February 3, 2013

Old words, phrases change often

Rambunctious. Now, there’s a perfectly good word that’s almost never used these days. My mother used it on me often. I always thought it meant I was lively. Perhaps. But I came to learn later that it also meant boisterous and disruptive or disorderly. If the shoe fits.

How many other old words and phrases, colloquial or otherwise, can you recall from your youth that are seldom seen or heard in the 21st century? Here’s one: “You don’t know for beans.”

My mother also accused me regularly of “gallivanting all over the place.” I didn’t know what she meant, but I do remember having a lot of fun doing it back in the day.

I remember a phrase that doesn’t go back to my childhood, but perhaps it does to yours: “Doesn’t that just twist your knickers?” It’s a great British saying that lost something in the translation when we imported it to America. On these shores it was changed to “Doesn’t that just put a knot in your knickers?” I like the UK version best.

I’m not sure if gullywasher is one word or if it should be gully washer, and I don’t know if you can even find it in your dictionary, but I do know it conjures up the image of a Noah-type downpour to me.

By now, I’m fairly certain you’re throwing such old words and phrases back and forth across your breakfast table with fantastic ferocity. That’s precisely what I hope this silly Little column does for you. It gets your brain working on a Sunday morning or whatever time you get to the newspaper.

I love the English language, but I blush when I see how it changes through the years and not always for the better.

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