Column, Looking Back

Old expressions are “a thing of the past?”

By Mary Ellen Shaw

I was listening to “The John Tesh Radio Show” recently and one of his topics was phrases that were used “back in the day.” When I heard some of them I realized that I still use a few. A young person probably wouldn’t know the meaning of many of them. I think it’s safe to say that we “older adults” often don’t understand today’s teenage lingo either. Expressions are a generational thing for sure!

One of the old phrases that my age group can’t seem to stop saying is that we “taped” a show we want to watch later. Only there is no “tape” involved in today’s method. We actually “record” a show digitally. So if we want to “get with the times” we should use the word “record” and not “tape.” Old habits are hard to break! I just recently got rid of my many Denise Austin VCR exercise tapes. I understand that they could be converted but that phase of my life is over.

The phrase “burn the rubber” was popular in the ’60s. If a guy had a “hot rod” car he wanted to show off its speed. When you “put the pedal to the metal” you “burned” some rubber. That could get rather expensive as it ruins your tires. I remember when I was teaching right after college I had a yellow Chevy Camaro with a black vinyl roof. It was brand new and shiny. I probably drove a little faster than I should have back then. I guess one of my students took note of that. He often stood near my car when I left school and hollered, “Burn the rubber, Miss Whalen!”

If someone was driving a large car it was often referred to as a “tank.” I remember my parents’ ’59 Chevy Bel-Air. It had wide fins on the back and barely fit in our garage which in reality was a section of the cellar! Many of the houses in our neighborhood had that feature. I don’t know if safety concerns would allow that these days, as using that space meant parking your car next to the furnace. There was barely room to open the door and get out. All the houses that used the cellar in that manner are still standing but that may be just pure luck!

“Cruisin’ for a bruisin’” is an expression I haven’t heard for awhile. It means that someone is annoying you and therefore that person has a face that is just begging to be punched!

I guess fighting must have been on people’s minds back then because when you were aggravating someone they might ask if you wanted a “knuckle sandwich.”

And who was a “Daddy-O?” That person is not an actual parent but rather it’s the term used by someone from the ’60s generation when referring to a “cool dude.” Now that term in itself probably needs an explanation if you were not around back then. It refers to someone who has a confident, yet calm, demeanor and is also friendly and sociable.

“Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!” — I haven’t heard that expression in a long time. In my teenage years we definitely used it when we had enough of someone. I think that phrase would have been a much nicer way to handle a situation that had gotten to the “bruisin’” or “knuckle sandwich” stage!

If something was the “bee’s knees” it was a good thing.

“Take a picture it will last longer” was code for stop staring at me!

It’s interesting how a phrase identifies a period in time. When today’s youth take a look back at their expressions it won’t be just words they remember but also emojis. I am still trying to figure those out!

Mary Ellen Shaw is a graduate of Trinity College. She is the author of the book “Kittenhood 101” and is a freelance writer for several publications.

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