I have a lot of memories of being a little kid and watching the grownup world happen around me. Maybe it's because I was the baby of the family or because I liked to watch reruns from old shows like The Twilight Zone, which often dealt with the difficulties of navigating society, but I always paid close attention to the way grownups spoke. And when you do that, you hear certain phrases over and over. I don't mean cliches like "It's raining cats and dogs" or "We're up the creek without a paddle." I'm talking about simple everyday phrases that the world seems to agree are just the magic words for specific situations.
For example, the world agrees that the proper phrase to say when presented with the above is
"I wonder if it's possible to have sex with an actual website?"
A handful of these phrases sounded strange to my little boy ears, but I thought it was because I was still a kid. Pretty soon, however, I was in the world. These phrases still existed, and people were saying them, but they still seemed weird to me. Even now, there are things I cannot say without discomfort. Here are six of them.
Note: This is the kind of article that inspires people to leave their own suggestions in the comments, and I highly encourage you to do so. Keep in mind, however, that the category is not just "old-timey phrases," but phrases that are still being used today -- apparently by people who don't have the same hangups about them that I, and maybe you, do. Also, I'm aware that this note is pointless because the readers who will botch the premise are the same readers who skip introductions. To that end, let me say, without fear of offense, that I've touched all their moms in an impure manner. Thank you.
Whether it was my dad on family vacations or dudes in old-timey movies, I heard the phrase "Fill 'er up" said to gas station attendants numerous times growing up. It's a great phrase that has lasted decades, like the way train conductors still call out, "All aboard!" A lot of gas stations around me growing up were self-serve, so I didn't have the need for this phrase when I first started driving, but opportunities presented themselves in time. (New Jersey, for example is full-serve, and sometimes even at stations where you have a choice, the full-serve line is way shorter if you're in a rush.)
New Jersey: Where "Fill 'er up" means one thing on the Garden State Parkway and something else entirely in Atlantic City.
In any event, the big day came. I was in a full-serve line, and the swarthy gas station attendant came to my window reeking of gas, booze and failure (perhaps it was a young Robert Brockway before blossoming into a lovely novelist). Know what I said to him?
"Full tank of gas, please."
Yeah, I couldn't do it. "Fill 'er up"? That's stupid. I don't think I could say that unless I were 50 and drinking a highball while on my way to play poker with the fellas. Just can't pull it off. Maybe it's calling machines "her"? Maybe it's the abbreviation? Not sure. I just try to stick to self-serve and avoid New Jersey. Problem solved.
People still like to say this even after all these years. Wanna hear it? Just give someone something pleasurable: pizza, a back rub, Side A of Bowie's Heroes, it doesn't matter. This is just something most people who aren't me say after getting something good -- with the exception of doctor-prescribed medication. No one says it then, but that would be kind of fun, right?
Maybe one of you can try that the next time you're hospitalized. Like wait until the nurse comes in with a new morphine drip in a failed attempt to mute the crippling pain you're feeling from getting your leg caught in a bear trap. Just as she's hanging it on your stand, shout out, "JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED!" Your crushed bones will still stab into your nerves with the anger of a thousand tiny razor blades, but I think everyone will appreciate your clever meta joke.
"Hilarious! But seriously, I'm pretty sure you're still gonna die."
Again, I can't give a single example, but "Read 'em and weep" was all over television when I was a kid. It was so omnipresent that I was convinced you just had to say it while playing poker, like "I'll see you," "I'll raise you" or "Gee, these red-colored chips look delicious!" And not just poker. It seemed all of society was telling me that this was the only acceptable phrase for presenting bad news (for other people, at least) in written form.
Like, for example, last week, when I got the mail and Seanbaby wanted to know what his test results were, you would think I would have said "Read 'em and weep" as I presented the lab results indicating that his chlamydia had evolved into fully sentient creatures, capable of writing funny cartoon bubbles for his articles, but I just couldn't do it.
And not just because Seanbaby threatened to "kick me until I was dead" if I ever spoke to him in person again.
In the back of my head, if I even try to utter the phrase "Read 'em and weep," some 1950s police officer will step right up and be all "All right, that's enough of that, son. Move along." Also, call me crazy, but when I have a really good hand in poker, I find that saying "Yeah, suck on that" is more effective.
I've heard people say this. Even in 2012. Even people under 50, no less. And it's certainly something exasperated folks have been saying for decades. It's a good expression for when those kids are making a racket or when your boss wants you to work on the weekend or when the Third World sex worker you've purchased in the mail gets delivered to Ian Fortey's house by a lazy, presumptuous mailman.
Worse yet, he forgot to poke air holes.
Nevertheless, I've never said it. I can't. In my head, I hear the voice of a much older man, and it doesn't matter how old I get, I will never be as old as that man in my head -- the one who has the right to say such things. The one with thick glasses and shaggy gray hair. The one who wears those sweaters that zip up the front. The one who's fought in some wars and has an ailment that acts up when it rains.
I can't end any sentence with "ma'am." Sorry, just can't. That one doesn't make me feel like a crotchety old man so much as a military officer or cowboy. Some other kind of full-grown man who is not me. And here's the odd thing: I can totally do "sir." "Sir" just sounds like you had a slight stroke and that's the way you pronounce "Mr." now. But "ma'am"? When I hear the word "ma'am," for whatever reason, I picture Ms. Lockhorn from the old newspaper comic strip.
I know it's meant to be a sign of respect, but "ma'am" sounds like nonsense talk for a woman devoid of sexual lubrication. For a woman so lumpy that it would take you five tries to find her breasts in a sweater. It's just a gross-sounding word for a decrepit woman, and I don't think I'll be able to bring myself to say it, until I'm equally old. So like another three weeks. Four, tops.
My mind is filled with countless half-remembered black-and-white examples where some big swinging cock businessman pays for his drink or hotel room or poolside sandwich and says, "Keep the change."
"Gee, thanks, mister!" says the bartender/concierge/poolboy, looking down into his hand in disbelief, like Jesus just took a gold-plated dump in it. (Wait. Does Jesus poop? I'm not sure. I'm more of an Old Testament guy ... )
WWJD? I'm not ... sure?
In any event, I was positive I'd be doling money out like this when I was a grownup. Spreading joy with three simple words. Except it never worked out that way.
First off, there's a technical reason. A mathematical reason. Most of the time, the change I get is small. If a waitress brings me a turkey club sandwich and a Coke for $9.25 and I pay with a ten and say "Keep the change," I might as well say, "Hey, choke on the shitty tip, lady" instead. But even when it works out and makes sense, I still have a problem. Let's say I take a cab 20 blocks and the fare is like four bucks. Then yes, in that situation I might give a five and say "Keep the change." And I've actually done it. And felt like an ass every single time. Because each of those times, I felt like there was an unspoken parenthetical following: (I'm pretty cool, huh? Letting you keep the change like that. That's right. I'm DA MAN!) So these days, I kinda just drop the five and leave. Like a grownup. Because I have problems. With words.
See Gladstone take down Taylor Swift and her new audio atrocity on HATE BY NUMBERS. Also, be sure to follow him on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.
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