Book News and Reviews from Madison Public Library
My mother had a saying: “That and fifty cents will get you right on the bus.” The meaning was, no matter what, you still have to pay for the bus.
An example: Me: “That woman has beautiful hair.”
My Mother: “Yeah–that and fifty cents will get her right on the bus.”
We all make references depending on the times/places we’re from. Depending on our differences, this could mean we’re not always understood. Every year, Beloit College releases its Mindset List, which provides a look at the cultural benchmarks shaping the lives of students entering college that year. The list reminds us of the ever changing frame of reference of popular culture.
Ralph Keyes acknowledges the confusion and makes entertaining sense of it in: I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech. Divided into subjects, Keyes takes us back down a familiar, nostalgic road, as he defines “retroterms,” (a word or phrase in current use yet having an origin that isn’t current). Ever wonder where “bigger than a breadbox?” came from? Or, what the news anchor meant when she reported the president had “some splainin’ to do?”
This is a book about language but definitely not just for word junkies. It’s geared to those of us old enough to be somewhat familiar with these terms or who use them without knowing their origin—an example for me would be “She’s got moxie.” The book can be read cover to cover but makes an enjoyable browse as well. I liked perusing the “Index of Retroterms” in the back, traveling to corresponding pages when a phrase intrigued me.
I had different levels of knowledge concerning the retroterms. Even when I knew them, however, it was comforting to delve deeper. Barney Fife?” Easy. “Catch-22? I’m on it. “Age of Aquarius?” Honey, I was there. Blanche DuBois? Bobby-Soxers? “I’ll Have What She’s Having?” Check, check and check. On the other hand, why someone would “take the cake?” was news to me.
The book was reassuring as well as enlightening. It certainly made me feel better. Seems that simply by hanging around all these years, I’ve gotten smarter. It’s nice to know I’m really good at something, even if that something is a passing knowledge of outdated terms.
And where will all this accrued knowledge get me? These days, along with 2 bucks–right on the bus.
– Terry, Central