Childhood Memories Friday: Words and Phrases from Childhood

Childhood Memories Friday

Although I try to keep up with the times (at least mostly), sometimes I find myself falling into words and phrases from childhood. My kids frequently let me know when I’m saying something that is JUST NOT SAID these days, although sometimes I’m not sure whether the things I say are remnants of another time, or of the place (several hours south of here) where I grew up.

A friend recently sent this email, about the same topic. Here are snippets of it (uh oh — is “snippets” used anymore?), along with my commentary…

About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete
because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included “Don’t
touch that dial,” “Carbon copy,” “You sound like a broken record” and “Hung
out to dry.” A bevy of readers have asked me to shine light on more faded
words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige:

Well, it’s certainly true that the current crop of kids wouldn’t have any frame of reference for carbon copies or broken records — even, perhaps, hanging things out to dry.

Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We’d put on our best bib and tucker
and straighten up and fly right. Hubba-hubba! We’d cut a rug in some juke
joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing
and cooing and pitching woo in hot rods and jalopies in some passion pit or
lovers lane. Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumping Jehoshaphat! Holy
moley! We were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley, and even a regular
guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill. Not for
all the tea in China!


Okay, gotta admit that I would not say many of these phrases. In my youth, we said things were “cool,” “neat,” or even “neat-o.” Haven’t heard neat-o in years. “Awesome” was more recent, and was popular when I was teaching. I remember feeling pretty edgy calling things “gross” when that trend first began. Never did get into saying “grody.”


Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything
was swell? Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of
spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers.
This is more fashion- than language-related, but in my youth, it was quiana fabric, cowl necks, gauchos … those are just a few of the fashion trends of the time that are never seen anymore. Jumpsuits were big in my early teaching years, and I have a particularly horrifying photo of me with a student, both wearing these (lovely?) homemade jumpsuits.
1990 jumpsuits

I know, I know … at the time, though, I thought it was great …

Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we have
become unstuck in time. We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap,
and before we can say, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! or This is a fine kettle of
Poof, poof, poof go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind. We blink,
and they’re gone, like Mickey Mouse wristwatches, hula hoops, skate keys, candy
cigarettes, little wax bottles of colored sugar water and an organ grinders


Most of that sounds familiar — watches. Regular watches. Do kids wear those anymore (or do ADULTS even)? I’m betting many rely on their phones for that these days. Yes, in my childhood we had a pogo stick (which was never too successful), hula hoops (ditto), roller skates with a key. I do remember the wax bottle candy, but was never much of a fan. I’m familiar with organ grinders and their monkeys, although I think the only place I’ve actually seen one was in Germany.

Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. Where have all those phrases
gone? Long time ago: Pshaw. The milkman did it. Think about the starving
Armenians. Bigger than a bread box. The very idea! It’s your
nickel. Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper.
Turn-of-the-century. Iron curtain. Domino theory. Fail safe. Civil defense.
Fiddlesticks! You look like the wreck of the Hesperus. Cooties. Going like
sixty. I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels.
Heavens to Murgatroyd!
Oh, my stars and garters!
We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times. For a child
each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end
of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words
that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour
upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective
memory. It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have archaic and
eat it, too.
See ya later, alligator!      

Most of these phrases are familiar to me, but I don’t say most of them — reading over them, they do sound a bit dated.

Frequently I hear (or more often, read) words and phrases that are not part of my lexicon — “on fleek,” YOLO, brah (not “bro”; must be “brah”), heck I’m not even really feeling “I know, right?” yet. Sigh. Just the turning of the generations, I guess …

So now it’s your turn. What words/phrases do you either remember from your younger years, or do you hear now that are new to you?

5 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Words and Phrases from Childhood

  1. I love this post, it’s a wordie’s play ground! What comes to mind is “far out” “farm out” and “far out and out of sight.” Also, “groovy, man!” “Don’t get your panties in a wad” (or twist), and “don’t get your knickers in a knot.” “The devil made me do it.” “Good night, Johnboy!”

  2. What a great post! I knew every word and expression that you mentioned, and a couple of those were starting to get old when I was young, like “wreck of the Hesperus”. “See you later, alligator” was often followed by “after while, crocodile” when I was a teenager! Joe tells me that those last two phrases were from a song during the 1920s. Good thing I have a musician in the house to catch me up on things like that. 🙂 There is no way that I could begin to tell you all of such expressions that I have been exposed to in my lifetime, but you did a good job of hitting some of the more common ones. Loved it!

  3. There is an expression going around now that I have no comprehension of. The expression is: (someone) owns (this) or (that). For the life of me, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. One of my problems is that I rarely interact with young people, so I don’t learn the new slang. Oh, I hear plenty of omg ect., but I’m not talking about that kind of slang. That is cursing, not slang, at least in my book it is. I’m out of date, and I know it.

  4. When you lived in Birmingham AL you said when people were amazed at what you told them they would reply, “Shut UP!” I remember telling Janet Kloeker’s sixth grade class about that. I remember a girl I gave piano lessons to years ago. From hearing her saying, “Cool beans,” I began saying it from time to time.
    Especially when I am around someone from a foreign country, I hate myself when I say some things like, “That’s slow as watchin’ paint dry!” Sometimes they will ask, “What do you mean?”

  5. I haven’t heard the word “nincompoop” for a long time! Ha ha! Maybe we should bring it back. I’m from a generation a little before yours, and I remember wishing I was old enough to wear a “tight skirt” like the high school girls who walked to school in front of us. These were mid-calf skirts with a little pleat at the bottom so they could supposedly walk easier. By the time I got old enough, of course, they were out of style.

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