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Updated and Current or Outdated and Quaint?

Generations March On With or Without You

When did this happen? You grow up with familiar phrases that describe things perfectly. Then you turn around, and a new generation has no idea what you’re talking about. The tools we thought were once thought were so technically advanced and for “the space age” are now fodder for museums. Or so we’re told. Sometimes, though, the comparisons are just downright funny.

Let’s take a look a few of these, starting off with the old saw – often told by women - that men refuse to stop and ask for directions, that they’re rather drive around lost forever than ask for help. It’s funny, because it happened so often in real life. And it was lampooned regularly in old TV comedies. It went something like this: a guy was driving around for a long time with his date/wife/mother-in-law and pretty soon it became apparent that they were lost. The guy would not stop to ask for help, he’d insist he knew EXACTLY where they were and where they were going the whole time, and then either comedy ensued or things went downhill pretty quickly from there. I mentioned this to my 23 year old son, who just looked at me like I grew a second head and said, “Don’t be ridiculous. EVERYONE uses Google Maps and Waze. How can you possibly get lost?!”

So, OK, some things have changed since then, like the ubiquitous personal GPS and perhaps an over-dependence on technology. How many kids even know how to use a physical map anymore? Not many, I bet. I think the folding map – remember the AAA Trip-Tik? – is a rarity these days.

Here’s a fun list of phrases and sayings that actually meant something way back when. We knew what they represented, described, or referenced – all from real experience! Now, to so many younger people, they’re only sayings. Many may disappear altogether soon, as their usage diminishes as the years go by, while others seem to take on new meanings. Can you relate to these?

  • Sounding like “a broken record” – translation: repetitive, like our old turntable albums catching on physical mark and endlessly repeating a tiny section of track until gently and physically nudged past it. Same reference when someone is “skipping over” something, like a broken record would occasionally skip over a few notes that are physically damaged

  • See you “on the flip side” – to see someone at the end of an activity. The original reference was to the other side of an album. Remember A side and B side?

  • “Roll your window down” –listen to what’s being said, as in physically rolling down the car window. Do they even still make roll-down windows or is everything electric now?

  • “Hang up the phone” – physically ending a call by placing the headset in the telephone cradle

  • “Close, but no cigar“ – oops! You just missed getting what you wanted. The cigar was often the prize in carnival games.

  • “Rewind” –asking someone to repeat what they had just said. From the days of cassette tapes when we’d go back and hear that song or story again. And again.

  • “Tilt!“–I’m stunned, from the days of pinball machines that were too easily thrown off-balance and non-operational by players who got carried away and physically jolted them so much during play that the machine essentially shut down.

  • “Been through the wringer” – emotionally exhausted, referencing how clothes were either physically wrung free of water or put through an old-fashioned mechanical device that predated the clothes dryer.

  • “Blowing off steam” – did you know that this is a reference to trains, specifically the release valve for stabilizing the mechanism? We “blow off steam” or vent our frustrations to avoid “boiling over” and having a bad situation “erupt.”

  • “Ditto” – the same, agreeing to the previous statement. Ditto was an early form of the copy machine. Which brings us to…

  • “Carbon copy” – an identical version of something. The word “clone” has pretty much taken over the use of “carbon copy,” except by older people who used to regularly use carbon copy and have never seen “Star Wars” or read much science-fiction. Or real genetics research.

  • “Drop a dime” – take the time to make a phone call, from back in the day when phone booths charged only 10 cents to make a local call.

  • “Clean slate” – to make a fresh start, from when teachers in classrooms regularly used chalkboards, long before the advent of electronic equipment. Students were asked or assigned (or punished) to wipe clean the chalkboards after school each day, to ensure a fresh start for the next morning.

  • “Ring up and purchase” – to pay for something in a store using a physical cash register, complete with a bell that rang a purchase and triggered the opening of the cash drawer.

  • “Ring someone” – to call on another person, as to physically dial a telephone number or physically push a doorbell. We still have doorbells and we have Ring security video doorbells. And so many ways to contact someone now – text, email, Skype, etc.

  • “Stay tuned” – to wait for something soon, from the old TV catch phrase announcing an upcoming, exciting program. Tuning often meant staying on the same channel (of which there were only three or four, at most) and way back when meant adjusting the TV antenna or “rabbit ears” to keep the reception clean and clear.

Here’s a fun list of other things that have either become hopelessly outdated by technology or are rapidly moving into that category. I’m not talking buggy whips, either (the prime example of technology replacing older physical labor). These items were in use in the 1980s and 90s, which to some of us “older folks” was not all that long ago:

  • Phone booths. So what DOES Clark Kent use these days to change into Superman?

  • Telephone rotary dials. Land lines are rapidly falling into this category, as more and more people forgo land lines in favor of exclusively using their cell phone numbers.

  • Physical alarm clocks. I still use mine, but my kids use their phones or smart watches.

  • Rolodexes and physical address books. Everything’s computerized now, though I still like to physically store frequently referenced business cards on an old Rolodex.

  • Calculators as a physical tool. I won’t mention that I first learned complex calculations on a slide rule, before hand calculators were even a thing.

  • Watches, digital or otherwise, that only tell the time. I still wear one every day. And it has a face on it, nothing digital there. How often do you see a Millenial or Gen Z sporting an old-fashioned “dumb” watch?

  • Speaking of old technology, how many younger folks know what a floppy disk is? Or a punched card? (sigh)

  • Dial-up modems (remember the beeping when you finally got a connection?)

  • Beepers and the phrase “beep me”

  • Answering machines

  • VHS tapes and the VCR

  • Cassette players and the 8-track stereo

  • The Dewey decimal system in a place called … the library

  • Fax machines. Confession: I still have mine. And use it.

  • Carbon paper to make those messy old carbon copies. Remember the three layers or sheets for making instant copies?!

  • Elves in fairy tales and commercial ads. Not the “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” elves. The shoemaker and the elves fairy tale. The Keebler elves who lived in a tree and made cookies. My son and I were watching the Will Ferrell movie “Elf” over the holidays and the references to these other types of elves in the opening sequence went completely over his head. Too bad, I found them hilarious.

  • Pet rocks. Furbies. Beanie babies. Oh, well. One day, his kids won’t know what a Transformer or Power Ranger is and it’ll serve him right. 

I’m sure the list will get longer as time goes by. That’s the way it goes! The best antidote to being labeled an “old fogey” is to stay current and know how to talk to younger generations using current references. Though the use of old phrases becomes colorful and even “quaint” to those unused to them. So what else is new?

Oh, and by the way, “old fogey” – which is a nice derogatory way to refer to older people with old-fashioned or very conservative ideas – reputably refers back to 1811, when Old Fogey was a nickname for an invalid, wounded soldier, taken from the French word “fougueux” for “fierce or fiery.” And the phrase “old saw,” used at the beginning of this article, means an old saying or commonly repeated phrase or idea that embodies a conventional wisdom.

So sometimes, these old phrases and descriptions do last for a long time, even if we can no longer remember how or where they originated.