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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Answer Man

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Q: Are a number of words and expressions gradually disappearing from our language.

A: There are some you very seldom hear anymore.

We dinosaurs are admittedly symbolic survivors of the Chicxulub asteroid. We have little contact with modern dialogue other than what we hear from our grandchildren, some TV, and an occasional new movie. What we do realize, however, is that certain words and expressions long familiar to us are gradually disappearing .

No one is still alive when in the 19th century someone was doing a "twenty-three skidoo," which meant a hasty departure; or said, "not on your tin-type," meaning somewhat a more modern, "no way, Jose." No one does a "huzzah!" anymore.

There was a time not so long ago when an earthquake tremor would shake a little and the old folks would say, "somebody kicked over the churn." They also described someone with common sense as having, "gumption." A know-it-all was called a "smarty-pie." "Pretty is as pretty does." Is that one still around?

What with today's more harsh exclamatory used by both sexes we are seeing the end of words like, "gosh," or "golly," or "gee-whiz." When is the last time you heard anyone say, "pshaw?"

No one calls the telephone an "Ameche" anymore. There was a time when "in like Flynn" had a very special meaning. Today's womanizer was called a "wolf" back then. A promiscuous girl was called an "easy mark," or a "porcupine." A "hep-cat" was "with-it" on all things, and if he had "jive" he was the "cat's meow. "

"Der Bingle" was Bing Crosby. "Banana Nose"was Jimmy Durante. "Zoot Suits" were worn first in Mexico, and then in New York City.

Soldiers and sailors coming out of WWII brought home some colorful language that also seems to be gradually fading away. A person who was always enthusiastic was "gung-ho." A slacker was called a "gold brick," and a gloomy person a "sad-sack." A guy sticking to a task was "in for the duration." People used to "field-strip" their cigarettes. A sailor never went to the bathroom. His trip was to the "head." An infantryman was a "doggie," and the sailor a "swab-jockey."

No one has a "highball" anymore. "Night caps" may still be in style, or maybe "cocktails." Someone having a straight shot was often taking a "shooter." Cheap whiskey was called "red-eye," and people used to get "drunker than Cooter Brown"

"Brown bagging-it" may still be around, but no way like it used to be. In the Bootheel everyone knew what drinking a "Greasy" was.

Even baseball has gone through some verbal changes. What ever happened to the "drop?" Is it today's slider? A "Texas- leaguer" is now a bloop hit. An easy fly-ball was a "can-of-corn." A line-drive hit through the gap was a "frozen-rope," and one really smacked seeming to waver through the air became a "blue-darter." A ball would hit the top of the wall just missing a home run, and the old Cardinal color man, Gabby Street, would say, "just one more biscuit."

Gangsters back in the old black & white movies never carried a gun. They packed a "rod," or a "heater," or a "gat." (even the computer rejects the spelling of "gat.") Their machine guns were called "typewriters." Their women were always "dames," or "molls." "Broads" came along later. Women have never understood that "broad" is complementary, never used to describe some fat-ass guy.

Cotton was king, and out of this agricultural bonanza came some appropriate expressions: A person doing well in life was, "walking in tall cotton." (there is also an associates catological expression meaning the same thing.) A person doing a good job at something was, "hoeing a straightrow." Cotton farmers coming to town on Saturday night were never called, "red-necks," because once they got a haircut their necks were, "whiter than a frog's belly. "

Saturday night movies were always westerns, and called "shoot-em ups." The cowboys used to "throw lead"at the outlaws. The terminology coming out of these movies was often applied to real life: Like the cowboys, the good guys in life "wear a white hat." Stopping a competitor meant "heading him off at the pass."

Young people today speak in a computerized gob-ble-dy-gook meant only for those still wet behind the ears. They peck away on strange looking apparatuses, and out of their mouths comes technology hieroglyphics badly in need of a more sophisticated Rosetta Stone.

Some old folks get into this, but most of us don't. We are either just too tired, or our priorities lie elsewhere which is mainly concern for our rapidly degenerating bodies.

There is little question that some popular words of today will gradually vanish into the sunset. Four letter- words have always been around, but they are used so rampantly today that mixed company makes very little difference. They may someday run out of vogue because of lack of further impact. What are we going to do when a juicy four- letter word no longer has any impact?

One familiar four- letter word defies sentence structure. It may be used as an exclamation; it may close a sentence in the interrogatory, or becomes a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, or what ever the speaker chooses. Will over-use someday fizzle out this utilitarian all-purpose word?

What is considered modern, or cool, today will be passe tomorrow. They will be out of here like a "twenty-three skidoo." And no one will will be able to stop it.

"Not on your tin-type. "

The Answer man
The Answer Man