Talking to your grandchildren is often a shock to your reality. I tell them stories and they often reply, “Grandpa, you are so funny!”
I tilt my head to the side and thoughtfully consider what I have said that could elicit such a response. I quickly realize that my verbal language is full of symbolic phrases that often express full paragraphs and concepts to others of my generation, yet are often meaningless to the Disney Channel generation.
Conversely, some of their phases are equally meaningless to me.
I don’t think I’ll ever abandon the phrases that have been part of my life since my youth. Most spanned more than my generation. My parents used them. As often as not, my grandparents used them.
Today, technology and the rapidly expanding world knowledgebase has lit the afterburners on language mutation. Most of the current phrases are based on technological concepts that will be obsolete in ever decreasing cycle lengths.
So, for me, I’ll continue to hang on to the phrases that I’ve known and that have exhibited the most longevity in the last two hundred years. I suppose that means that I’ll continue to be ‘funny’.
In May 1996, a third cousin sent his favorite phrases and their meanings as a punctuation mark to make his point in our discussion. In honor of his memory, they are listed below:
The name of a prison which was on Clink Street in the Southwark area of London.
After the Patten shoe which the young women wore in the buttery. When the cream spilled on their shoes, the fat would tend to make the leather shiny.
DONE TO A TURN.
Meat was roasted until cooked on an upright spit which had to be turned by hand.
CUT THROUGH THE RED TAPE.
Solicitors kept their clients papers in a file folder tied with red ribbon to prevent the papers from falling out. Of course, when they wanted to get at the papers, they would have to cut through the red tape.
MINDING YOUR P’s & Q’s.
Ps & Qs Ale was served at local taverns out of a "tankard" … you were charged by the angle of your elbow … half-way up… you drank a pint, all the way up… you drank a quart. Since the Quart cost so much more than the Pint, you were warned to "Mind your Ps & Qs"
When you drank too much out of the above "tankard" you were said to be "tanked" … if you got so "tanked" that you passed out, there was a chance that somebody might think you had actually died. Since back then they didn’t have experience with taking pulses, they often buried people alive who were actually in a drunken stupor or otherwise comatose.
A leather jug treated with tar pitch to help it hold its shape.
A bombard is a leather jug which holds 8 pints or 4 quarts. A full bombard of ale would make you drunk.
TUMBLER & TIPSY.
Glasses were hand blown, thus flat bottomed glasses were difficult to produce. Those with curved bottoms would tend to tumble over when placed on the table, and too many tumblers of whiskey would make you a little bit tipsy.
SAVED BY THE BELL.
When our ancestors realized that they were burying a great deal of people before their time had actually come, they came up with a solution. They tied a string onto the "dead" person’s hand, buried them, and tied the other end of the string to a bell and then tied it to nearby tree branch. If the person revived enough to ring the bell, their survivors would rush out and dig them up. Hence… "saved by the bell"
The raised door entrance held back the straw (called thresh) on the floor.
CHEW THE FAT.
A host would offer his guests a piece of bacon, which was stored above the fireplace in the parlor, so they could chew the fat during their visit.
GETTING THE SHORT END OF THE STICK.
Candles were expensive to make, so often reeds were dipped in tallow and burned instead. When visitors came, it was the custom for guests to make their exit by the time the lights went out. Therefore, if your host didn’t want you to stay very long, he would give you a "short stick."
BURNING THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS.
If they REALLY didn’t want you to stay very long, they would light "both ends" at the same time!
GETTING THE BUM’S RUSH.
A short rush, which would burn for a short time, would be used when company came over rather late; when it burnt out, you would want to see the hind end of your guests out the door.
GIVING SOMEONE THE COLD SHOULDER.
When a guests would over stay their welcome as house guests, the hosts would (instead of feeding them good, warm meals) give their too-long staying guests the worst part of the animal, not warmed, but the COLD SHOULDER.
GETTING A SQUARE MEAL.
Your dinner plate was a square piece of wood with a "bowl" carved out to hold your serving of the perpetual stew that was always cooking over the fire. The kettle was never actually emptied and cleaned out. New ingredients were simply added to the muck. You always took your "square" with you when you went traveling.
Visitors to the Anne Hathaway’s cottage (near Stratford upon Avon) are given this explanation while looking at the bread oven beside the fireplace in the kitchen: "The bread was put, as a raw lump of dough, straight into the bread oven. No bread tin, it just sits on the floor of the oven. The oven is heated by the fire and is very hot at the bottom. When the bed is done baking and taken out to cool, the base of the loaf is overcooked black and also dirty. The top of the loaf is done just right, and still clean. The bottom of the loaf is for the servants to eat, while the upper crust is for the master of the house.
CLEAN YOUR PLATE BEFORE YOU HAVE DESSERT.
The square plate (above) was never washed either. After your daily dose of stew, you wiped your plate clean with a piece of bread. Then you flipped it over which provided a flat surface for your dessert portion (if there was any, that is)
An apprentice would journey to another village to learn more about his craft (journeyman). There he would pay someone for his room, and food for his board.
RULE OF THUMB.
An old English law declared that a man could not beat his wife with a stick any larger than the diameter of his thumb.
GETTING YOUR GOAT.
This apparently refers to an old English (Welsh?) belief that keeping a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk. When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one’s enemy, you would abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less- to non-productive.
Slate floors were often cold enough during the winter months that any bare skin coming in contact with them would "stick". The slate floors were covered with a layer of hay to provide some warmth. The kitchen was the only room kept heated during the winter. All of the family spent the day cooped up in this one room (often 10 kids or more)… also the family cats and dogs who served important functions of "mousing," "garbage disposal," and etc.
BABY’S HIGH CHAIR.
High chair with holes in the seat (a.k.a. "drainage chair"). During the winter months, young babies were strapped into their chairs and were never allowed to crawl around in the hay on the stone-cold floor. They didn’t wear any diapers of any sort. They sat in that chair all day… and you know why there were holes in their chair!
The layer of hay in the kitchen, was finally hauled out of the house when the weather turned warm in the Spring.
The discarded "bones" from winter meals were piled outside and a bonefire would be set to get rid of them.
The bed frames were strung with ropes on which straw mattresses were placed. After some time the ropes would loosen and one of the young men would pull them tight.
TIE THE KNOT.
Tying the knot of the ropes in the marriage bed.
REASON FOR CANOPY BEDS.
Most English homes of old had "thatched" roofs. Canopies were placed over the beds to keep bugs, mice, dirt, rain, etc. from disturbing your sleep! Of course, I think I would want to stay awake because I’d be so afraid of having to be "saved by the bell"!