Say what?

By Val Cheatham | October 2, 2019

English is a living language. Which means it’s a dying one, too.

Words and phrases periodically disappear from our daily conversation, remembered only when we watch an old movie or pick up something to read that was written years ago.

For instance, when did you last say:

  • Don’t touch that dial
  • It’s a carbon copy
  • You sound like a broken record
  • Roll down that window
  • Hang it out to dry
  • Dibs on that
  • Don’t flip your wig
  • It’s a gas
  • He’s an egghead or…
  • I’ve got dishpan hands
  • In the old days someone could be the apple of your eye. We had lots of moxie. We’d straighten up and fly right with expressions like:
  • Heavens to Betsy
  • Hunky Dory
  • Holy moley
  • Hotsy totsy
  • Horse feathers
  • Hubba-hubba
  • Whippersnapper
  • Sure’s shootin’
  • Fiddlesticks
  • Balderdash
  • Gee whillikers
  • Goodness gracious
  • Not to mention:
  • He’s a big palooka
  • Land sakes
  • Don’t bust a gut
  • Kilroy was here
  • Jeepers creepers
  • Jumping Jehoshaphat
  • Don’t have a cow

Back then, one could be knee high to a grasshopper, living the life of Riley or in like Flynn. Hopefully you wouldn’t be accused of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill.

When feeling copacetic one could:

  • Hunker down
  • Put on the glad rags
  • Go to a shindig
  • Cool it at a hoedown
  • Ride in a jalopy
  • Go down lover’s lane
  • Pitch woo in a hot rod, or …
  • Cut a rug in some juke joint

Things could be new-fangled. You might have two bits, four bits or six bits, but seldom a sawbuck. We shopped at a five-and-dime for candy cigarettes but one thing no one wanted was the Cooties.

Yes, once upon a time life was swell. But swell has gone the way of pageboys, spats, knickers and pedal pushers.

Not for all the tea in China do we still use phrases like:

  • Hey, it’s your nickel
  • Bigger than a breadbox
  • Banned in Boston
  • Put up your dukes
  • None of your beeswax
  • Don’t take any wooden nickels
  • See you in the funny papers, or . . .
  • It’s just a bunch of hooey

It turns out there are more of these lost words and expression than Carter has liver pills. But dadgummit, it’s time to close these shenanigans. So see ya later, alligator!

And you respond: After a while, crocodile.

Val Cheatham taught for 46 years in the Wichita public schools. Today he volunteers at the McCormick School Museum and edits the newsletter of the Wichita Association of Retired School Personnel. He can be reached at