Saturday, May 9, 2009

Talk retro to me

This one is for the Young People, if any such lurk among my readers. Are you mystified by the peculiar turns of speech when Baby Boomers talk? Do you feel ashamed that at your unfamiliarity with the TV series of the late 1950s and early 1960s? Are you disinclined to watch hours of TV Land to catch up?

Help is available.

Ralph Keyes has published a book, I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 310 pages, $25.95), that will help you caulk the gaps in your cultural education.

I was particularly touched to find his entries on newspaper lingo, particularly piquant now in the twilight of print journalism.

Deadline, for example, the appointed time by which copy is due or an edition is to be completed, derives from the line in a prison that an inmate could not cross without being shot. (I would very much have liked to recover the original penalty in the newsroom, but I could never persuade my betters even to issue sidearms to the copy editors.)

The spindle on which stories written on copy paper were impaled when editors decided not to run them was called a spike, and to this day a story that is killed is said to have been spiked.

Theodore Roosevelt, alluding in 1906 to “The Man with the Muck Rake” in Pilgrim’s Progress, said that journalists exposing scandals were “raking the muck,” and muckraking has been a badge of honor in investigative journalism ever since.

Let Mr. Keyes help you. With a perusal of his book and a little practice, you could contrive to sound almost as antique as I do.

The other place and this one

Now that You Don’t Say is no longer a working blog at, it is not listed at that site’s main page. But it will continue to reside there for an indeterminate time. Feel free to rummage around in it while you still can. The Grammarnoir serial, for example, remains.

A couple of readers have inquired about videos, such as the bow tie, the martini, and the first and second pronunciation videos, as well as the weekly video jokes.*

The appearance of video at this site will have to wait until (a) I acquire a video camera, (b) learn how to operate it or coerce someone into operating, (c) learn how to edit the resulting video, and (d) figure out how to post it here. Although I have acquired an unanticipated fund of free time, this may take a while.

*The titles of the video jokes all begin with “Surely you jest,” which makes them easily searchable.