Friday, March 27, 2009

Article #48 Old Folk Sayings

Let’s face it, our parents and grand parents had their own language rich with folksy expressions that everyone understood. Nowadays, few people comprehend or use common expressions from our youth. Because the majority of early Americans were growing their own food and living on or near farms, many old folk sayings had reference to farm life or nature. Everyday conversations were colored with expressions like: strong as an ox, weak as a kitten, or light as a feather. Everyone knew immediately what you were talking about. Ask a modern teenager what an ox is, and I bet few would know. I can just picture a grandfather of today advising his modern plugged in, tech savvy teenage grandson to be as strong as an ox.

Other sayings could confuse him also like…Do you have a burr under your saddle? or That’s some pickle you got into last week. It’s water under the bridge, and we don’t want to air our dirty linen in public would likewise bring a blank stare. The teen might understand the terms: an old stick in the mud, party pooper or being a wet blanket but try these phrases panty waist, cheap skate or sore loser to see what reaction you get.

Speaking that way was how our parents passed down lessons and morals they wanted us to learn. Many farm or animal terms were amusing but descriptive and useful to teach the young’uns. Try: crooked as a dog’s hind leg or lower than a snake’s belly or flatter than a pancake or the Southern version flat as a fritter. We as kids were admonished to be: sly as a fox, sharp as a tack, straight as an arrow, sweeter than honey, or quiet as a mouse. In those days, kids were to be seen but not heard. Try that one today.

It’s fun to use these colloquialisms and show our posterity that we too had our own youth culture and slang that was part of our daily lives. I hope you won’t get too frustrated when your grandkids send you emails or text you on your cell phone with unintelligible abbreviations like ?4U (question for you) or RUOK (are you okay?). It’s part of the evolution of the human race.


  1. Not long ago I had my furnace inspected and renewed my service contract at the same time. The young fellow who made the call kept handing me paper and paper to sign and initial. I said, "Sign here Colonel Potter" and he gave me one of those blank stares you mentioned. I laughed and said, You're way too young to remember M*A*S*H. He said he'd seen it listed on the Retro Channel but never watched it. Would kids these days even get half of it?

  2. Lin, that was fun! What colourful phrases! And I remember them too!

    I chuckled at Deborah's comment about "sign here, Colonel Potter"... M*A*S*H used to be one of my favourites!

  3. Great post, Lin, and so true! It's almost as though we don't speak the same language at all. I've had to catch up on some of the today "speak". But it's kind of fun to throw one of those old sayings to them. Like Deborah says they give you a really odd look!

  4. I enjoyed this. When I try to teach my students these things--or even riddles--I become aware of how rich language is, how important nuance is, and how flat and dull life is without these figures. They are hard to teach. It's easier when we live in the context.

  5. Ahhh, these are great. I remember hearing many of them. My kids laughingly use a lot of the terms their two grandmothers used when they were little. A fun post.

  6. Fun post Lin...I can't text if my life depends on it..I don't even use the cell phone often, but I call only, I don't text....Michelle

  7. This is such an interesting post, Lin. Loved reading it. I think my kids would know a few of the older sayings but they'd giggle at the others I'm sure. I do need a translation sometimes when the young 'uns are talking.

  8. I live in a farming community full of older folks. (I'm one of the young'uns in Fairview. gasp! Hard to believe, I know) Almost all of these are terms I still hear on a regular basis... The kids here wmay find some of the expressions quaint, but completely understandable.

    I am intrigued with how the kids in more cosmopolitan areas express themselves compared to the way the kids in our remote community do. They're in the same age brackett and speak completely different languages.

    I watch American Idol fairly often in the last few weeks of competition. I have a hard time understanding Randy. I think his name's Randy. Anyway... he uses phrases that leave me perplexed and going, "Wha???" "That was the bomb, dog." "Total bucket" I know what he's saying... I just can't figure out why he thinks he's really saying it.

    This was a really fun, fun post!