Words… That you don’t hear anymore…

I came across this phrase yesterday ‘FENDER SKIRTS.’ A term I haven’t heard in a long time, and thinking about ‘fender skirts’ started me thinking about other words that quietly disappear from our language with hardly a notice like ‘curb feelers’ and ‘steering knobs.’ (AKA) suicide knob, Neckers Knobs.

Since I’d been thinking of cars, my mind naturally went that direction first. Any kids will probably have to find some elderly person over 60 to explain some of these terms to you.

Remember ‘Continental kits?’ They were rear bumper extenders and spare  tire covers that were supposed to make any car as cool as a Lincoln Continental.

When did we quit calling them ’emergency brakes?’ At some point ‘parking brake’ became the proper term. But I miss the hint of drama that went with ’emergency brake.’

Here’s a phrase I heard all the time in my youth but never anymore – ‘store-bought.’ Of course, just about everything is store-bought these days. But once it was bragging material to have a store-bought dress, suit, or a store-bought bag of candy.

‘Coast to coast’ is a phrase that once held all sorts of excitement and now means almost nothing. Now we take the term ‘world wide’ for granted. This floors me.

On a smaller scale, ‘wall-to-wall’ was once a magical term in our homes. In the ’50s, everyone covered his or her hardwood floors with, wow, wall-to-wall carpeting! Today, everyone replaces their wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors. Go figure.

When’s the last time you heard the quaint phrase ‘in a family way?’ It’s hard to imagine that the word ‘pregnant’ was once considered a little too graphic, a little too clinical for use in polite company, so we had all that talk about stork visits and ‘being in a family way’ or simply ‘expecting.’

Apparently ‘brassiere’ is a word no longer in usage. I said it the other day and my daughter cracked up. I guess it’s just ‘bra’ now. ‘Unmentionables’ probably wouldn’t be understood at all.

Most of these words go back to the ’50s, but here’s a pure-’60s word I came across the other day – ‘rat fink.’ Ooh, what a nasty put-down!

Here’s a word I miss – ‘percolator.’ That was just a fun word to say. And what was it replaced with? ‘Coffee maker.’ How dull. Mr. Coffee, I blame you for this.

I miss those made-up marketing words that were meant to sound so modern and now sound so retro. Words like’DynaFlow’ and ‘Electrolux.’ Introducing the 1963 Admiral TV, now with ‘SpectraVision!’

Some words aren’t gone, but are definitely on the endangered list. The one that grieves me most ‘supper.’ Now everybody says ‘dinner.’ Save a great word. Invite someone to supper. If they show up, feed them! 🙂


TBT… — 40 Comments

  1. A childhood friend with very liberal parents had a “Necker Knob” with THAT photo of Marilyn Monroe on his bicycle handlebar. He was, of course, the envy of every outside plumbing kid in the neighborhood.
    It’s still available.

  2. I used the term “kumbaya” a couple of weeks ago, visions of Haight-Ashbury, The Village People, beaded hair, etc., in my head and got an office of stares and the one adult almost my age nodding and smiling. The office, typical such workers and the adult, my doctor. He told me to keep my sense of humor.

    Not car, but…

  3. $HOUSEMATE maintains my use of ‘supper’ for ‘dinner’ is Old Fashioned/Rural… but Dinner is a fancier thing (e.g. Christmas Dinner). And I surprised someone only a few weeks ago with the exclamation of “Rat fink!” Seems she hadn’t heard the term in years, but most certainly did recall it. I recall it from a parody of the ‘tune’ RAGMOP(P).

  4. Also, terms do reflect the times… and sometimes outlive the times. Consider all the -dynes of radio (hydrodyne water cooling for big transmitters!) And when altitude records were something, strato- was common. It even lives on in the Stratocaster. I do not recall a “stratodyne” but it would not surprise if someone tried to capitalize on the name/combo.

    What will be interesting will be how dated some of today’s things will be. “Blockchain” perhaps?

  5. Fender Skirts were a royal pain the venochie no matter what you were doing. Wash the car, and you had to either remove the skirt or move the car to wash the entire rear wheel. Changing the rear tire was worse. All the dirt you picked up off the street from day one collected inside the fender skirt, so trying to find and move the lever the released the skirt was hard, dirty work. Many times the retention latch failed to perform as advertised, and you had to struggle with it to get it off. Oh, and then just try getting it back on!

