I increasingly catch myself using expressions that I picked up as a kid from my elders. This not only blatantly dates me, but also leaves people around me befuddled. This happens most often with my son and others younger than me, of course, but also with people who didn’t grow up with their Nana living with them like I did. So for those of you not blessed by advanced age and/or proximity of an older relative whose folksy lingo you picked up, I’ve come up with a lexicon of some of the finer examples. I’ll admit I’m being creative with the spelling here, because these are words that tend to be spoken, not written.
Persnickety. This sounds more like the name of a cookie more than having a fussy manner or being overly worried about details.
Namby pamby. This does indeed have an inherent sound of disdain one might feel toward someone overly sentimental or weak (also known as someone who wiffle waffles or is wishy washy).
Wisenheimer. Smart German kid, you say? No, wise guy!
Dilly dally. Sounds Like: a children’s clapping or jump rope game accompanied by chanting. Means: move slowly, fool around until you make other people late.
Whoopdeedoo. Big to-do, excitement, sometimes used sarcastically. Shortened more current form—big whoop. (Usually accompanied by wisenheimer kid rolling eyes.)
Hullaballoo. Isn’t that the name of an Elvis Presley movie? Or was it Gidget? Sorta sounds like what it is—raucousness or excitement.
Skeedaddle. Another word that sounds like the name of a game. Game that’s an alternative to shuffleboard? Popular arcade name? No, it means get lost. But in a nice way.
Boondoggle. “He ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…” No wait, that’s not it. It means a scheme or a scam. No relation to T. Boone Pickens. Tempting, though.
Gumption. Courage, with overtones of good sense.
Being the crack investigative reporter that I am, I decided to explore the mysterious origins of a few of the more colorful and old-timey of these words and phrases.
Hanky panky. Sounds Like: a magic trick performed with a handkerchief. Really Means: trickery, with maybe a sexual overtone if adults are involved, not if you’re talking to a mischievous kid. Why? OK, how cool is this, there’s apparently a Romani expression “hakk'ni panki” that means "great trick"!
Heebie jeebies. Logically upon hearing this one would think of a 1980s girl group with really big teased hair, right? Actually it means nervousness. Extensive Googling tells me this was coined by American cartoonist W. DeBeck, but not why. Was he a standup comedian?
Lolly gagging. Sounds like a poor girl named Lolly suffering from reflux rather than a casual lazing about or slide into sloth. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the origin of this may come from a dialect where “lolly” means tongue and gag means deceive or trick. I’m not sure how seriously I should take this website as its home page is populated with ads for margaritas…
Flibbertygibbit. As funnily as this rolls off the tongue (say it with me, “flibbertygibbit, flibbertygibbit”), it unfortunately is a patronizing sexist term meaning foolish girl.
Hootenany. Precursor to karaoke? Equally a hoot?
Upsy daisy . Sounds Like: possible bad reaction from drinking too much. Actual Meaning: baby talk for “up.”
Nifty. Keen. Cool. Groovy, even!
Bee’s knees. See also cat’s pajama’s.
There seems to be a requirement that these homespun phrases or words end in a vowel sound (especially “yi”). Try saying these things out loud—aye, ah, ee, oo. (Oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang.) I’m sure there’s some kind of linguistic reason for this. Perhaps we just like to let silly slang slip across our tongues, jazzy jests jump from our mouths.
Do you have any favorite nonsensical terms? New ones you’d like to introduce into our vocabulary? Please share!