When our sons were small, my wife and I found a lot to enjoy about the cartoon “Marvin.”
Poopy-diaper jokes were hilarious, but now, for some odd reason, we identify more with “Pickles,” currently one of the paper’s more popular strips.
This may have something to do with the fact that the stars of the strip are grandparents. We are grandparents of two lovely children, absolute angels, certainly cuter than your grandchildren.
A study recently said grandparents play a key role in the development of children by passing down cultural attitudes and ideas. The guy who draws “Pickles” saw that and drew the grandchild in his strip saying, “Dagnabbit, my darn skivvies keep riding up on me.”
At which point grandpa says, “Mission accomplished!”
My grandkids are learning language like little tape recorders. As Alice’s father discovered recently, to his dismay, sometimes they play back words that adults are wont to let slip at inopportune times.
That can be any time little Alice, 2, is in the back seat listening. Dad’s word may have fit the occasion (seeing a car wreck), but was definitely one Alice shouldn’t use in mixed company.
Even so, it echoed around the back seat a solid five minutes.
What to do?
A friend said, “I think we should go on a quest to bring back those old-timey phrases. They were the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees, neat-o and pretty keen.”
They were indeed.
A bit ago I suggested Shakespeare as a source of acceptable swear words, but “MacBeth” is a heavy read for the under-10 crowd.
In the interest of better language for grandchildren, here’s a selection of “old timey” phrases to meet any occasion. I dug some off the interweb and the rest out of my own dusty memory.
Feel free to use with your grandchildren. If nothing else, the memory of you talking funny will give them a giggle later in life, and isn’t that the goal?
- A British online dictionary traces “the bee’s knees” back to the 16th century, when the phrase described something small. It gained popularity in the 1920s as one of several rhyming nonsense phrases that meant something was excellent. Others were “the snake’s hips,” “the kipper’s knickers,” “the cat’s pyjamas” and “the monkey’s eyebrows.”
- It’s the kipper’s knickers that the play “The Music Man” is such a good source. Professor Harold Hill taught me that “swell,” and “so’s your old man” meant I was on the road to degradation.
- A swell website of Depression-era slang says the phrase “hi-de-hi” was first cited in literature around 1941 as something Army drill instructors yelled at recruits. Supposedly the recruits yelled back, “ho-de-ho!” Which just goes to show you can’t believe the Internet. You can hear Cab Calloway perform that phrase in the film “The Blues Brothers” as he resurrects his hit “Minnie the Moocher” from 1931.
- Someone who is not sane is “crackers.”
- “Nerts” or “nuts” means “heck!” or worse. “Nerts” is a mispronunciation of “nuts,” which was made famous as the one-word response to the Germans when they demanded the surrender of American soldiers in Bastogne, France, during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
- I was brought up when people said “don’t go ape,” to mean “calm down.” Movies were “flicks,” and if the flick was really weird, you could “wig out.”
- And finally, if I can get Alice to ask her mother, “What’s your story, morning glory?” a popular phrase from the 1930s, I will consider my mission accomplished.
The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or email@example.com. He also blogs at www.standard.net.