Things you don’t hear anymore

When I was growing up, any time there was a protracted argument, or a disturbance in a pub, or out in the street, you would be sure to hear somebody say “What a palaver”. The origin of this expression was never explained to me, but I instinctively knew what it meant, when I heard someone say it.

For some reason, this came into my head today, and it was the voice of my grandmother saying it. She would always say it if us children were being noisy, arguing among ourselves, or playing loudly. That also made me think that it is a great many years since I hear that used in conversation, along with other phrases and expressions that were once familiar, at least in London.

Many of those old expressions have disappeared due to political correctness, and the fact that using them may well cause offence. I was still quite young when it was common to hear a gay man described as a ‘Confirmed bachelor’. This was never done with malice, I hasten to add. Quite a few local men were obviously gay in the London of my youth, though rarely open about the fact. Rather than label them with the formal term of ‘Homosexual’, my family would prefer to use ‘confirmed bachelor’, to let others know that this was a man who was unlikely to get married to a woman, and might possibly stay at home with his parents until middle age.

Another one familiar from an early age was ‘A touch of the tar brush’. This was a racist remark, much favoured by my own Dad, and used to indicate that a person had parents who were mixed race. Looking back now, it seems strange that he used it so often, when mixed-race people could be counted on the fingers of one hand, where we lived. On the same theme, my Mum and her sister often used the word ‘Piccaninny’ to refer to a black baby. Black babies were also a rarity in the district where I grew up, and would be treated with huge admiration by any local woman who came across such a child. I can still hear my Mum saying, “Those little piccaninny babies are so lovely”. Once again, there was no malice intended, at least none I could discern. But this now reviled term was so common, I thought that ‘Piccaninny’ was a country, for the first years of my life.

Something else that has changed is the references to currency. These days, almost anyone would say things like “five hundred pounds”, or “twenty-five quid”, when talking about such amounts. But in the London of my youth, £500 was a ‘Monkey’, and £25 was a ‘Pony’. £100 was a ‘Ton’, and £1000 a ‘Grand’. Coins also attracted colloquial names. A shilling was always ‘A Bob’, so ten shillings was always ‘Ten bob’. Five shillings was called a ‘Dollar’, and seven shillings and sixpence was known as ‘Three half-crowns’. Twenty-one shillings was referred to as a ‘Guinea’, and shops advertised the prices of more expensive items in’Guineas’. Even now, I still refer to a fifty-pence piece, the modern equivalent of ten shillings, as ‘A ten-bob bit’.
Watching programmes on TV, those made before 1971, or set in the 1960s, I notice if they get those expressions right or not.

What expressions do you remember that you no longer hear now?
Please add them in the comments.

