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Word Wizards: Odd Things Grandparents Used to Say

The Word Wizards accept the challenge of trying to translate old-timey phrases into modern parlance, and explain their fascinating origins. By The Walt Bodine Show


We've all been to grandma or grandpa's house, sat down and started reminiscing. This time of year, in particular, is a popular time for intergenerational hanging out. So it may happen in the near future that one of your elders asks you a question with words you recognize as coming from the English language, but to which you are not able to supply a response because you have absolutely no idea what it means. Our word wizards accept the challenge of trying to translate these phrases into modern parlance, and explain their fascinating origins.

Ginny Blanton, Associate Professor of English, UMKC
Max Skidmore, Professor of Political Science at UMKC
Robert F. Wilson, Jr., Professor Emeritus in the UMKC Department of English


Unsolved mysteries:

A caller mentioned the word 'Cygogglin' and we had 2 email responses

1. My older relatives in Southeast Kansas always used the word "anti-gogglin'" - so if the project was messed up, they would say, "That's all anti-gogglin."

2.I hadn't heard cygoglin', but similar to it is Annie Gogglin', meaning "not quite right."

Laurie in Lawrence writes: "My parents, born around the turn of the 20th Century, called umbrellas bumbershoots."

Pam in Prairie Village writes: "Having grown up in a small town, I often heard the word 'baileywick' as in 'put that in your baileywick.' I understand it to mean, 'you'll take care of that.' Can you tell me where that phrase originated? I'm guessing it's of agricultural origin. Something to do with baling hay?"

Charles in Kansas City writes: "My granddad always called me Peck's Bad Boy. Neither I nor my parents have any knowledge of who Peck might be. Any suggestions?"

Ginny in Kansas City writes: "I'm writing in with a frog in my throat. Tried to find the origin of this phrase, but there is a lot of controversy. What's interesting is that in the 19th Century, there were a number of ten cent cures for having a 'frog in your throat.'"

Kelly writes: "Where did holy smokes come from?"

Janeen writes: My mom, age 90, said "don't hang crepe." Know what that means? I think it's keep people optimistic, as in don't hang crepe for a funeral yet.

And fondly remembered phrases

Joan in Raytown writes: My maternal grandmother was Irish, came to the U.S. in about 1876 and lived in Pennsylvania and Illinois. Talking about some minor things amiss with one's attire, such as missing a button on a jacket, she'd simply say, "A man on a galloping horse would never notice."

Shelley in Prairie Village writes: My Kansas grandmother (born in 1886) said, "When the wolf is at the door, love flies out the window." She and my grandfather lived through much adversity, and were always sweet to each other, so I guess they kept the window shut!

Greg in Waldo writes: Another term I don't hear much anymore is "You don't believe that fat meat is greasy," which means you are stubborn.

Susan on the Plaza writes: My family comes from rural farm folk in Southwest Missouri. I grew up with "like a duck on a junebug" for being intensely interested or in pursuit of something.

Anita in Lake Quivira writes: Instead of saying he was going to sleep, my dad said he was going to "horizontalize his perpendicularity."

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