Recently a talk show host rattled on about words that supposedly make people sound old. Unbelievably enough, her list was not my entire daily vocabulary. As an expert in all things old, however, I decided to add a few words of my own.
I even took the extra step of “vetting” my list with a real, live young person. The former student, somewhere in Millennial range, had stopped by for a visit; and I quickly pressed her into service. With swift, modern authority she confirmed almost every word I mentioned: “That’s old, that’s old, that’s old, too.”
Surprisingly, whippersnapper occupied a spot on the original list. I rarely hear it; and when I use it, I deliver it humorously, in my best impression of an old biddy with a croaky voice: “Listen here, you young whippersnapper!” Is that not sad: an old lady doing an imitation of an old lady?
Be that as it may, during almost seven decades, I exited whippersnapper territory and heard myself addressed as ma’am at an unnecessarily-early age on the way to the old fogey status I currently enjoy. A high school classmate of mine even refers to the Class of 1966 as a bunch of geezers and geezerettes.
Inexplicably, ice box was on the original list. I cannot recall my parents using that term, but I do remember that some of my aunts and uncles called couches davenports. Just as all facial tissues are called Kleenex, the couches manufactured at the turn of the century by the A.H. Davenport Company became a generic name for this piece of furniture. Personally, I think “sofa” is edging out “couch” these days, but I have not heard davenport for a long time.
At school we graduated from blackboards to chalkboards and moved on to whiteboards. We also upgraded from mimeograph and ditto machines to photocopiers, welcoming the new-fangled contraptions and calling their output Xerox copies. My younger-generation advisor clarified: everything now is just a “copy.” By the way, the word contraption itself was on the original list.
Record players and phonographs morphed into hi-fis and stereos, but I am not sure what to say now. I have read that records are making something of a comeback, although people are calling them “vinyls.”
Today’s telephones barely resemble the instruments on which I have spent a lifetime yakking, but some of the vernacular remains. We “dial,” by touching the screen; and phones still “ring” – albeit in tones of unlimited and often annoying variety. I still have a dial tone on my landline phone, but I have yet to determine if that feature is part of my cell phone.
More unsettling, however, is the rapid progression from “cutting edge” to “obsolete” – sometimes in just a couple of generations. One term on that original list was floppy disk, an item that did not exist when I began teaching in 1970. Although these small computer storage gizmos eventually replaced most of my manila folders and stenographer notebooks, I threw out every last floppy disk when I cleaned out my school desk and cupboards for the last time in 2010. Great example of warp speed, I would say…
A discussion of clothing separates the whippersnappers from the geezers more clearly than just about any other topic of conversation. My co-boomer sister points out that tights have become “leggings,” and a Generation X friend explained that women rarely wear blouses any more in favor of “shirts” or “tops.”
Although “pants” and “jeans” have become almost universally interchangeable, I know all too well that my age is showing when I slip slacks or trousers into casual conversation. And it goes without saying that my father’s go-to term of britches is long-gone from any modern lexicon.
I even run the risk of sounding old when I talk about accessories. I guess few people of either gender use billfolds anymore, instead carrying cash and cards in “wallets.” And I have not heard about coin purses for a long time either. My Millennial friend advised that now it is popular to stash loose nickels and dimes in “change purses.” Although my mother always carried a pocketbook, she eventually updated the term to “purse.”
As the Sears corporation teeters precariously on the brink of financial disaster, only we oldsters remember the good, old days when we ordered items from Sears and Roebuck. In the 50’s and 60’s, every weekly trip from River Road to Urbana included a stop at G.C. Murphy, which we called the dime store. Other references to the five-and-dime have all been inflationally replaced by the “dollar store.”
At the end of it all, however, I cannot help but display my advancing age through mere word choice. I am, after all, a product of my upbringing, my personality, and life in general. I heard my father refer to his “lunch box” as a dinner pail – and still wonder when my glove compartment became a “glove box.” Some inner force compels me to yell blithering idiot at any number of politicians whose images appear on my TV screen. And I know for a fact that I will type nowadays and back then much too often as I write my columns each week.
Oh, well. Whenever the clash of modern terminology and outdated vocabulary threatens to overwhelm, I think I will just lean back in my recliner and work on feelin’ groovy…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.