The comic strip Pickles, by Brian Crane, tells the story of a senior-aged couple, Earl and Opal, and features Earl’s special relationship with his young grandson, Nelson.
In a recent Pickles, Earl asks Nelson, about the “shenanigans” he had been up to. Nelson has no idea what he’s talking about, so Earl tries to explain by using other words—skullduggery, tom-foolery, hi-jinks, hanky-panky—none of which mean much to the little boy who wonders if he can get a dictionary of “Grampa-ese.”
How often do words or phrases like these turn up in personal histories? Our elders (and even some of our own generation) use words that might require a “Grampa-ese” dictionary if the generations yet to come want to know what it’s all about!
Here are a few words and phrases that come to mind for me…
Early radio and TV shows always advised, “Don’t touch that dial!” Today’s version might be “Don’t click the remote,” but I don’t think that has the same panache, do you?
If something comes on really strong, it comes on like Gangbusters, right? Do you remember where that phrase comes from?
When something is really great, it’s a crackerjack! This was a popular expression in the late 1890s that supposedly is the source for the name of the “candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize” treat, introduced at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893.
Remember this commercial?
If something is not so great, it’s nothing to write home about. What’s the new version? “Nothing to Skype about” or “Nothing to post as a status?”
Is a big deal still a hullabaloo? Could it be a real shindig? Those words date from the early 18th and 19th centuries, but I’ll always associate them with the 1960s TV shows by those names.
And while it’s still cool to say that something is cool (a word that lives on, generation to generation), I’m dating myself if I say that your plans sound groovy or far-out.
Every new political scandal is a “something”-gate. Do you think most young political reporters (or young people reading your personal history) know the origin of that term?
When was the last time you heard about a younger person going shopping for dress shoes, trousers, or dungarees?
Men can still go to a Barbershop, but do women still visit the Beauty Parlor?
My grandparents kept food cold in an icebox—long after that name was not a literal description.
Teens today don’t date (at least not as we of an older generation knew it), so they certainly don’t go courting and they don’t keep company with each other.
So what words have you heard from elders (or perhaps still use yourself) that might require an explanation in the future? What can you add to this list?
About today’s contributor: D. Fran Morley is a freelance writer and editor and serves as Content Editor for the Association of Personal Historians. She thinks that is a cool job to have with a groovy group of people.