Monday, August 4, 2008

Heavens to Betsy, we have pert near lost these colorful phrases!

This is one of those emails that's forwarded all around the world. They have a great point and have wonderful examples of words I don't use much anymore and hadn't taken the time to notice that they had slipped from my vocabulary. A friend sent it to me because it specifically references some Texas phrases. One of the great things about Maine is they not only cherish their local phrases, they use them on a regular basis.

I just learned a new one: "number than a pounded thumb." I heard it from one of my graduate students and have asked others about it. Oh yes! They know that phrase well and claim it's still in use today in Maine. Meanwhile, here's the narrative about colorful phrases that are going by the wayside.


The Merriam-Webster folks grabbed a lot of attention recently with the
announcement of new words being added to the dictionary.

They included such essential terms as "webinar" (an online seminar) and
"pescatarian" (a vegetarian who eats fish).

I'll let others celebrate the new words. I mourn the colorful old words
and phrases that are slowly passing from our language.

Nobody sends out news releases to trumpet that process. It just
happens. And one day there is no one left to say "nigh on to."

We're nigh on to that being the case right now.

Television has more and more people speaking with neutral Midwestern
accents. And now it seems we're all headed toward a bland, neutral
vocabulary, too.

It's been ages since I heard anyone say "nigh on to," much less "pert

People nowadays just say "nearly." And that's so boring.

I'm troubled by our stunted vocabulary to describe something you don't
know the name of. Young people now just call it a "thing" or a "deal."

Their grandparents had such a richer vocabulary. A "whatchamacallit"
was just the start of it.

It might also be a "doodad," "dealybob," "doojigger" or "doohickey."

Or it could be a "thingamabob," which is closely related to a

Old-time hardware stores could always help you find the doohickey you
needed to attach to that thingamabob under the sink.

Just try doing that at Lowe's or Home Depot.

I'd like to see fur pieces come back into vogue, no matter what PETA
says. (Is it a fur piece into town? Pert near an all-day trip.)

We should resurrect "right smart," too. It has nothing to do with
intelligence. It's a useful measure of quantity -- more than
"picayunish" but not quite "boocoos."

We could use a right smart rain.

I realize that living in Dallas makes things look worse. Words that
have gone extinct here are still kicking out in the countryside.

Over in my native East Texas, people still use words like "dreckly."
That's because they don't want to lie to you.

In Dallas, the cable guy says "I'll be there between 2 and 4" and may
not show up at all. In East Texas, the plumber says "I'll get by there
dreckly" and you know he'll show up sooner or later.

I'm worried about the decline of mild oaths and exclamations. Plain old
cuss words seem to have just about driven them out.

My hometown newspaper carried a story the other day about a country
fellow hauling a load of dirt near Tyler.

One of his wheels caught fire, then the whole trailer.

The paper quoted him as saying: "I looked out the window and saw the
flames and thought 'Heavens to Betsy.' "

It's a good man who sees a burning trailer behind him and exclaims
"Heavens to Betsy."

Likewise with anyone who utters "Land o' Goshen," "Saints alive!" or
"Lorda mercy."

My grandmother's favorite exclamation was "law" -- drawn out to about
three syllables. (How was the food, Nana? Laaaaaw, it wasn't fit to

I particularly grieve for the loss of one poetic old usage. Old-timers
would talk about doing something "of a mornin' " or "of an evenin' "
(I'll stop by there of a mornin' and we'll visit a spell.)

We're losing a little of the music to our language. And somehow gaining
"pescatarian" doesn't make up for losing "tarnation."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always been a bit fascinated with words myself. Quite evident by the fact that as a kindergardner (spelt?) I took a ~dictionary~ in as a 'show and tell' your favourite item from home! I seriously thought I was looking through a looking~glass when I watched "Akeelah & the Bee" on the silver screen! I was Akeelah growing up ... and my fascination with words, is not going to end anytime soon!

Apparently, I'm a bit more bent on Old English or British English words & phrases these days. Or, even re-establishing myeslf (that gives a clue as to why I still have a unique way of having things spelt out in written form!) with phrases of the recent past:

"it hurts something firece!"

Are the two that come readily to mind. I'm not quite enthralled with the way our everyday vanacular has become a bit too dumbed down overall in society either. I'm infamous for half of the phrases you've mentioned, as most of the time its hard to recollect what things are called exactly, so a thingamijig just might supply in the temperary lapse of memory!

Through your blog, I'm picking up Maine phrases as well... such as "down the road a piece", "looks like tar", and other such lovelies. I love the different way people talk. I love inflections in speech and accents. Have you ever been to the Prairies, of the Dakotas!? I rather fancy their hidden accent. Folks down in Birmingham, have a nice Southern bent to their words as well. Ever soo subtle, but clearly visiable all the same. This is also true if your passing through North Carolina, who happen to one of the nicest salts of the Earth to visit at their Welcome Stations!

Perhaps those of us who appreciate words, language, and expression ... can pass on our vigor for what is slowly eroding away to others who might have forgotten or never took the time to notice. Surely, each of us, can help inspire the other...

A literature bookworm...