It’s amusing that the older we get, the more we start to sound like our parents.  Expressions they used when we were little would make us cringe at the time.  As we get older, we find ourselves using a lot of those expressions.

When my Mom was cleaning the house, she’d say she gave it “a lick and a promise”.  “A lick and a promise” means, as the American Heritage Dictionary puts it, “a superficial effort made without care or enthusiasm.” 

My Mom always called her purse “a pocketbook”.  I always thought that sounded like a paperback novel.  Now it could also mean an electronic reader.

My Dad used to call pimples “hickies”.  He’d say, “What have you got there – a hickey?”  Huh?  Not likely, Dad.

It was either my Dad or my Grandfather who used to say, “straighten up and fly right”.  It means “to improve one’s behavior or attitude and perform better”.

My Dad used to say, “gosh all fish hooks”, too.  Apparently that means, “Gosh all mighty” or “God almighty”.  I did see reference to a 1938 Cream of Wheat ad that used that expression as a header – http://www.rubylane.com/item/162799-ax201961/Magazine-Ad-Cream-Wheat-Gosh
I often heard them say he/she “is as funny as a crutch” when they were talking about someone who wasn’t being very funny. 

I often heard my Mom say “butter wouldn’t melt in his/her mouth”.  It means “prim and proper, with a cool demeanor”.

If you wanted to do something a friend was doing, my Mom would say, “I suppose if [insert friend’s name here] walked down the street naked, you’d want to, too”.  I remember thinking, “why would I want to do that?”

If my parents got mad at each other, the worse thing they’d say would be, “oh, go soak your head!”  That expression is “old slang used to tell somebody they have no idea what they are talking about”.

I also heard them say, “I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s off ox”.  That means “to have not the slightest information about the person indicated”.


Leg cramps were always called “charley horses” at my house.  This is a common name for a muscle spasm.

They also said, “my eyes feel like two burnt holes in a sheet” which meant your eyes were tired, sore and felt like they were burning.

My Dad used to say, “do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” and also, “it’s cold enough to freeze the hair off a brass monkey”.  The first one doesn’t really mean anything.  The second expression is self-explanatory.

My Grandmother had her share of expressions as well. Most of them cannot be repeated here – Gramma was a character.  The expressions were a little racy or vulgar.  She sure was funny, though.  If someone burped, she’d say, “better to bear the shame than the pain” or “better out than in”.  If we wanted things to eat that weren’t necessarily good for us (brown sugar or pie dough scraps when she was baking), she’d say “you’ll get worms”.  I wish I could repeat some of her better ones.

Families sure are funny. 

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.
Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
– Jane Howard

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