    The steering knob was another dandy. My neighbor had one on his old Buick, and the stupid thing got hung up on the shifter as he rounded a corner. Fortunately the man was very muscular and subscribed to the old adage, ‘If it doesn’t fit, force it.’ There was a nasty snap and the car straightened out with the knob rolling around on the floorboards.

    Continental Kit was another pain. The things invariably didn’t fit quite right, and you had to move them and screw around with them anytime you wanted to open the trunk.

    If it was store bought, it was often referred to as boughten, a word generally not in use today.

    The old percolator was an enjoyable way to make your morning coffee. Until you would inevitably forget to put the top on the cursed thing because you’d been out raising hell the night before, and set up the coffee before stumbling into the shower… I thought the thing sounded extra happy that day, but when I finally walked into the kitchen you may rest assured that I never had a worse start to Monday morning.

    Another vanishing phrase, Corinthian Leather, which meant nothing.

    Will someone please tell me when those golden years are going to start? Because so far all I’ve found is iron pyrite.

  6. “Living in sin” is probably a trigger phrase nowadays.
    “Manual” transmission seems to have replaced “standard” and a lot of today’s ‘stick’ shifts actually connect to funky electronics rather than connect to physical manipulators like, y’know, selector forks.
    I’ve written before that (it’s now about 10 years ago) that I encountered an engineer of about 22yrs old who didn’t understand what I meant when I said “stay tuned” – the whole experience of tracking an AM carrier frequency as atmospheric conditions (and the temperature of your vacuum tubes) drifted while a critical news story was broadcast. The guy thought ‘stay tuned’ meant something like ‘remain stoned,’ or at least caffeinated.
    ‘Phonograph’ might as well be as obsolete as ‘aerodrome.’
    Re ‘in a family way,’ almost nobody knows what ‘accouchment’ means, or meant.
    I remember ‘wall to wall’ being used for excellent audio qualit or radio reception, probably back when ‘Hi-Fi’ was still in use.
    ‘Hoodwink’ is being called a racist word now because the burgeoning ignorant among us associate the word with KKK hoods rather than falconry, the sport of kings. (Can you remember ‘jesses?’)
    ‘Supper’ may be a regional variation like ‘autumn’ which is heard more in New England while everyone else seems to use ‘fall.’
    Does anyone still call a $5 bill a ‘fin,’ or was that another New Englandism I grew up with? Another regionalism there is ‘bubbler’ for ‘water fountain’ in other places. Closed and taped off due to COVID.
    Sooner or later the woke crowd may march on us to purge firearms idioms from American English, so ‘draw a bead on,’ ‘lock, stock, and barrel,’ ‘keep your powder dry,’ ‘hotter than a two-dollar pistol’ and ‘spike the guns’ may be erased from us. (Funny how more modern terms haven’t evolved into idioms; I wonder if it’s just too gun-geeky to get figurative with a decocking lever?)
    With the drive to erase gender, the difference between ‘blond’ and blonde’ is being lost if not actively purged. Although ‘whence’ and ‘thence’ are still being heard, ‘whither’ and ‘thither’ are pretty much gone.
    1970s CB slang is probably well waned – “catch you on the flipper?”
    I don’t think ham operators refer to signal strength in ‘pounds.’
    And lastly in the patent world, writers are switching to using ‘the’ in claims rather than the traditional and more stilted word ‘said’ – which I still use…

    • I’m a big fan of ‘amongst’ and ‘whilst’ and other now-archaic words, partly because I had good teachers from upper-crust schools in my formative years and partly because of all the archaic books I used to and still read.

      You know you’re using archaic words when Microserf spell checker keeps pointing it out. I downloaded and converted a pdf of a Shakespeare play to .rtf format and just about killed MS Word. Darned thing said about two out of every third word was misspelled.

      • Decades ago I read a humorous fan-work about an editor who ran Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ through a spellchecker and marveling that among all the nonsense fun words that tripped up the program, ‘chortle’ seemed correctly used (because that vary poem introduced the word into the language and whence ‘went viral.’) IIRC the first lines ended up:
        “Twas brilliant, and the slimy toads
        did gyrate and gamble on the wave…”

    • I grew up in East Tennessee in the 1960 and many still spoke the King’s English. Dinner was the mid day meal and supper was what you ate at the end of the day.

      Because mountain fields were irregular in shape, when you “got to the short rows,” you were nearly done.

