Catch a chuckle with these childhood interpretations of words and sayings that were sprinkled throughout the past:
Born in a barn – Still unsure why this applied to not closing a door. I tried saying it recently to my kids and they looked at me blankly because they never heard it before. Is the insinuation that if your mother delivered you into the world from within a barn, you would automatically leave doors open behind you?
Clumsy as an ox – I’ve never noticed oxen falling down or bumbling around. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever observed any of them besides in a zoo.
Crocodile tears – Clueless. I figured I was producing larger than usual teardrops. I also worried that my teeth were growing too big and sharp.
Drunk as a skunk – see “pickled soused tight” under USELESS EXPRESSIONS
Dumb as an ox – Why are we presuming that oxen are dumb? They don’t look any dumber than any other animals. If an animal ever looked dumb, what about hamsters? They run around in circles half of their lives on a wheel that gets them nowhere fast. “Dumb as a hamster” is more appropriate.
Happy as a lark – Due to my baby booming age, I only knew that a “lark” was a brand of cigarette, and figured it must be a happy kind of smoke.
Hold your horses – Update: Park your engine
Holy mackerel – Prayer for an endangered species of fish species?
Holy cow – Should it be changed to “mad cow” in light of recent news?
Holy crow – A possible typo, perhaps someone accidentally stuck an “r” in cow and the expression stuck.
Hungry as a horse – What if the horse in question was a picky eater and doesn’t get hungry too often? Did that mean that if someone was truly “hungry as a horse,” that they might not be hankering to eat at all?
Laughing like a hyena – No clue what sort of person hyena was, and wondered what made his laughter sound like mine.
Monkey around – In order to actually live up to this expression, I would need to hang from the rafters, screech, and scratch under my arms. And to the best of my recollection, I only did that once or twice when I was quite young.
Quiet as a church mouse – What the hell did this mean? Did it pertain to a special kind of rodent that attended Sunday services? Obviously the creature in question knew the rules if they were behaving and being quiet in church. Did that mean that church cats existed too? Come to think of it, I think I saw that episode once on Tom & Jerry.
Raining cats and dogs – Removed from daily speech due to behind-the-scenes effort of PETA.
Running like a chicken with its head cut off – Unless a five-year-old had ever visited a slaughter house to witness this morbid phenomenon, there was a relatively good chance that children would have no idea what this means.
Strong as an ox – Sure, after calling them dumb and clumsy, now they’re strong.
Well, at least we did find one nice thing to say about oxen.
Silly goose – How silly is a goose? I never witnessed one doing stand up comedy or trying to make me laugh.
Stubborn as a mule – Something I was accused of being whenever I refused to set the table or wash the dishes.
Tiger in your tank – How on earth did it get in there? If we turn the car on, will it get hurt?
Swim like a fish – This was something I really wanted to witness, but never did. My uncle claimed to be able to swim this well when I was about five years old. I hoped desperately that no one would reel him in.
Dumb head- Alternate term for little brother.
Elbow grease – Pretty sure that my dad kept a can of this special kind of grease in the cupboard under the sink.
Heart-to-heart – A term that disappeared shortly after a hit TV show with a similar name appeared.
Gets under my skin – Ouch. How did it get there? Did a doctor stick a needle in your arm and put something annoying beneath your skin’s surface?
Green-eyed monster – This scared the tar out of me when I was little. I heard my mom use the expression once when she was describing one of her girlfriends who was very, very friendly with my dad. I was relieved when that friend of my mom’s never came to our house anymore because I lived in fear of watching her transform from a regular human to a green-eyed monster.
Tickled pink – I saw people get tickled but they never turned any colors.
White as a ghost – What about ghosts of different races?
Red as a lobster – Apparently if a person became too sunburned, they could turn into a crustacean.
Yellow belly – Something people called my other uncle, not sure what it meant at the time.
Blow me down – Popeye’s request to Olive (see “thin as a rail”), although Whimpy was more prone to that sort of thing. As you and I both know, Whimpy was always broke until Tuesday. How do you think he supported his burger-eating habit the rest of the week?
Don’t fart around – Translation: “Don’t make me get out of my chair or I will unleash my wrath.” The saying itself had nothing
to do with bodily functions.
Don’t monkey around – See “don’t fart around.”
Don’t monkeyfart around – My mom combined monkey around with fart around and voila!
Don’t you dare – This meant that I was compelled to do it.
Get out of my hair – What if I wasn’t in someone’s hair to begin with?
Go out and play – See “get out of my hair.”
Go pound salt – Why salt? If I pounded it, wouldn’t it fall apart? Why not go crush pepper instead?
Knock me over with a feather – I could never figure out why people said this. I am still cloudy on the concept.
Bat your eyes – I wasn’t sure of the real meaning, but it sounded like something painful that might happen to an unlucky spectator at a baseball game.
Burn a hole in your pocket – Why was money notorious for doing this? Every time I got ahold of some cash, my mom would make this prediction. That’s why I bought a metal wallet at age 7.
In hot water – Sometimes when I heard this phrase it meant we had to call a plumber. Other times, it signified that I was in trouble. Eventually I became plumb confused.
Nervous breakdown – Old-fashioned term for meltdown.
Scream bloody murder – What if there was no blood at the crime scene? Is this a British phrase? Why don’t we just yell plain old “murder!”
Shoot from the hip – As opposed to firing from one’s knees?
Shoot for the stars – There was a whole lotta shootin’ goin’ on a way back when. Why not open fire on heavenly bodies?
Sweating bullets – This was truly frightening to me as a very young child. I kept a watchful eye on grandma’s neck so I could warn her if projectiles began forming there instead of regular sweat beads.
