Tuesday, October 5, 2021

What Are Your Favorite Obsolete Expressions?


I am not quite H. Rider Haggard's She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed,  but I have my magic powers.  "Get me a pop, please," I said to Mr. Nemo yesterday.


"You know, soda."

He obeyed.

I'm bilingual:  We called Pepsi and other soft drinks "pop" when I was growing up. Sometimes I tease Mr. Nemo by reminding him of my midwestern roots.  Everywhere else it's soda, which sounds more elegant. I would not dare request "pop" east of Indiana.  It might be code for something dangerous.

There are hundreds of obsolete words, expressions, and slang.  They come and go, and you barely miss them.  At some point every person is old enough to wonder, When did that change?  A kind of Standard English has evolved because of our communal watching TV, Netflix, and other live-streaming services.

When I was growing up there was actual dialect.  We said "warsh" for "wash," until a teacher corrected us.  And how about "garsh" for "gosh?" But no one says "gosh" anymore, ergo there is no "garsh." 

Then there's the "Kleenex" vs. "tissue" issue.  Smart teachers keep a box of Kleenex on the desk, because schools are pestilence pots even when  it is not a Covid year.   From November to April, every student has a cold, bronchitis, or walking pneumonia. If you think you are immune, you are wrong. You will sniffle with the best of them.

And so providing free Kleenex encourages a minimal practice of hygiene.  They will raise their hands and ask, "My I have a Kleenex, Ms Blah-blah?" And then they walk to the front of the room,  pluck a Kleenex, and amble back to their desk.  On the east coast, the phrase is "May I have a tissue?"  That is more accurate, since not every tissue is Kleenex, but it doesn't sound right to my ear.

Do you xerox or photocopy?  Probably neither anymore.  But I still use xerox as a verb, though doubtless the copy machines at the UPS Store are some other brand these days.

Did your mother say "washcloth," "washrag,"or just "rag"?  The latter two dropped out of my mother's vocabulary after years of watching The View.

Here are some obsolete slang expressions, most of which are similes.  We used these cliches often once upon a time.

Hot as Hades (but did I actually hear Haiti as a child?) 
cool as a cucumber
To do something "like it's nobody's business."
raining like cats and dogs
high as a kite
wouldn't be caught dead
ugly as sin
beautiful as the dawn (my friends and I got that one from literature)
quiet as a mouse
slow as molasses in January
crooked as a dog's hind leg
crazy as a loon
laugh like a hyena
thin as a whistle. (This one stumps me.)
"could care less" (for the more proper "couldn't care less." I thought the less proper "could care less" was kind of a cool thing.)

What are your favorite out-of-fashion dialect words or slang words? 

Do tell!


  1. it's gotten so i have to listen closely to the grandkids when they talk or i miss most of it: not only the parlance but the speed as well...

    don't give a hoot
    water over the dam
    cranky old coot
    black as painted (?)
    noisy as the fourth of July
    bears repeating ( i recall being confused by that one, lol...
    one i can't quite remember about Cucamonga (sp)
    horse feathers
    and a bunch more i'll probably think of as soon as i quit typing, lol...

    1. "Don't give a hoot" is more elegant than our HBO-approved "don't give a f---." "Bears repeating" is new to me.

  2. When I was doing research in old newspapers of the late 1890s, I often saw the phrase "seeing snakes" which implied seeing things that weren't there. It makes sense to me, and after that I'd notice how I'd think I was seeing snake when I was mowing the lawn when it was just sticks or branches.

    I'm just glad that "cool" will always be cool. My nieces informed me that kids no longer say that cool or great things are called "the bomb." I thought I at least had that one going for me. When I was teaching a few years ago, the kids would say "What up, fam" to each other, implying that they were close or family.

    My favorite one that I saw in a book was a military guy telling a young recruit -- "You're about as useful as a football bat!"

    1. P.S.And I’m from Michigan where Coca Cola and other soft drinks are “pop” and always will be.

    2. "Seeing snakes" is a good one.

      For a while I heard not merely "Cool," but "Cool, cool, cool, cool."

      Michigan roots! And so "pop" continues...

  3. "Pop" is still standard in English English, I think. "Mixers" are the adult equivalent, because the assumption is you mix them with alcohol. "Soda" is soda water.
    Don't know if it's still going, but we used to wash the dishes with "dishcloths". Quite a few of your other phrases are current in England, or, at least, people wouldn't be puzzled by them.
    "I could care less" is an Americanism. "I couldn't care less" the English version. "I could care less" is an instance of Amercian irony surely - "I could care less, but it'd be a hard job to do so."
    The one which is really confusing is "going a bomb", which in England means astonishingly successful and the US "bomb" meaning astonishingly successful, which has crossed the pond. I've come across people using both meanings, though not in the same sentence. Yet.

  4. I did not know pop was also pop in English. Yay! A soda is soda water here but also is an obsolete ice cream drink: a little milk, a scoop or two of ice cream, then chocolate (or other) syrup, and soda water. Ice cream stores no longer have sodas on the menu.

    I prefer your interpretation of "I could care less" to that of a cyber-friend who criticized my grammar. "Could care less" is my preferred version. I'm not sure I ever used "couldn't."

  5. Er...
    I mean: The one which is really confusing is "going a bomb", which in England means astonishingly successful and the US "bomb" meaning astonishingly unsuccessful, which has crossed the pond. I've come across people using both meanings, though not in the same sentence. Yet.

    1. Yes, that makes sense. Briefly, the phrase "the bomb" meant "the greatest" here. "It's the bomb." Stolen from the English?