      When the first frost came it was “hog killing weather.”

      There were party line phones (you could have as many as 8 homes on a circuit) and each home had a distinctive ring.

      You had to turn the antenna to get a better signal on your TV. And and you had to sometimes adjust the horizontal and vertical.

      TV stations went off at a certain time. They played the national anthem and then you get a test pattern and noise.

      There were penny loafers, dime stores, Cokes were a nickel.

  7. Concur with those who remember “dinner” being fancier than “supper.”
    That was also the subject of the first, but not the last, stupid argument I saw in Basic Training, since in some necks of the woods — or hoods, I don’t think anyplace remotely rural was involved — one or the other meant “mid-day meal”, AKA “lunch” not “last meal of the day”.
    One of them was also bitching about eating the last meal of the day at 1700 instead of the more civilized hour of 2100 or something. When of course, we were all supposed to be in our racks, dreaming of Drill Sergeants…

  8. In Scotland, they’re called “fender kilts”.
    (I couldna resist.)

  9. Ah, suicide knobs. The advent of power steering and adaptive power steering (where it takes the same amount of lack of strength to turn the wheel at 10mph as it does at 110mph) has killed the need for the knob. Until your unibelt unbelts itself and suddenly you’re on forced manual steering. Always fun on the interstate at (cough) interstate-plus speeds…

    As to archaic stuffs, well, I find I get more attention swearing old school style than using words that would have gotten my mouth washed out or gotten me ‘Gibbs Slapped.’ I have stopped a room by a relatively quiet dropping of “Oh, fudge” or “Dangit.”

    • Heh. I got a similar effect at an internship when I said “Oh, poop” when I saw an error in my paperwork. I might as well have shouted for everyone stopped and looked at me. lol.

  10. “Is it Store Boughten ?”

    “No ma’am, its hand did.”

  11. You can still buy curb feelers and steering knobs. With the proliferation of tiny cars and power steering they aren’t as popular (or necessary if you will) as they once were, but they’re still around.

    The hardwood floors vs wall to wall carpet thing and “store bought” vs homemade is a budget and prestige thing. When wall to wall carpets were invented, hardwood was a plentiful, inexpensive and commonly used flooring material. My current house was built in 1954 and the subfloor and roofing boards are oak, let alone the flooring. Wall to wall carpet was something only the well off could afford back then and it was considered luxurious. Now hardwoods are expensive and carpeting is cheap so the exact opposite paradigm applies. Same thing for “store bought”. It’s cheaper now to buy a shirt or dress at Walmart than it is to buy a bolt of cloth and make it yourself.

    My dad grew up in a very poor family and had memories of the depression. In his middle age, he refused to wear jeans. Jeans were what poor people wore. Didn’t matter to him that jeans were “in style” at the time and a decent pair would cost twice as much as a pair of slacks, in his mind, denim = poor. He had to wear them when he was a kid; he wasn’t about to wear them and look poor when he wasn’t. He eventually grew out of that, but for a time…

    The three meals are Breakfast, Lunch and Supper. Those three meals are informal catch as catch can affairs. You eat breakfast when you get up, lunch when you have a break, and supper before you run out for the evening, fend for yourself and no need to worry about anyone else.

    Dinner is a formal affair and could be either the mid-day or evening meal. A family dinner is served at the dinner table and only after everyone is present and accounted for. As when I grew up, when my kids were still at home, during the work week dinner was always the evening meal. Sundays and major holidays it was usually the mid-day meal. Saturdays were busy with household chores, errands, kid’s activities and such and we often didn’t do a formal meal.

    Now that they’re out and on their own, we rarely have dinner any more except on special occasions and the dining room table gets little use.

    Oh, and I’m only 57 so I’m triggered by your “over 60” remark. Your speech is doing emotional violence to me. I think I need to take the rest of the day off so I can recover in my safe space at the shooting range.

  12. We never stopped using supper. Dinner is mid day on holidays like Christmas. We use a drip pot to make coffee. You know pore hot water in the top section and it drips thru the grounds into the bottom. We are off grid so it makes more sense than electric.

  13. Manual transmission was the standard in the early days when automatic transmission was introduced. Today, the standard transmission is automatic and manual transmission has become a theft prevention transmission.

    • How about driving a fine old truck with an UN-synchronized transmission: you not only get theft prevention but also an audible alert that the attempt is being made by a perp within the one and a half to two living generations who DON’T know how to read a tach (or listen keenly) and DOUBLE-clutch.

