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Apr 14, 2023

17 Obsolete Everyday Expressions (Collect ’em All!)

See which ones you still use—or wish you could

By Ed Goldman
  1. “IT’S FOR YOU.” This was a common remark in homes that had a land line and more than one occupant. These days, you don’t pick up a phone on others’ behalf because they all have their own phones.
  2. “BE HOME IN TIME TO WATCH THE SHOW.” Why? We can see any show anytime we want or tape it to watch later. The idea of “appointment television” went out with the first VCR.
  3. “DID YOU WISH TO RENT AN AUTOMATIC- OR MANUAL-TRANSMISSION CAR?” Many of my generation learned to drive a stick-shift car. In the late 1970s I drove one, a Toyota Corona, until the day I was waiting for a light to change at the top of a near-vertical San Francisco street I was ascending. When the light turned green, so did I, simultaneously punching the clutch and gas pedals with warp speed to get into first gear and not roll back down the hill, all the way into the picturesque San Francisco Bay. Not long thereafter I bought a brand-new automatic Volvo which was a vast improvement—except for its overheating when the weather outside topped 55 degrees (those rugged Swedes!). But I also felt that by buying it I’d contribute to keeping the San Francisco Bay free of Toyota Coronas.  
  4. “DID YOU JUST MISDIAL ME?” We all know about “butt-calls”—those we accidentally make when we sit on our smartphones—which proves that even with the lack of dials, we’re still fully capable of calling the wrong number. But unless we’re still using a rotary phone, we’re less likely to misdialthe wrong party. (As an aside, I personally miss the soothing sound of seven swish-cha-cha-chas for local calls and 10 swish-cha-cha-chas for out-of-town ones.) But speaking of phones, nobody ever asks anymore–
Edgy Cartoon

Pushing the envelope?

  1. “IS IT A LONG-DISTANCE CALL?” and its cousin–
  3. “I REALLY DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER. DID YOU ASK JEEVES?” I hate to be the one to tell you but Jeeves was killed a few years ago in what the coroner ruled as a corporate accident. An evil twin named ask.com has replaced him. You can ask the newish site any question you want—except, I’m guessing, “Who killed Jeeves?”
  4. “COULD YOU GO OVER AND CHANGE THE CHANNEL?” People who came before me told of daily ordeals like trudging through the snow to get to elementary school, pumping water into the cistern (on 130-degree days), refilling the propane tank (during blizzards, of course) and hanging the laundry out to dry.

About the only hardship my generation can gas about to the next generation is this: “In my day, when we wanted to change the station, we had to get off the sofa, walk across the room and do it manually.” (O’ pioneers! as Walt Whitman might have gushed.)

  1. “DO YOU SERVE VEGE-BURGERS HERE?” These creepy things were around even when I was a kid in the 1950s. A precursor to “impossible” burgers, they came in a short can, like tuna, were pre-shaped into patties and tasted like carpet lint. Which they may well have been.
  2. “DID YOU SEE WHO WAS ON LENO LAST NIGHT?” For me, it was usually Leno, so I never watched.
  3. “MY TYPEWRITER RIBBON BROKE.” By the way, this is what thriller-novelist Frederick Forsyth (“The Day of the Jackal”) purportedly told a magazine interviewer to explain why he didn’t know what would happen next in his book-in-progress.
  1. “HOW’S YOUR PENMANSHIP?” Fortunately or not,  penmanship stopped being a thing long before someone could protest that the word was male-chauvinistic.
  2. “LET’S GO HANG OUT AT BORDER’S.” People blame the Internet for the death of this bookstore chain. I blame the fact that people did indeed “hang out” there but didn’t buy enough merch. In the next few years, we’ll see how coffee shops, which increasingly resemble remote offices, end up faring. After all, they can charge us only so much for a caramel brulée latte and it’s not likely that we’ll each buy two or three of them as we while away the afternoon, taking up a shop’s real estate and wearing down its wi-fi connection. And along those lines–
  1. “THAT AND A NICKEL WILL BUY YOU A CUP OF COFFEE.” Don’t trip climbing into your time machine.
  2. “CAN I BORROW YOUR PENCIL SHARPENER?” (Alternative obsolete phrase: “May I borrow a pencil?” Follow-up question: “What’s a pencil?”)
  3. “I’LL PUT THAT ON MY DESK CALENDAR WHEN I GET BACK TO THE OFFICE.” To be candid, this is how I still keep track of my appointments. I never use my phone or computer for reminders. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I see I have cocktails at 5 with Fred and Barney. Abba-dabba-do!
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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).