64 thoughts on “Things you don’t hear anymore

  1. I certainly remember the racist comments, like picanniny. Black was an unfamiliar word, and negro had no negativity associated with the word. I enjoy reading your money terms! Best to you, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jennie. It’s good to see so many of the ‘unkind’ expressions have left the vocabulary of most people. Terms for different amounts of money were a big feature of my youth in London. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Pete. Yes, it’s good to see those expressions gone. Thanks again for the money terms. America says K for a thousand, so 50K is fifty thousand (but you probably know that). Best to you, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been shifted to ‘Native American’ (from American Indian) by seeing it when blogging. I still use ‘Black’, which is preferred by most black people in the UK. I can’t seem to shake ‘Eskimo’, which I hear myself saying at times.
      Thanks for those, Kim. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would still use quite a few of the ones you mention, although I dont really speak that much English anymore 🙂 I’m sure if I went back to the UK I would be surprised how some language has changed, although Yorkshire dialect seems to remain strong in the rural areas. I was certainly shocked when listening to a new podcast from Radio 4 called ‘Grown Up Land’ The language that the 20 something presenters use sounded very alien to me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I rarely think of you speaking Polish. Do they have a translation for ‘Eee, by gum’? 🙂
      I get annoyed listening to or watching under-30 people on TV. They seem to either be trying to speak like an American gangster, or using transatlantic terms that make little sense here.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I probably explained that wrong, because if you ask anyone here then I don’t speak Polish 🙂 But the English I speak is more sanitised than if I were back home, if that makes sense. Mind you I have a laugh with my student as we discuss various idioms or regional dialect. You hit the nail on the head with the newspeak, a far cry from Orwells but just as baffling 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I still say palaver, though I’m more likely to use the Scots expression stushie (pronounced stooshie). I do remember some of the sayings which today would be considered totally racist. When I was little and visiting my gran’s I used to love running along what seemed to me to be a very long landing to the front door if anyone rang the bell. The relatives would all warn me that one day I’d open the door and there would be a black man there to take me away. You can imagie my terror the day I opened the door to a Sikh – a very large Sikh! He was selling brushes but I didn’t know that and went into hysterics.Relatives of course, thought it was hilarious. I’ve often wondered how that poor man must have felt.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Times change, and in such cases, undoubtedly for the better. I have never heard of ‘stooshie’, despite spending a lot of time around Dundee in the past. Thanks for that nice local expression, Mary.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My dad in the US had many terms having to do with drinking–having half a bag on, schnozzled, schnockered, (and I pray those are not vile obscenities in German or Yiddish!), being three sheets to the wind, that sort of thing–I know a good many Regency terms from reading, but am the only one I know who ever uses them, so they’re not exactly appropriate here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A common term here for being drunk is ‘Half-Cut’. Also ‘Pissed’ of course, which means angry in America. One term you also hear a lot (especially in the North) is ‘Kaylied’, which refers to someone who is incoherent from drink. Thanks for all your excellent additions, Donnalee.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find I hear a lot of idioms from my childhood and they come out of my mouth without thinking. Just yesterday I heard myself say “a stitch in time saves nine”. Last week it was “a watched pot never boils”. Funny how the mind works.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As to the money, I miss those terms I used to hear when, in my younger days, I visited England. Luckliy though, we still have the pint! 😉 It’s not the disappearence of the monkeys on the rock of Gibraltar, nor the disappearance of the ravens in the Tower, that will herald the demise of the United Kingdom, but the day we won’t be able to order a pint of bitter any more. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Even if they ever changed it to litres, I am sure we would still say ‘mine’s a pint’, Pit. I always think in old measurements and volumes, and habitually refer to one litre of milk as ‘two pints’. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m getting used to miles per gallon. It really helps to calculate how far you can still go on your tank. Very uselful when you are “out in the boonies” – which can happen easily hereabouts [https://wp.me/p4uPk8-1ag]. I find it much more helpful that the liters per kilometer which is still used in Germany.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. “Peachy,” “The whole nine yards,.” “boss,” “groovey,” “right back at ya,” “so’s your old man,” “Dynomite,” and the list goes on. 🙂 We also had some you mentioned for currency a thosuand was a”grand” here too then there was “a wad”, WAM [walking around money]” and “saw buck,” and “fiver.” The derogatory terms for those who were preceived as different abounded. Fortunately, most of those no longer are used in polite company.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My maternal grandmother used to say, “Well, I’ll swan!” Apparently, the expression’s origin can be traced to England. Interestingly, that side of the family is supposedly of British lineage, if you go back a couple hundred years. So it must have been a hand-me-down expression!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found this online, David. Thanks for that unusual offering. 🙂
      ‘One reference says “I swan” is used in place of “I swear” (from the Scots “I’s warrant ye” meaning “I guarantee you”) as a euphemism to comply with the Bible prohibition against swearing’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Eeeeeee! I lived in Geordieland in 1989 an all! When I first moved there from the US and heard some people chatting in a pub, I thought it was some kind of Scandinavian langauge and then figured that it was just what the locals spoke like in the place I had just moved to.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. I remember walking along the High St. with a friend – we were in Juniors so probably about 10 yo – and a man came out of a hardware shop struggling with a huge sheet of hardboard. He asked if we’d help him carry it home for “half a dollar”. We did and he gave us a half a crown piece. My Uncle told us then that the exchange rate for a long while had been 4 US dollars to the pound.

    I had watched the sequel series to Inspector Morse – Endeavour – set in the 60s. There’s a funny bit where they’re reporting to the Chief Superintendent (Anton Lesser) about a fairground incident. One says of a suspect, he went to the shooting gallery and won his girlfriend a monkey. “What, £500?” says Lesser, incredulously. “No, a stuffed monkey”, says the detective.

    I remember sometimes getting a brown ten bob note as a birthday gift inside a card, and the expression “as bent – or dodgy – as a nine bob note”.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Some of these expressions are quite new to me Pete. When I was in grade school, my cousins, classmates and I used to invent new words, always adding the word ‘ga’ for every syllable and we had fun. Can’t remember now those expression we used to say back then.

    Liked by 1 person

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