John E. McIntyre
Talk retro to me May 9, 2009
This one is for the Young People, if any such lurk among my readers. Are you mystified by the peculiar turns of speech when Baby Boomers talk? Do you feel ashamed that at your unfamiliarity with the TV series of the late 1950s and early 1960s? Are you disinclined to watch hours of TV Land to catch up?
Help is available.
Ralph Keyes has published a book, I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 310 pages, $25.95), that will help you caulk the gaps in your cultural education.
I was particularly touched to find his entries on newspaper lingo, particularly piquant now in the twilight of print journalism.
Deadline, for example, the appointed time by which copy is due or an edition is to be completed, derives from the line in a prison that an inmate could not cross without being shot. (I would very much have liked to recover the original penalty in the newsroom, but I could never persuade my betters even to issue sidearms to the copy editors.)
The spindle on which stories written on copy paper were impaled when editors decided not to run them was called a spike, and to this day a story that is killed is said to have been spiked.
Theodore Roosevelt, alluding in 1906 to “The Man with the Muck Rake” in Pilgrim’s Progress, said that journalists exposing scandals were “raking the muck,” and muckraking has been a badge of honor in investigative journalism ever since.
Let Mr. Keyes help you. With a perusal of his book and a little practice, you could contrive to sound almost as antique as I do.