Endangered sayings

Endangered sayings

Some things stick around in English long after the things they originally have referenced have disappeared from the real world. One of my regular readers and commenters, Tuxgirl, mentioned something that got me thinking about sayings that might eventually vanish from our language…or, they may still be around, but most people won’t have any idea what they originally meant. Here, then, are some phrases they may make sense to you now (although I suspect some will be strange to some of you), but could be endangered in the future…

“Do you have a dictionary?”

“I  mis-dialed.”

“What’s on TV tonight?”

“I lost my place.”

“Catch you on the flip side.”

“May I borrow your pen?”

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“I’m in the groove!”

“Did you know…?”

“I don’t have enough to read.”

“See you in the funny papers.”

“Flash card”

“That’s yesterday’s news.”

You’re showing your age.”

“Tune in tomorrow”

“We’ll be right back after these commercials.”

“Bookstore Betty coat”


“You sound like a broken record.”

“Movie theatre”


“Disc jockey”


“I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

“Turn over a new leaf.”

“Spine” (for a book)

“Dog ear” (for a page)



“Tape a show”

“Books on tape”

“They are like two bookends.”

“Page turner”

Here’s one that will never be obsolete…”Story”. 😉

Those are just a few that occurred to me. Do you have any favorites? Is there an expression that you’ve used, and realize that you don’t know what it means? For example, I hear people use “one fell swoop” when good things happen at once. That’s really not what it meant originally. A bird of prey snatching an animal off the ground is “swooping”. “Fell” meant evil. A “fell swoop” is when the bird gets two animals at a time, like grabbing two mice at once…technically, it means bad things happening together. However, my adult kid who is a linguist has made me aware that if people use it to mean something, it means it…even if it didn’t used to mean that. So, if you have any questions, comments, or want to add a few of your own for me and my readers, feel free to comment on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

15 Responses to “Endangered sayings”

  1. Johanna Says:

    Dial. Hang up. (Phone.)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Johanna!

      “Hang up” is a good one…I doubt most people have actually put a handset into a cradle in a long time. 🙂

  2. Steve Says:

    Fill with regular unleaded.


    Make the check out to …

    It’s in the mail.

    Homemade from scratch.

    I’m on pager.

    Directions given in small town lingo. I grew up in a small town where we would (without thinking) say: “Turn left at the Fox Hotel.” despite the fact that the Fox Hotel had burned down 20 years before and was then a dirt parking lot. (60 years now).

    Last year in class I wanted to use an example of a spinning disk and said record – looked at the crowd of 19 year olds – changed it to CD. They were insulted and said that they knew what a record was and anyway to them a CD was just as ancient as a record. My response was to say suppose that we have a spinning MP3.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Steve!

      Building on yours, I’d include:

      “The check’s in the mail.”

      “…your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.” — That’s the Top Gun version, but there are a lot of variants (not always that clean).

  3. Tuli Reno Says:

    When I was in the Army I trained some soldiers in a mobile radio studio van that was going to be sent overseas to our troops in Saudi Arabia during the first gulf war. One day one of my soldiers asked what the numbers on the turntable meant. I think that was one of those epiphany moments for me. She did know what a turntable was, though.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuli!

      The RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) numbers, right? My group would generally refer to a “45”, but not usually any of the other numbers. I actually did have at least one record that played at 16 2/3rds…it was one of great speeches, so the sound quality didn’t have to be great. You could fit a lot on to a record played at that speed!

  4. loneybaloney Says:

    Personal annoyance — either most people don’t know that to be reined in is referring to horses or they don’t know there are 3 ways of spelling this word –rein, reign and rain. I see it mis-used all of the time in published work.

    drop me a line (write me a letter)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, loneybaloney!

      Oh, I agree that there is quite a bit of horse related slang people use, and don’t realize. I think people might still refer to getting married as “getting hitched” sometimes, for example.

      One that I’ve heard in the news several times in the last couple of days that gets misused (based on the original meaning) is “decimated”. It means to reduce by one tenth, not to almost totally destroy (which is the common current usage). If you say that a particular group was “decimated”, and you eliminated only ten out of 100 of them, you are correct.

  5. Zebras Says:


    The only one I didn’t get was Bookstore Betty coat?

    My co-worker needed a signature and asked another co-worker who is Liberian for her “John Hancock.” She said “what does insurance have to do with this?”

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      It’s a kind of coat…

      I like the story! It just shows the cultural context people learn and don’t learn. The Liberia story itself is a fascinating one, and makes them the answer to a trivia question: “What is the only foreign capital named after a U.S. President?” Monrovia is named after President James Monroe, who was a supporter of the colonization of Liberia.

      • Zebras Says:

        I have learned so much from her. In the beginning, I assumed she was descended from American blacks, as she has a European last name, but she is descended from African natives, its just they have had a system of fostering boys to more well-to-do homes, and the boy would take the name probably to increase their status. She came here to college just before the civil war there broke out, and even though its been at peace for a while, they still don’t even have an infrastucture for elecricity. People have to run their homes with generators.

  6. Western Reader Says:

    I found your son’s comment: “…my adult kid who is a linguist has made me aware that if people use it to mean something, it means it…even if it didn’t used to mean that.” gave me a whole new perspective on the use of old phrases and much to ponder. I think his comment underscores how the evolution of language (word usage) works. And PS to Zebras: “John Hancock” is the very large signature on the Declaration of Independence, and thus became synonymous with a “main” signer.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Western!

      It’s funny, I was just talking to my adult kid about this earlier today. I don’t ever state the gender, but many people (like you), assume my kid is male. I think that when gender neutral terms are used, male is commonly assumed. We don’t usually have a term that means, for example, specifically “male doctor”, or “male author”, or “male actor”, but people have used “doctress”, “authoress”, and “actress”. Just interesting to observe.

      Linguists are not grammarians, typically: they are interested in how language is used. Many perfectly acceptable usages now are not what was originally intended, and in some cases, are the opposite of what was meant initially. I used to think that it was important that words were used “correctly”, but I’ve become more relaxed about that over time. I think part of that happens when you read literature that is centuries old…you can see the evolution of the language. I see people who will…strongly correct someone using “cord” instead of “chord”:


      I also see people who are adamant about using American usage over British usage, apparently not realizing that Noah Webster made up American spellings largely as a political point…and that they had no greater validity in their day than some words made up now for political purposes.

      Oh, and your connotation for “John Hancock” is a bit different from mine. I just think of it as your “signature”, not as the main signer…Hancock signed with quite a flourish, but I suspect many of the other signatories wouldn’t be happy with a suggestion that Hancock was of more importance. 🙂

  7. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I can think of a few song titles that will eventually become quite puzzling, like, “Please Mr Postman,” or “Paperback Writer.” I’m sure the beginning of “The Outer Limits” no longer makes sense to those who might be viewing it for the first time. “We control the horizontal. We control the vertical.” And I’m sure there are many computer users out there who have never heard those glorious squawking sounds of a dial up modem connecting.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady Galaxy!

      That’s a good category by itself! I’m sure a lot of people sing songs now without knowing their original meanings.

      As to The Outer Limits…I suppose, “We will control the orientation. We can change it from portrait to landscape, and back again,” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. 😉

      I remember a parent walking in while I was watching the show, and actually thinking something was wrong with the TV…took some explaining. 🙂

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