EDITORIAL NOTE: Serendipity is a delightful word and, of course, it is an equally delightful occurrence.
After I had finished writing today's post about one kind of language, I heard from Kirsten Jacobs, a young woman who is the education manager at LeadingAge in Portland, Oregon, a highly respected association of more than 6,000 not-for-profit, member organizations in the United States that provide care and services for elders.
I told you about her back in August after she and I, over a period of a couple of hours at a local French bakery, had a terrific conversation about another kind of language, that of old age.
This week, Kirsten's interview with me, titled Language Can Change Our World, has been published at the LeadingAge website where you can read it - and I hope you will.
If you don't count appearance, hardly anything dates people like the slang words and other phrases they use from their youth, and it goes without saying that the purpose of slang (when it's new, anyway) is exclusionary – to keep the uninitiated out of the “in crowd.”
The thing about slang (not to be confused with jargon and colloquialisms) is that it usually begins among young people and by the time people of my age hear it, it's already out of date.
Even that recent word cloud I found somewhere on the internet is at least partially out of date. It is missing on fleek (meaning: very good) which itself is old now that it's popular in certain quarters on television.
It is also missing cray, stated as cray cray by some or spelled kray, which means crazy.
Sometimes “new” slang is old slang. The recent lit means exactly what it meant 60 years ago when I was in high school: intoxicated, drunk or stoned. And I recall throwing shade (meaning: insulting someone) from when I lived in San Francisco in the early 1960s.
It's hard to know with new slang what will have sticking power with the general population through the years, and later generations can be as confused by their parents' and grandparents' slang as elders are of theirs.
This all came to mind a few of days ago when Darlene Costner sent me an email that is making the rounds. It is apparently from a column written by Richard Lederer who, I found upon checking around, is a lifelong teacher and most importantly, word lover with a wonderful sense of humor.
Here are some excerpts from the email about old-time language.
(NOTE: I've not used quotation marks because the email arrived in the usual messy way of messages that have been forwarded frequently through too many formats so it's hard to know what is the original. Be assured, however, that having now read other language works by Lederer, I feel assured this is primarily his work.)
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.
Some other old-fashioned phrases:
Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin’ 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!
Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we have become unstuck in time, he writes.
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 fish!, we discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.
Lederer goes beyond slang in this piece with a list of items that might sound like something from a foreign language to young people. Jalopie, for example. Mickey Mouse wristwatches, hula hoops, skate keys, candy cigarettes, little wax bottles of colored sugar water and an organ grinder’s monkey.
He also identifies some wonderful old phrases, not slang, many of which you might still use and if not, certainly recognize:
Pshaw. The milkman did it. Think about the starving Armenians. Bigger than a bread box. Banned in Boston. 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!
For people who love to have fun with language, Richard Lederer is a great find. He is a public speaker on subjects ranging from language to The Gift of Age. He has written a bunch of books about language and some other subjects.
His weekly language column is published in the The San Diego Union-Tribune with a link from his Facebook page.
Verbivore is his website where you can find dozens of past columns, dates for his public speaking engagements, book information and more.
Undoubtedly, you are reminded of other out-of-date slang, words and phrases not mentioned today. Let us know in the comments.
See ‘ya later, alligator!