Ancient But Quaint Expressions

Over the course of 72 years, I’ve heard a multitude of colorful ways to express thoughts or describe phenomena. Too many of those choice expressions have already evaporated from my aging brain, but a modest number subsist. I think I owe it to posterity to record at least the most memorable and piquant examples. Posterity might well decide that it doesn’t need or want any reminder of these “classic” idioms, but at least I will have tried.

Keep in mind that my formative years for self-expression were the 1950’s and the 1960’s, so if you were born after 1970 your non-recognition of certain terms can be forgiven. Keep in mind also that we, the war-baby generation, were quite precocious as to profanity. As I look back at our lexicon of phrases, it’s quite amazing what crude and crass little suckers we were. If you’re averse to perpetuating profanity, keep this missive out of the hands of your impressionable grandchildren.

Some expressions never die. Just the other day I heard “Is the pope Catholic?” as a shorthand comment about an issue whose answer should be utterly self-evident. But that rhetorical question about the pope was a hackneyed phrase even 50 years ago. Some of us had a more colorful rejoinder to obviousness. We queried: “Do bears shit in the woods?” An even quainter expression that I’ve always favored is: “Does a hobby horse have a wooden asshole?”

As youngsters trying to cover up our various insecurities, we were adept at using crude and crass expressions to disparage or mock others around us. There was a vast array of put-downs for seemingly stupid statements. One common retort to perceived stupidity (dating from the 1960’s) was: “you don’t know diddilysquat” about that! The term “diddilysquat” was sometimes shortened to “squat,” as in “you don’t know squat about that.” Another derisive comment dating back to the 1950’s was: “you don’t know shit from shinola!” (Today, everyone wears running shoes, so you probably didn’t even know that shinola is shoe polish). Yet I always thought it was pretty evocative to tell a dolt encountered that he was so obtuse as to be unable to differentiate between excrement and dark shoe polish. The most evocative put-down, reserved for really outrageous ignorance, is: “you must be suffering from a cranial-rectal inversion.” What an elegant way to tell your unworthy adversary that their views are so distorted that their head must be lodged up their ass!

Our youthful crassness and vulgarity was not confined to mocking stupidity. Sometimes, the context was angry response to perceived provocation. We (meaning young males, as I never hung out with young females) had a vast repertoire of nasty rejoinders utilizing the words fuck or suck. “Fuck you” was a pallid starting point in our insult lexicon. Like George Carlin in one of his monologues, I marveled at the irony of telling an antagonist to go perform a pleasurable act. The hostile sexual imagery also provoked in me another wonderment. As many times as I heard “go fuck yourself,” it never failed to trigger wonder about the contortions entailed in accomplishing the prescribed action. A propos physical wonders, consider an angry command once directed at me to “go take a flying fuck in a donut.” Think about the intricate mechanics involved in penetrating the hole of an airborne donut! Along the same lines, I had a friend who referred to any disdained adversary as “needledick, the bug fucker.” (Male insecurity being as acute as it is, it was always provocative to mock the size of someone else’s member.)

Our youthful coarseness came out in other expressive contexts. In communicating the fact of a recent death, we were aware of social preferences for euphemisms like “passed away” or “entered into eternal rest.” Nonetheless, if reporting the death of a stranger or non-friend acquaintance, we resorted to more vivid expressions. Sometimes, we noted, as they did in cowboy movies, that decedent X had “bit the dust.” That colorful expression always seemed incongruous in an era in which most people died in bed or on paved surfaces rather than in dusty corrals. Perhaps our favorite death announcement was that X had “croaked.” That formulation would have been particularly apt if the decedent had died under conditions of respiratory distress like COPD, but our usage of “croaked” was not so confined. We also used the more stock term “kicked the bucket,” though I confess I never understood what bucket was involved. Back in the 1950’s, I heard the phrase “took a mort” to report a death. I liked the cosmopolitan element of injecting French into the pronouncement, but today the French usage would probably come across as pretentious rather than as a bon mot.

Callow, testosterone crazed youth that we were, we regularly fantasized about romantic conquest. Often we were smitten with some bedazzling female but totally incapable of transforming our adulation into an actual approach. We could, though, colorfully describe our yearning to our equally hapless colleagues. A yearning suitor would typically convey the intensity of his homage by stressing the level of sacrifice to which he was willing to go just to be received by the wondrous, intimidating female. For example, the suitor might say: “I would crawl a mile on my hands and knees” (sometimes adding snow or sand to the projected image) if “she” would just deign to receive me. This willingness to drag oneself a great distance was indeed a fitting expression of enamorment. But I once heard an even more evocative and convincing communication of homage and devotion. A besotted friend remarked: “I would stand in shit up to my neck just to watch one of her turds float by!” That, to me, represented the ultimate in self-sacrifice and dedication.

Did young women have comparable expressions regarding desired studs? Again, I wouldn’t know, as I didn’t hang out in those circles.

Don’t think that all was doom, gloom, hostility, and frustration in our youthful vocabulary. Occasionally, we found colorful ways to express great enjoyment. For example, we were sometimes “happy as a pig in shit.” As in: ‘I was happy as a pig in shit’ while writing this blog piece.

Whatever debt to posterity I might have had has now been paid. What are the chances that posterity will appreciate and utilize this assortment of piquant expressions? As we used to say in the face of overwhelming negative odds: “there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell.” Or “the chances are somewhere between zero and nil.” Or we might say: “there’s about as much chance of that as for a fart in a windstorm.” Given the crude tone of this collection, that last expression is particularly apt.