      • LOL. I just can hear the the gears … talking about grating teeth.

        LeTourneau is not a common name. Are you related to the engineer/family that established LeTourneau University in Texas?

        • I get that asked to me from folks who know engineering history and no, although I did read “Mover of Men & Mountains,” and also got a chance to meet one of R.G LeTourneau’s sons, Roy, who was speaking at a local non-denominational church. Robert G’s company survived as part of Marathon-Letourneau and I think they recently got acquired by another company out of Vicksburg MS. My S-corp did once get one of their FedEx bills applied to my company credit card, and that was ‘fun’ to straighten out – they had overnighted 50 Lincoln Electric welders to Texas (!) Although there’s some blending & mix-ups, the Capital ‘T’ Le Tourneaux (Fr. tower or rampart) were among the Huguenots who fled religious oppression in Switzerland and southern France in the 18th centuries to settle in Texas & Louisiana. Our gang were originally L’Etourneau (Fr. starling) but US branches of the families started dropping the apostrophe around the 1850s. Our earliest ancestor to come over was a David who arrived in Isles d’Orleans (PQ Canada) in 1656 and lived until 1670. His parents were married in Charente* in Poitou. He was a master miller and was granted lands to hold in fief by Msgr François de Montmorency Laval, the first Roman Catholic bishop in Canada. Our ancestral home, a stone ‘etape’ was still owned by a Letourneau as late as the 1980s when my day tracked it down and kinda dropped by as a family vacation. Station wagon et al. My father was a 2nd generation American who attended and graduated from Laval University in Quebec, and married a local girl and brought her stateside. She lived in this country for 35 years on a green card and did *not* naturalize, so that as a staunch Quebec separatist she could vote OUI for sovereignty and OUI for the French-Only language law. (I actually once met Rene Levesque in person.) For most of her life she also did *NOT* celebrate US Thanksgiving because that was a “Protestant English Colonist holiday” and she’d see the ‘1620’ on Plymouth Rock MA and raise you Quebec City’s first cannon batteries emplaced in 1604, Jacques Cartier coming over in 1535 and discovering maple syrup around 1538, plus the whole French and Indian War.
          *Right between the civil-war border between Cognac and Armagnac, they make a lovely drink there called Pineau de Charente which is about 20% alcohol and made from white Bordeaux grape juice fortified with brandy. So that’s a slice from my family history. And I married into a Lithuanian family.

          • I hope you did not mind me asking. L.U. is not known outside engineering or Christian circles.
            I had a smile reading through.
            Family history are fun. Thank you for writing a little of your familial history.

      • You can probably add “double clutch” to the list…

  14. “Hey Grandpa What’s for supper?” ’nuff said.

    or if that ain’t enough how about “suppers waiting at home and I gotta get to it”

  15. All- Great comments! Thanks. And re fender skirts, my grandfather had fender skirts on his 1953 Bel Air. ‘My’ job was to get them off when we washed it… Never again!!!

    Posted from my iPhone.

  16. You lot make me feel young. I’ve seen a few of these, but not many. 🙂

  17. I miss seeing gun racks in pickup trucks.
    Nobody even mentions them. I want one for my87 Ford.
    Guns will get a guy arrested, but a fishing rod won’t.

  18. In Boston, at least in the Irish Battleships, Dinnah was for holidays, and was after lunch but before traditional suppahtimes. Christmas and Eastah dinnah was around 3pm, and suppah was usually between 5 or 6 unless dad stopped at the packie and was running late.

  19. “Tune in next week”
    “Don’t touch that dial!”

    Funny though, that we still “dial” numbers on the telephone.

    “Space age technology”
    “Make a bee line…”

    Power steering, Power brakes, Power windows. Four-pot carburetor.

    Wanna confuse the kids? Say something like “The lion’s share of… whatever…” “Dad, what does “the lion’s share” mean?” Look it up, kid, or I’m gonna “drop a dime” on you with your teacher! I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop on this…

    I still use a percolator… ‘No better coffee on Earth…

  20. Does anybody remember when a poor boxer “telegraphed” his punches?

  21. My mother used to tell us to “Dress your feet” – which meant to put on your socks and shoes!

  22. Dinner was the main meal of the day, served mid-day. Supper was lighter, later, often leftovers from dinner. That’s the way we ate when visiting great and grand parents in the country.