Expressions from the past are the bee’s knees

Well, spit and two is four.
Every time I use that expression, somebody laughs at me. Not with me … at me. I have no idea where that expression originated, but when a former editor, a woman 20 years my senior, used it in lieu of cursing, it made perfect sense to me.
While I am fond of words in general and love to find new and interesting ones to use, my real joy is unusual expressions like that. Every country, every region and in some cases, every state seems to have some.
I believe that using regional language, even if it’s not from your current region, gives language such color, and often, high good humor. Last week on the PBS show, “A Way With Words,” they reminisced about expressions women once used to let one another know if your slip was showing. Yes, under-30-somethings, a slip, a petticoat. It is an undergarment women used to wear for modesty and to keep your dress from clinging to your legs. Yes, a dress … oh never mind. You may never wear a slip and, in truth, you aren’t missing too much.
To let a girlfriend know her slip was showing, I remember saying, “It’s snowing down south.” The PBS show mentioned the Southern expression “You have a Ph.D (petticoat hangin’ down) and “Mrs. White has stepped out.” It made me laugh at how big a deal it used to be to have lingerie showing. This was clearly pre-Madonna. I did love my big, fluffy petticoats, which were worn to make my circle skirts pouf out. They came in delicious, pastel colors, and having a poufy skirt was just cool — the poufier, the better. One of my favorite stories is about my uncle, in the 1950s, loading the car for a trip with his three daughters and barely having room for all those fluffy petticoats. It’s a great visual.
I like to be creative about ways to say I don’t feel good. There’s “I’m feelin’ a bit piqued” or “I believe I have the vapors” or “I feel woozy.” I love “I feel like death on a cracker” and “I feel like the dog’s dinner.” Or how about, “I’m feeling as low as a toad in a dry well”?
I’m slightly chagrined to admit that my favorites are interesting insults. My dad was the master. From him, I learned that someone can be a “ham-handed mouth-breather” or a “gum-snapping pinhead.” Some of my other favorites are “Dumber than a bag of hair,” or “Just too stupid to live.” I recently heard and laughed at “a few peas short of a casserole” and “An intellect rivaled only by garden tools.”
Another one my dad used frequently during our teen years was when he would ask us a question and we would answer, “Huh?” His response was, “You can kick a pig and get that much out of it.” I, of course, used it with great glee on my kids during their monosyllabic teen years.
I’d love to go on, but I am starting to fade. That’s right. I’m having a sinking spell. You know, slipping into the arms of Morpheus or getting ready to check my eyelids for pinholes.
And if I have trouble getting to sleep, well, spit and two is four.


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