Story Time – Linguistic, and other Remeniscences

Not too long ago, I saw a post on my facebook newsfeed for a quiz in which you were asked about how you referred to various objects, or what phrase you used to describe something. The “test” was for the program to see if it could tell what part of the country you lived in (or grew up in) based on your answers. It started with whether you might say “you guys”, “yous”, or “y’all” (among a few others). It asked whether that house diagonally across the intersection from yours is “catty-corner” or “kitty-corner”, and whether you call freshwater lobsters “crawdads”, “mudbugs”, or “crayfish.”

Oddly, part of me wanted the program to fail. I mean, with the NSA spying on everyone already, do we really need another method with which to be identified? After taking this quiz twice, it was unclear if the program is really accurate or not; the first time I was given three cities that is said were “close” to where the program thought I lived, none of which were close. The second time I took the quiz, believing I answered everything the same as I had before, it gave me three new cities, one of which was remarkably closer to being correct. If you’d like to take the quiz, use this link:

In any event, it got me thinking about things I grew up “knowing” and saying, and wondering if I’d taught my kids to use the same words, or if they picked up different sayings through their peers, teachers, and other folks in their worlds. I also wonder how much I’ve told them about things we had in the past that no longer exist, at least not in the sense that they would consider using them nowadays.

One thing I remember saying and doing was spotting the cars driving with one headlight out while cruising after dark. We called them “pididdles”, and if you saw three in a row, you got to make a wish. To this day, I “collect” my pididdle wishes just like I wish on the first star I see on a clear night.

While I grew up calling any submarine sandwich a “hoagie”, I have expanded my vocabulary and will alternate that with “sub” at times. My first exposure to such sandwiches was with a local restaurant the used the them “hoagie” and Subway, Jersey Mikes, and Jimmy John’s weren’t around yet. There are other word and phrases I have come to say differently as my own personal horizons have expanded. There is a convenience store called United Dairy Farmers around here. I grew up calling it “the Dairy Farmers” as that how everyone in my neighborhood referred to it. After moving away, and even after returning to my area, I now, more often, call it “UDF” like everyone else does.

“Pop” and “soda” have always been interchangeable, and I will waffle between “y’all” and “you all” depending on the company I am in, or how lazy or tired I might be.

As a kid, when playing hide-n-seek or any other game where you want to call all the players back in, we never yelled out “olly olly oxen free” – we yelled “olly olly in come free”. Seemed to make more sense as a kid that if you called the others in that way, they knew they weren’t going to be “it” for coming in out of hiding.

Of course, as society and technology advances, certain things are lost forever that our kids and grandkids won’t have the pleasure of knowing anything about lest they read about them, or we elders continue telling them all about it. I would like to think that my boys, both in their early twenties, know a bit more about some “lost treasures” than their peers. But will they pass on the tales to their own children or grandchildren some day?

Eight-track tapes where still around when I was growing up. The players didn’t come standard in cars, but my brother installed one in his car and tortured me with the alarm clock bells of Pink Floyd every morning as we drove to school. Even cassette tapes are a thing of the past that many young people these days are unaware of. I remember having an old reel-to-reel tape deck, using it to record songs off the radio because buying an actual vinyl LP was expensive to a kid with no real allowance or job to speak of. I hated that the DJs always talked over the intro and ending of my favorite songs! Of course, the little 45s were cheaper, but you still had to get your mom to take you to the store, as there was no “downloading” any tunes electronically.

Betamax was a competitor of VHS when it came to video tapes. The physical dimensions of the beta tapes were smaller, so certainly not interchangeable with a VHS player. For reasons I don’t really remember, beta didn’t last, kind of like laser discs when CDs and DVDs became the next best thing. Some folks still have VHS players/recorders and there are ways to connect those to your computer if you want to convert the videos to a DVD format, or just keep them stored digitally on your computer.

Of course, how many homes still have old rotary phones with a hand-set that you can satisfyingly slam down when you want to end a call dramatically? Even the push-button style still allowed for that wonderful feeling that disconnecting a cell phone – or even a cordless phone – cannot achieve. Most kids don’t have a clue that the alphabet on the phone’s keypad actually meant something totally different in “old days” than a means of sending text messages. Phone number exchanges actually were words rather than numbers. The first two letters of the word were paired with four or five numerals to make your home phone number, but folks used the whole word when giving out their phone number to friends, who all knew exactly what they meant. “I can be reached at ENglewood 3-1234.” You didn’t even have to dial it all yourself – you could just have the operator connect you. And many people had “party lines” in order to save money on phone bills. This was like having multiple telephones in your home – if you picked up the extension in one room, not knowing someone in another room in the house was using the phone, you would be able to listen in or be part of their conversations. Party lines worked the same way, only the phones were in different houses. As a kid, if we wanted to make prank calls, but the neighbor was using the phone, our fun was spoiled…unless we could manage to lift the receiver again, quietly so they did not realize we were listening in. Of course, giggles or other sounds would give us away, and we would hang up quickly before scolding ensued!

If you have favorite words or phrases that are unique to where you live, but are fading out of use, take note of them and share them with your kids. Tell them about stuff you had and used that no one sees, let alone uses anymore. If nothing else, they may learn something new and interesting (maybe!).

Tell them about the little aluminum trays with a hole, rubber ring, and wooden stick that you filled with chocolate milk and stuck in the freezer to make your own popsicles.
(I used these a lot!)

Share the games you played as kids that maybe aren’t around anymore – “Green light, Yellow light, Red light, STOP!”, and “Mother May I?” come to mind. Did you play “Ghost in the Graveyard” or “Kick the can”?

Share TV programs that you loved as a kid, or that you remember watching with your grandparents even though you may not have loved those shows! Who sat through and hour of “Lawrence Welk” because you knew that you’d get to watch “Hee Haw” later?

Is any of this important? Not really.
Is any of this interesting? Perhaps even less so.

But I am amused by it all, and so I am sharing. I want my kids to remember me and all the things that made me “tick.” Some of my best memories were of times when all these things were simpler and we enjoyed life more. I want my kids to know that less really can be more. That wishing on pididdles is just as legitimate as wishing on stars.

And I want their wishes to come true.


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