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By Steve Kelman

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A fun party game for the holidays?

Steve Kelman

I recently finished a really interesting novel about suburban life in the 1950s called Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Published in 1961, it was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (no, it is not Titanic) in 2008. 

I liked this book just as a book, but it was especially appealing because it was written around the time the story was set. When I watch the depictions of the early sixties in, say, Mad Men, I can’t help but wonder whether they are superimposing 2010 stereotypes – smoking and treatment of women, for example – on the early sixties. What is very nice about this novel is that it was actually written at the time, so it’s not presenting our stereotypes of today about another era. 

So, for example, it is quite amazing that the main character – in 1955 – is convinced that computers are the next big thing (this phrase didn’t really exist in 1955, and the character doesn’t use it). It is also interesting that the book includes an abortion, which again might have been thought presaging the liberalization of abortion law in the early 1970s. 

I take up Revolutionary Road is this blog, however, for a related but slightly different reason. While reading the book, I came across a number of words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions that, I believe, are no longer used in conversational English. I recognized all of them, because that era is not so far removed from my own childhood. But I noted to myself as I came across these phrases that I didn’t think they are used any more – and started to wonder whether teenagers or twenty-something of today would know the phrases at all. 

So just before Christmas I want to present an idea for a party game or at least discussion topic around a table of family or friends. How many around the table have heard these expressions? What are the ages of those who’ve heard of them, and those who haven’t? Are some better-known among younger people than others? 

Here’s my list from the novel: 

--  Dopey (“a dopey salesman,” as in stupid)

--  Headshrinker

--  “When a man really blows his top”

--  “Right-hand man”

--  “Pocketfuls of loot”

--  “Hamburger joint”

--  “Just moping around home”

--  “Sort of crummy” 

Do these phrases all still exist or have some, or most, disappeared?  I’d be curious to know what blog readers say – write in and tell us what your friends and family say over the holidays. 

Meanwhile, a peaceful holiday season to all. 

Posted by Steve Kelman on Dec 23, 2013 at 7:42 PM

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Reader comments

Mon, Jan 6, 2014 DC

They aren't "common" but as a 30-something, I have heard them all, know their meanings, and although they're crummy, they still sound cooler than the current fad words, such as calling everything under the sun, including one's own hangnail, "epic" or "legit". That type of overused language makes me blow my top, and feel the need to see a headshrinker.

Thu, Dec 26, 2013 Al

I revert to some of these around my 5-year-old, and I'm better off for it. Don't know if this was used during the 50s, but my wife still says "jeepers" sometimes. She also refers to the kid's Christmas haul as "loot". Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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