I love expressions from the past, especially the ones we see in classic films. These expressions were once applied universally to our lifestyles and the technology of the time but most have become a bit out of date.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
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
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 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.
Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in "The Apartment"
is a quiz: In the mid 1930’s, actor 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 the latter day Raymond Burr series. 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. If you don't know the answer, here it is: In the old days, buildings that had a lot of elevators usually had a guy guiding people into which car to use. He was called a "starter." and when a car was full of passengers he would click a set of castanets as a signal for the elevator operator to take take his passengers to their various floors. Needless to say that was a job that became obsolete fairly quickly.
For a look at a "Starter" in action google "The Apartment" (1960) starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine from YouTube and fast forward to the 12:00 mark. In this scene a starter walks by and clicks his castanets to elevator operator MacLaine to let her know her car is full.
It's a good example of how things were done in the past. The things we do now are in the present but don't hold your breath thinking they will never change.