Read all the postings on this topic at Donna Pountkouski’s What’s Past is Prologue.
This week I was reading an Okahoma small town newspaper from about 1915, and in the “News About Town” column, the 2 local grocers seemed to be in competition for access to the local eggs and butter. One of them used the term “cackleberries” for eggs and I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud. My dad used that word for eggs, much to my mother’s chagrin. He wasn’t born until 1929, so the term must have lasted longer than 1915, and gone beyond small town Oklahoma to small town Texas. My dad also referred to getting around by walking as going via “Shank’s pony,” and using “Armstrong power steering” on our early cars and his farm equipment. My favorite language use from my dad that I remember was when he used to sing “mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy….” That was magical to me for some reason.
My maternal granddad was probably the most colorful user of language in the family, much of which isn’t appropriate for a family blog. But one of his phrases was “Ned in the first reader.” This phrase was used to convey simplicity and not always in a good way. If someone was putting you down, they were trying to make you feel like “Ned,” for example. The only other person I heard use this phrase was as far from my granddad as he could possibly be–one of my grad school professors. In fact, this man was cause for another student and I recording his phrases in the backs of our notebooks–wish I’d kept them. They were colorful! Despite his advanced education, I’m pretty sure he and Granddad would have gotten along just fine, based on their language alone.
Other phrases I remember from my maternal grandfather: He referred to eating ice cream, which he loved, as “cooling his belly,” as if this were one of the requirements for a healthy life. He frequently asked us grandkids if we needed any “walking around money.” We learned that one quick! And he called their outdoor toilet “Ike.”
I never quite got around to getting the explanation for that one. He also referred to “cutting di-does”–I assume this came from the lathe cutting dadoes, but he used it to refer to someone slipping or driving recklessly or some such near out-of-control action. He also talked about “tuning up” someone, or “dusting” them off as a way of talking about some sort of physical “corrective” action.
Last September I went to Ireland and I loved listening to the Irish talk, including one of our tour guides. One of my favorites was the phrase used by our guide when she was discussing a strike of the airline workers. They were protesting there not being enough flights going out of northern Ireland, as I recall. Patricia had no sympathy for their protests, believing the issue had been settled and pronouncing it “done and dusted.”
And then there’s the learning curve that occurs when two families unite by marriage. I could not understand what my husband meant when he talked about putting his clothes onto racks (we called them hangers) or chewed a block of gum (they were sticks to my family). And we were even from the same state!