True stories with a twist!

As much as I love watching old movies, the language that characters use sounds stultifying and dated. Many of the old themes are still viable in our modern world, but the way they are presented grates on the ears.

When an actress says, “Oh, dahling, this is just swell,” We are back in the 1930’s, and  paying more attention to the way she speaks than to the story.

And why does everyone in those old films speak with English accents? When did it become acceptable to sound like an American?

In the 1940’s, if your friend had an idea with which you disagreed, you might say, “You’re all wet.” If he feels wrongfully accused; he had a “Bum Wrap!” But if he’s a coward he is  “chicken.”

By the 50’s everything worthwhile was “cool!” Someone who was very uncool was a “drip.” If that drip makes you angry he was “cruising for a bruising.” Everything that is alright was “copacetic.”  “You dig?” (understand?)

In the 1960s you were told to “chill:” calm down. Have fun and it was “a gas!” If it wasn’t fun, it was a “drag.”

When something in the 70’s was cool or awesome it was “far out!” A really cool person was a “cool cat.”

Michael Jackson turned the 80’s upside down, and declared that “bad” meant “good.” And so on and on we go.

images-2.jpegA college professor of mine studied the evolution of language, and taught us that language was always changing. That’s why dictionaries periodically revise their current editions.

So I’d better be careful about what message I leave you with. Although I offer you a sincere wish for a beautiful week ahead, I’m afraid that by the time your read it, I might be in the “hoosegow”(slang, 1909), for saying it.

Comments on: "Speaking Through the Years" (21)

  1. Nowadays in some quarters the superlative of “bad” is “baddest.” Just a slang, they say. English, my editor tells me, is an ever-evolving language. I ask myself, what about people like me who are non-native speakers? We just can’t afford to be left behind, right?

  2. Anonymous said:

    Nowadays in some quarters the superlative of “bad” is “baddest.” Just a slang, they say. English, my editor tells me, is an ever-evolving language. I ask myself, what about people like me who are non-native speakers? We just can’t afford to be left behind, right?

  3. The use of language is an interesting topic. Some expressions seem to keep their legs and live on, while others like ‘far out’ and ‘groovy’ had a limited life span and sound so dated.
    I admit that ‘cool’ is one I’ve never shaken 🙂

  4. Fashion in language changes, words pass us by, but the danger to the language of today is construction. If text-speak stabs the sentence to death, what then? Face it, the fashionable words and phrases of this decade will sound as archaic and amusing to the next generation as those fifties and sixties expressions sound to you. There will be some survivors, just as ‘cool’ has lived on, to an extent, but they will be few. Without a tree to hang them on, though, what will they impart? Maybe the written word will be a thing of the past in a couple of decades, anyway.
    I’m surprised you found the English accent dominant in those old movies – I imagine we were watching different films. My favourite trait from black and white days was the necessity for an orchestra at any given dramatic moment; whether in the desert or the bedroom Henry Mancini’s bunch could be relied upon to strike up at any time!

    • Maybe Henry Mancini isn’t around film sites any more, but music is still a part of setting the tone of films. I can hear the eerie music foreshadowing a dire event, or violins singing to prepare viewers for a romantic scene. As for English accents, Charles Boyer films, Ray Milland, Cary Grant, Katheryn Hepburn and every woman in Marx Bros. films spoke with English accents. We have a television station, Turner Classic Films, that shows old movies all day long. Turn it on and instantly hear English accents! But to your point, construction of English may be doomed thanks to the endless quest for shorter ways to communicate ideas.

  5. All those things you wrote about, Ronnie…….., that’s why we call them “old movies”. 🙂

  6. Anna Fand said:

    Really enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane via current phrases of the times!

  7. Helen Carey said:

    Helen Carey

  8. Anonymous said:

    Hits the nail on top of the head.

  9. I like relating times to music, let just “Twist & Shout You Ain’t Nothin but a Hound Dog.” Herself and the Rooster always dance to “Unchained Melody.” Yes 1955-1962 were my growth years. Have a great week Ronnie from a moldy oldie who grew up between Exits # 3 & 5 of the NJTPK.

  10. As an American teen in the ’60s I remember overusing “far out,” “groovy” and “right on.” Today if I were to pull one of those out of the old archives I’d sound pretty silly! It is fun to review the words and phrases through the ages. I enjoyed reading this. 🙂

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