Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Improperness: Then…and Then…and Now

The other day, Donna of Donna’s Book Pub discussed some forgotten words and phrases for writers including scrivener, scribe, and quill driver in an interesting post entitled "Forgotten English Word for the Day." I gathered that some of these were considered vulgar and slang words in previous centuries.

When she mentioned “brother of the quill” as a definition, the “Sisters of the Quill” award was born. The phrase alone gives me shivers, and lo, Donna has bestowed this coveted award…upon me! I’m so honored to be a “Sister of the Quill!”   **shiver….**  Thank you so much to Donna, Sister-of-the-Driven-Quill Extraordinaire! 

The whole thing got me thinking about slang words and phrases that have gone out of style. Years ago I learned it was a huge mistake to explain the colloquialisms of my own era to my children. Something about the language shift automatically caused us to switch roles. The one I mentioned was the 1980s phrase, “Gag me with a spoon.” I think my two children were maybe in 6th and 3rd grades then. I honestly thought they would giggle until they fell off their chairs or something. Instead, they horrified me by being silent for a while, as if contemplating the stupidity of my entire generation.

“A spoon? Is that possible, to gag a person with a spoon?” one of them asked.

“It would hurt,” the other contributed. “Why a spoon, I wonder?” For a moment I swear I thought one of them was going to use the word, “indeed.”  Then they merely shook their heads in shared disgust.

Of course it would have been much less insulting if they had fallen out of their chairs laughing. So today’s Improper Poll question is: Do you have any favorite words or phrases from the past?


  1. One of my favorite blogs is The Quill Sisters (thequillsisters.com/) written by women who write romance novels. The main writer is a very hilarious gal named Amylynn Bright. She lives here in Tucson.

    Now, as far as those long forgotten words and phrases go, I actually can't think of any right off the bat, but can usually pull one out my ass to insult a particularly annoying person who is getting on my nerves with their endless prattle. It shuts them up, because they are trying to figure out just what I said! I am such a bitch!

  2. I love the word "sot." (Blame it on listening to Jethro Tull at a high volume.) It's not from the 60's or 70's, though, I don't think.

    I used the word "groovy" in my classroom this week, and the kids thought I was speaking a foreign language.

    Occasionally I will talk about "You bet your bippy" (from Laugh In) and how that it was impossible to translate to a french exchange student who lived with us.

  3. When I taught in Steelville, the aide for the BD class casually mentioned at lunch how she'd told her students to stop "fingering" each other. She didn't understand why they laughed at her.

    Even after several of the faculty recovered enough to speak, nobody was willing to explain to Marge her unfortunate fingering faux pas.

  4. Though not really a forgotten word from the past, I use the word, "cool" (as an exclamation) far too much.

    And Sioux, I remember all those phrases quite well. And may I say hearing them again was "far out"!


  5. I laugh every time I hear the word "swell," on old TV shows.

    My boys, when they were little, used to snicker every time I would say, "underwear."

    And lastly, my mother used to have a saying. Something we did was to "cut off your nose to spite your face." How to you explain what that means to a grade schooler? I know when it's appropriate to use that expression, but to this day, I can't use the right words to explain what it means!

  6. Weedwacker, I know that expression all too well! My mother used to use that as well, but frankly , she really hadn't a clue as to just what that meant!!

    The expressions I was thinking of are so obscure that no one would really know just what they meant, unless they were in a college English III class.

  7. Hey Tammy! I love your post! How funny that your kids were horrified about "gag me with a spoon!" I'm like Pat...I use "cool" a lot. I hadn't thought of "groovy" or "far out" in a long time! Some of my favorite words or phrases from the past (that I don't use anymore!): Spaz, spaztic, and fruit come to mind! My older brother always called me a Spaz. And our mother about had a fit if we called anyone a "fruit"! Another old phrase that I use sometimes is: Later, Gator!

  8. What a funny post, I almost could see your poor children. And for the life of me, my mind has gone blank to outdated words. :)

    Sorry I'm late been doing my taxes :(
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  9. Hi Tammy,

    Thanks for the shout-out about my blog and your award.

    One blast from the past I remember using was neat or neat-o. Sometimes neat-o torpedo. Oh, and "let it all hang out."

    Speaking of Laugh-In, another phrase (I think from Artie Johnson) was "verrry interrrresting."

  10. I say 'Cool!' all the time, which probably dates me. :D


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