Geography Building Skills
Don’t dig a hole to China – This did not deter my efforts. It made digging around my grandma’s yard sound all the more exciting.
Holy Toledo – The opposite of cursed Toledo?
California or bust – Whose bust were they talking about? Marilyn Monroe’s? Beethoven’s?
Grim Reaper’s Faves
Bored stiff – Is the insinuation that one might become mortally bored to the point where they are teetering on the brink of death’s doornail?
Dead as a doornail – What exactly does a doornail look like? What sets it apart from other varieties of nails? How come it is always described as dead? Was it ever alive?
Pale as a ghost – The assertion now implies that all ghosts are light-colored. What about a darker toned ghost?
Who died and left you boss? – Could never quite figure out why mom asked this question.
Did it mean that in the grownup world, you could only get promoted to boss status if the preceding boss passed away? How very extreme. What if they retired instead? I never once heard her ask, “Who retired and left you boss?”
Busy as a bee – Didn’t get this one. Bees appeared to be lazy insects, sitting around in flowers doing nothing but wait for a poor unsuspecting child to come by so they could sting them.
Ants in your pants – Never found them in my drawers, but I did find them on my face once. It was shortly after I put a handful of ant-laden caramel popcorn into my mouth.
Don’t let the bedbugs bite – How can you tell this to a little kid before bed and expect them to avoid having insects creep into their nightmares?
Damn it to hell – This was only uttered if mom or dad was really REALLY mad. The quickest way to get them to use it was to say it to them first.
Holy smokes – Blessed cigarettes? Don’t forget, there were a plethora of cigarette ads on the air during the 50s and 60s, so some of us were unwillingly brainwashed.
Patience of a saint – Something people said about my mother when all five of her children were little. The again, one must consider the fine line between sainthood and martyrdom.
Pale as a sheet – What if it’s a dark-colored sheet? Or worse yet, paisley?
Pretty as a picture – What if it was an ugly picture?
Slow as molasses – Don’t hear much about this mysterious sticky substance any more. Why not?
Thin as a rail – Astounding. The black wrought iron railing at my grandma’s was only an inch in diameter. How someone could ever be that skinny was amazing.
Back of my hand – Is something wrong with your palm?
I’m going to crown you – This threat of grandma’s sounded appealing.
Secretly, I had always wanted to become royalty.
I’m telling on you – Time to offer younger sibling(s) a bribe.
I’ll box your ears – Are you planning to make me wear square earmuffs?
I’ll give you a licking – hmmmm. No comment.
You’re gonna catch it – Variation of “you’re gonna get it” that was used in friends’ homes.
You’re gonna get it – Find padding for your behind immediately, and stuff it into the back of your pants.
Agitator – A term my mom used to call me shortly after full-cycle washers were invented if I became too rambunctious. I used to cry and wail, “I’m NOT a washing machine!”
Bigger than a breadbox – Be prepared to answer this question if you use this saying in today’s microwavy world: What’s a breadbox?
Bump on a log – Ouch. This is what might happen if you tripped and fell over a piece of wood in the forest. Should have been stated as, “Bump from a log,” in my juvenile form of logic.
Buy it with your good looks – Thanks. I always thought my looks would go a long way. I perceived this to be one of the few compliments my mom ever offered.
Conniption fit – Something my younger brothers had frequently, according to my mother. I often wondered if it was relative to a tight fit? Or a good fit?
Daddy-O – Harry O’s father?
Darn it all anyway – Mom said this a lot, probably when she was getting ready to sew all the socks with holes. Translated, it meant, “Sew the socks regardless.”
Doomahickey – Miscellaneous item as in, “Hand me the doomahickey.”
Dumb bell – Another term for little brother.
Far out – Geographically removed.
Farm Out – Evolution’s revenge on “far out.”
For crying out loud – As opposed to sobbing quietly? People still say this. My question is: Why?
Gallivanting – Something that had to do with steel processing.
Gee Willickers – Always felt sorry for anyone with this last name, especially if their first name was George or Gerri.
Hind end – Evolved to hinder (with a long I).
I couldn’t get over it – Why not? Was it something really tall or very huge?
Indian giver – A person who donates to Native American charities?
Inferiority complex – Big words to describe someone who was shy.
Mumbo jumbo – Implications of speaking unclearly to circus elephants.
Malarkey – Not sure what it meant, but it might taste good spread across bread with peanut butter.
Pickled – drunk
Soused – really drunk
Sissy – An insulting slang term which fell by the wayside after “Family Affair” became a popular TV show. Many young boys developed a crush on this feisty feminine character.
So quiet you could hear a pin drop – I said this once to someone younger than me. They became very confused because they thought I said the word “pen.” That person replied, “My pen is really loud when I drop it.”
Tight – unbelievably drunk
Thingamabob Miscellaneous item as in, “I lost my thingamabob.” Variation of thingajamig.
Thingamajig – Miscellaneous item as in, “Where’s your thingamajig? Variation of thingamabob.
Traipsing around – An activity I was often accused of pursuing, with “at night” added to the end of the phrase. This occurred most heavily during my teenage years.
Under the weather – Here we have the assertion that someone knew where the “weather” was actually located. One it was found, they would have to climb beneath it to live up to the phrase.
Whatchamacallit – Don’t forget the whatchamacallit. It’s over there, on the doomahickey, next to the thingamajig.
Wild Indians – What my mom called us when we screamed a lot. In today’s PC society, the correct term might be “expressive Native Americans.”
You’re all wound up – Wow. I didn’t realize you could put great big wind-up keys in kids’ backs!
Guess writing this memoir got me all wound up too! Hope you enjoyed taking this stroll down memory lane with my memories and me. Maybe we even have a few in common.