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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Classic Sayings

I love expressions and items from the past, especially the ones we see in classic films. These items were once applied universally to our lifestyles and the technology of the time but most have become a bit out of date. For those of a certain age, you will understand them. For the younger crowd, maybe not. Either way I’ll give a short explanation on each.

Asleep at the switch. I still hear this occasionally as a description of someone who is not giving full attention to something. However, it originated from the days when railroads had humans doing a lot of work that is automated now. If a guy didn’t change the tracks for a train going to Chicago and it wound up in Cleveland, he definitely was asleep at the switch.

That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. Yes, there was a time when coffee was a nickel a cup. I saw a sign in a diner when I was a kid that read "cup of coffee, cigarette, and a toothpick: 7 cents." Throw a nickel on the counter at Starbucks and see what you get.

Came in over the transom. Does anyone remember transoms? They were windows above the door that many old hotels and houses had to allow for better ventilation. In some comedy movies with stars like The Three Stooges, you may see them going through the transom.

Put through the wringer. If someone was working too hard, they may have said they were “put through the wringer.” Many years ago the wringer was used to squeeze the water out of washed clothes before they were hung in the backyard to dry on the “line”. The “line” was a piece of rope the clothes were hung on to dry. The clothes were held on the line by “clothes’ pins”. Wringers were replaced long ago by the spin cycle in modern washing machines.

Best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread was quite an invention at one time and anything that was also newly invented and convenient could be referred to being the best thing since sliced bread.

Film at 11. That was the tease for TV news in the days long before live reporting.

Beam me up Scotty. "Star Trek" technology from the 60s and an expression you may still hear occasionally.

Let’s get cranking. Popular in the days when cars had cranks to start them, no ignition switches and starters then.

Dial her up. This comes from the days when if you called a girl you liked; it would be on a rotary dial phone. No push buttons in those days. No caller ID or call waiting either.

Here is one of my favorites. In the great crime film from 1931, "The Public Enemy", James Cagney is a wise guy crook driving a new stick shift fancy roadster. The stick shift (or synchromesh transmission) was a new item at that time and when a valet at a fancy club goes to park Cagney’s car, he grinds the gears. Cagney shouts, "Hey, stupid, be careful! That thing’s got gears. That ain’t no Ford!"

Cagney was referring to the Model T Fords of that era which, as he said, didn’t have gears.

Here is a quiz: In the mid 1930’s, Warren William played Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer Perry Mason in a series of films. The Perry of that era was a lot different from Raymond Burr. William played him as a playboy drunk. In one film Perry is returning to his office after a night on the town when a friend describes him as “so drunk that as the elevator went up he began doing the rumba to the starter’s castanets.” Can you explain what his friend meant?

If you know the answer, you are a true classic movie expert.

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