Our ever-changing language

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that our American version of English is very dynamic, that is, it keeps changing by adding new or modified words and expressions and discards others that have served their purpose. I suppose this conception and demise is natural, but it’s also kinda distressing for us old timers as we witness the passing of phrases and sayings that were so expressive. Since we use the new year to clean out old stuff to make room for new stuff I figured I might try to employ some of these antiquated colloquialisms before they skedaddle out of here high- tailin’ it like ghost riders in the sky headin’ for the last roundup. Here’s a sample.

I must admit I’m flabbergasted at how so many folks apparently have come down with a case of the screamin’ meemies as a result of the recent election. I figure this old expression, “screamin’ meemies” is still appropriate for a couple of reasons. One is the near-riots in some big cities with hundreds of protestors screaming insults and condemnations about the president-elect.

On the individual level the president-elect’s daughter was on a commercial airliner when she was screamed at by some yahoo who evidently thought voters had been hornswoggled. He was reportedly given the bum’s rush off the airplane but reports don’t indicate whether he landed in the hoosegow or not.

I don’t know how she felt but I kinda got the heebie jeebies when I was also screamed at by guy who also didn’t like the outcome of the election. I’m not sure just what burr got under his saddle, but he sure tortured his tonsils while having a real conniption fit. Hey – see what I mean about the old-time expressions?

Some words just kinda fade away. It’s been quite a while since anyone has been known as a “rapscallion” or “scallywag”, but these descriptors sure have a nice ring to them. Too bad they’re in the discard file; we could sure use them today. Another word rarely used any more is the male-only designation,“geezer”, as in the expression “old geezer”. I figure I’ve probably reached the age and disposition to qualify as an “old geezer” but I may also be eligible to be known as an “old codger”. You know I’ve kinda wondered about the absence of “young” geezers or codgers and why there aren’t female counterparts known as a “geezerettes”, “codgerettes” or some such handle. Anyway, since the terms geezer and codger are fast disappearing I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

Have you heard of any “young whippersnappers” recently? There apparently used to be a lot of them but I doubt if there are any still around today or if there are they are keeping mighty quiet. As far as I know, there never were any “old whippersnappers” and frankly I have always been uncertain exactly what a “whippersnapper” was although I’m pretty certain the term wasn’t complimentary. Oh, well, as we used to say, “it don’t make any never mind”.

As I was thinking about this column I recalled chatting with Jim, a high school classmate and author of several books, about how words are used. He revealed he first really learned to appreciate word usage when he enlisted in the navy after highschool. Sailors used to be known for their “salty” language with adeptness in this skill being appreciated as Jim discovered when he was assigned to a ship. Well, he figured he might as well go along with this custom and so started using exclamations such as “agricola!”, “fenestra!” and “ripa!” which his approving shipmates assumed were Italian swear words. What they didn’t know was that Jim was simply recalling his high school Latin lessons. “Agricola” means “farmer”; “fenestra”: “window”; and, “ripa”: “river bank” – and his shipmates never did catch on. To use another old expression, “how about them apples?” But I digress.

Authors Lewis Carol and George Orwell long ago advocated the premise that words mean whatever the user wants them to mean and that concept surely can be borne out today. A prime example is the word “gay” which for hundred of years meant, “merry, light-hearted, spirited, festive, – as in a gay party.” In recent years, however, this definition has been supplanted with an entirely different implication. Yep, for land’s sake, our language sure does change.

Heavens to Betsy, how I wish we could keep these old sayings from fading into the sunset, but today folks, with their thumbs moving like greased lightning on their new-fangled devices, use expressions like “c u l8r LOL”. But, you know, these just don’t cut the mustard, don’t come up to scratch when compared to the colorful ones we used to know. At least that’s how it seems to me.


By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor is a weekly columnist and may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.

Bill Taylor is a weekly columnist and may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.