Thursday, August 11, 2016

79. Obsolete Expressions

When Nancy and I were growing up in Gettysburg in the Forties, our parents and grandparents used expressions which are rarely heard today.

For example, when I was an annoying juvenile, I dropped a water balloon on my kid brother from a second story window. When my Mother saw it, she shouted a stern,  “What the Sam Hill are you doing?” Many years later  I learned the phrase “What the Sam Hill?,” can be traced back to the 1830s and is simply a sanitized version of “What the hell?”

Back in the Forties, when Nancy brought home a report card with straight A’s, her Mother might say, “Now that’s the cat’s meow.” meaning she considered her report to be outstanding. I don’t remember what my parents said when they saw my report card.

We no longer hear the phrase, “Holy Toledo!” used to express astonishment. I have been to Toledo, Ohio, and it’s not holy by any standard, but in Toledo, Spain, there are 172 cathedrals, and that’s a remarkable bit of trivia. Perhaps that’s where that phrase originated.

Growing up in the Forties, we occasionally  heard the phrase, “Faster than Jack Robinson.” Surprisingly, that phrase was around long before Jackie Robinson played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. According to Wikipedia, Jack Robinson was an English gentleman in the 19th century who changed his mind so often you had to be quick to catch him in a decision.

Obsolete words and phrases are part of our heritage, and even if we haven’t heard one in a month of Sundays,” when we do, it brings back fond memories of growing up with our “kinfolk.” We haven’t heard that word recently either.

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