzz!”
And I still use this one if I am refering to someone I have never met – “I don’t know him from Adam’s house cat!”
…………..hum-m-m sounds like I love cats!
Funny stuff…I’ve heard “I don’t know him from Adam” before but never with the “house cat” addage. –DHS
Oh, I love, love, love antiquated phrases. They’re the most fun when semi-randomly interjected in otherwise “normal” conversation… (that is to say, during conversations with people who are doing their best to seem cool, and/or, just will not know what the heck you’re talking about).
“It’s hotter’n blue blazes in here!”
“What in the Sam Hill is he on about, this time?”
“Get the lead out — quit your lollygaging!”
“Ooh, a wise guy, ay?”
“Well, I’ll be dipped.”
“Gee whiz! / Golly gee! / Jeely Cly!”
“You don’t say.”
“Say, (anyone’s name whom you address — replaces “hey”)?”
“I say, (any declaration).” or “(comment), I say!” or, “(comment), say I! or even, “(comment), says I.”
“He ain’t nothin’ but a dirty rat fink.”
“Heavens to Betsy!”
Well, twirl my lashes and call me Sally.” (Works best for guys, of course!)
“Speak of the devil! If it isn’t the man of the hour.”
“Yeah, yeah; sure, sure.”
“Motormouth, over there…”
“You ain’t got the sense God gave a horse!”
“He’s a real man’s man.”
“She’s a real trooper.”
“She’s built like a brick house!”
Anything with “Dames”… anything at all, lol… I crave every one! “Tramp” works well, when needed (for boys or girls — different nuances, there), as does the simple-and-timeless “(What are you, some kind of) Jerk(?)!”
But, here, I must leave off; I can’t rightly reckon I’ll recall all my fave sallies. I’m feeling a bit peckish — I could eat a horse!
Jaxxy, blue blazes is one of my faves! Great list! –DHS