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.

My friends take pity on me as I struggle to come up with new subjects for this piece. One wanted me to write about words and phrases he remembered from his own youth. He specifically mentioned the word “fetch.” That immediately brought to mind my late friend Al “Jazzbo” Collins, a longtime radio DJ who loved to use the vernacular of the ‘50s and ‘60s in his radio shows. He recorded several hilarious Jazzbo interpretations of nursery rhymes and children’s stories on 78 rpm records. You can find all of them on YouTube these days. One, entitled “Jack and the Beanstalk,” is hilarious. When Jack slithers down the stalk, he hollers to his mom, saying, “Fetch me the ax, mother.”

As I was writing this, our daughter-in-law Judy Baker walked in with some delicious soup for lunch. I asked if she remembered any old words or phrases from her parents. She said her dad, the late Jack Connell, always used the word “wholesome” when referring to somebody who was overweight. That’s a new one to me.

When is the last time you got “all gussied up” to go out? Did anybody ever tell you to “hold your horses”? When I rarely did something right as a youngster, my mother would say, “Now you’re cooking with gas.” When was the last time you awoke with a “crick” in your neck? Did your father ever give you a “brow beating”? Have you ever dated a “strumpet”? If you don’t know the meaning of the word “persnickety,” you must be a lot younger than Kaye and me.

My mother always called her purse a “pocketbook.” Which word did you use for your couch? It could have been sofa, davenport or divan. Did you have a chest of drawers or a chifferobe?

Every time I walked into the house with my muddy shoes (which was often), my mother would meet me at the door and say, “Halt in your tracks, young man.” If I told my mother a task seemed too hard to complete, her favorite response was, “Can’t never did.” If I used the word “hey,” she would respond, “Hey (hay) is for horses.”

You’ve no doubt seen that commercial on TV that recalls what your mother said when you told a fib: “Liar, liar pants on fire!”

Best of all was my mom’s answer when she found me eating too much candy: “You’ll get sick and die, and then you’ll be sorry.”

Have a groovy day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at