June 1, 2009
By J.A. O’Sullivan
The cover says it all: hoochie coochie, double whammy, drop a dime. “I Love It When You Talk Retro,” a new book by Ralph Keyes, explores the history of America’s slang, sayings and street talk. Written crisply and divided into chapters like “Fighting Words, “Movie Metaphors and “Seen in the Funny Papers” Keyes gives the low-down behind the expressions we use, and take for granted, every day.
Each chapter spouts phrases like an overloaded jack-in-the-box, with item bolded so the reader doesn’t miss anything. Take this passage on boxing lingo: “Early boxing matches tended to be rough-and-tumble, knock-down, drag-out affairs that went on until one contestant was knocked unconscious and dragged out of the ring. There were no limits on the types of punches that could be thrown by bare-knuckle prize-fighters (so called because they fought for prizes at fairs and such). These contests were free-for-alls.”
Read straight through, skip around or search the retro-term index at the end of the book to find specific references. A quick flip yields a garden variety of Americana: widgets, red tape, barnstorming, by-the-numbers and black sheep,
You’re bound to know a lot of these gems. You may even know their history. But at 320 pages, you’ll find some interesting trivia and maybe even stumble on your new-old favorite word.