Hallowe’en approaches and kids (of all ages) will soon holler “Trick or Treat” but what does that mean? Is there a threat implied that if you don’t get a treat you’ll play a trick on someone? And, yes, it once did mean just that and everyone played along. You went door-to-door and got your candy apple or handful of mini chocolate bars, maybe some coins for your UNICEF box, and went on your way.
Then some misguided folks got involved and now people are wary of the treats (Is the candy laced with something? Is there a razor blade inside of your apple?), and the tricks that were once harmless soaping of windows can now be downright dangerous. Is it any wonder that grownups accompany their kids when they go door-to-door and in some communities the whole event has to be done in daylight or at the mall? Times have changed.
A friend in Texas recently shared some thoughts he had on phrases that were once common and now, often, defy explanation. Of course it was “just between you, me and lamp post.” Got it? Or don’t you. What’s a lamp post?
Hand-in-hand (huh?) are nicknames, once familiar, and now hardly ever heard. The name “Pee Wee” for example is off the books. Remember Pee Wee Reese? Pee Wee Russell? Pee Wee Hunt? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But calling someone Pee Wee now (as in they are small) will get the PC Police after you. The Philadelphia A’s once had three guys named Skeeter -- Newsome, Kell, Webb. (After the bug, perhaps?) No one ever gets called Fatso or Tubby, yet I knew two guys growing up that answered to those names. I knew a tall guy, we called him “Stretch.”
I had a cousin named “Buddy” (real name Charles). It was a common nickname fifty or sixty years ago but when have you heard someone called that lately? I had a friend named Harry, but no one called him that. To his friends he was “Skip.” How many Skips do you know now that aren’t above 60? I also had an uncle named Charles and he was known as “Chick.” Butch is another seldom-used male nickname. Plenty of them when I was growing up. Girls of our era sometimes were called “Toots” or “Tootsie” -- haven’t heard that one lately either. My Mom’s name was Helen, she went by Sammie.
In Glenside I knew a girl named Rhea but she went through life known as “Cookie.” When was the last time you heard that? For guys Mickey was a nickname for Morton or Michael, but then it became just plain Mike (except for the Mouse, of course) or, maybe, Mort. How about the name Buck? Do you know any of them? Growing up I knew a couple. In high school a friend was known as “Slick,” real name Phil. Another Phil I knew became “Flip." My English-born father was named Henry, got nicknamed “Heinie” and he hated it. So he went through life known as Jack. (Hank, of course, is the nickname for Henry but he never used it). Kids of German extraction often got called “Dutch” and other ethnicities got similar treatment but this being a family paper I’ll skip them -- but you know several, I’m sure.
Now to some 20th Century references. What, exactly, is monkey business? Is it a group of monkeys that manage a trade or is it someone doing something that isn’t right? Usually it was the latter. If you said “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” did that mean you were related to one or did that mean you were fooled? Does anyone drive a jalopy? Do kids today even know what one is (or was)? I had a few in my day and so did my sons.
How about “not for all the tea in China”? We used to doubt people that way. It was disbelief. Something used to be a carbon copy (even referencing twins or things that looked alike). I doubt most people even know what carbon paper was and how it made copies. People sounded like a broken record. Today records are rare and if you have one it is made out of vinyl and hard to break. The original reference was to the fragile 78s. (Okay, what’s a 78?) You were told not to touch the dial. What dial would that be?
You’d have more of something than “Carter had liver pills.” Who was Carter and does he still make liver pills? Where would Superman change? Have you seen a phone booth lately and what would he do with his clothes? Ditto Wonder Woman and her clothes. Would Batman get a speeding ticket with the Batmobile?
“Kilroy was here.” Who was Kilroy and why was he here? He was a comic drawing left behind by the World War II soldiers. It was a guy looking over a fence. I haven’t seen him lately. A parting line used to be “I’ll see you in the funny papers.” Not sure anyone gets that. What were the funny papers and why would you be in them?
“A fine kettle of fish” usually meant you were “in a pickle.” In other words you were in trouble, not sure how you got in the kettle, or for that matter, how you got inside a pickle. Assuming you made an error and got caught you’d be “hung out to dry” but no one hangs things out to dry anymore. And what is a Jehosaphat and why would it jump?
If you were of my generation you were probably called a nincompoop, a knucklehead or something equally sophomoric -- and you survived. Do that today and you hear from their lawyer. But never fear, I’ll be back with another column soon. See you later Alligator!
Listen to Ted Taylor on WRDV FM (89.3) Tuesdays from 8 AM to Noon and Wednesdays from 10 pm – 1 am or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org