January 16, 2012 – Like many families, my mother’s side of our family used plenty of old expressions that I had the pleasure of listening to through the years. You rarely hear these expressions anymore, but if you’re like me, you probably smile when you do.
We referred to these expressions as Kingisms (my grandmother’s last name) because she was famous for using them. Here are a few that come to mind:
“You’re big and ugly enough to do it yourself.”
I think this was my grandmother’s favorite; at least it’s the one I remember best. I don’t think she meant it literally, but rather used it as a way to help her children become independent. Yes, that sounds good. I couldn’t find any background, but I did find a lot of message boards online with people asking the same question, so it must be a common expression. I do, however, remember it was used in the movie “Angela’s Ashes” which leads me to believe it is of English/Irish origin.
“Well, dog my cat!”
This is another golden oldie used by many grandparents and great-grandparents back in the day. I don’t remember it as well as my sisters and cousins do, but it was most often used as an expression of astonishment. According to the Oxford English dictionary, it originated from Mark Twain, and is also a form of “dog on it”, which later became Dog-gone it, another expression of astonishment used as slang instead of saying “damn it”.
“Going to the movies? You’re picking your seat”
This was always said if you got caught adjusting your underwear, or had your hand anywhere near the vicinity of your backside. This was one of my grandmother’s more humorous expressions, and although I couldn’t find its origins, it must be widely enough used because it has a Facebook page named after it.
“Pick me a winner!”
Along the same lines as picking your seat, this was said when someone had the audacity to insert their finger into their nose. Not the most sanitary topic to discuss, but come on, it happens.
“Keep your nose clean.”
This gem was widely used by my dad whenever he wanted us to be good. “We’ll do that if you keep your nose clean,” for example. Like many old expressions, it’s English/Irish in origin, stemming from the 18th century when it was used to help steer people clear of trough or corruption.
“Champagne taste on a beer pocketbook”
My grandmother used to say this when someone lived above their means and liked things they couldn’t afford. Isn’t that all of us? I managed to find plenty of variations, such as champagne taste, beer budget, but couldn’t find its origin.
“What the Dickens!”
Another expression of astonishment I remember being used throughout my childhood. My research found that this old expression does not have anything to do with Charles Dickens. It’s actually much older than him; it’s been around since the Middle Ages and is used when calling someone the devil.
“By the skin of your teeth”
My parents used to say this if we barely achieved something; for me it was mostly related to passing grades in math and science. “You just passed by the skin of your teeth,” they would say. Apparently the origins for this expression are biblical, from Job 19:20.
“Wear your heart on your sleeve.”
My mother always says this about my aunt, who obviously is very much still in love with my uncle. It came from the Middle Ages, when knights who fought at tournaments wore a token of their lady on their sleeves. Today if you make your feelings obvious to everyone, you are said to wear your heart on your sleeve.
“This will pick up everything but a man”
Another mom expression she’d use whenever we wore something that attracted fuzz or dog or cat hair. I wasn’t able to find anything on this saying, which leads me to believe it’s not as common as many of the others on this list.
“You look like the last rose of summer”
I never wanted to hear my mom use this one because it meant I looked like crap. Supposedly, it came from the Irish poem “The Last Rose of Summer” by Thomas Moore, which was about holding on to something as long as you could.
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear”
This was something that I’d hear often from my mom, which meant you can’t make something of good quality using poor quality materials. Most often this expression is used with a sow’s ear instead of a pig’s ear, but my family used the pig reference. I’m going to have to ask her about that…
Please share some of yours.