Friday, October 24, 2008

Thanks For The Newsflash, Walter Cronkite

The other day, MY WIFE was telling me a story about two people with whom she had dealings. The crux of the story was that their looks were wildly disparate. Being my usual annoying self, I jumped ahead and suggested that perhaps they looked like Mutt & Jeff. This was NOT the case. It was some other sort of odd pairing. I can’t remember what it was, specifically, because from that point on in the conversation, I was already formulating this piece in my head. This means I’ve been mentally absent from my marriage for about ten days now, so I apologize to MY WIFE and hope this at least turns out to be amusing.

(After reading what follows, you could make all sorts of unkind remarks concerning the fact that it took me ten days to come up with it. You won't, though, because you're nice people.)

Anyway, the thing that struck me was that there are certain expressions, still used by some of us, that have little chance of conveying useful information to the younger members of our society. For instance, describing two people as a Mutt & Jeff team.

(A few of you will find the following information superfluous, but so is this whole thing.)

Mutt & Jeff was a comic strip, no longer extant, involving the adventures of two men named, conveniently enough, Mutt & Jeff. Augustus Mutt (you might not have known his full name, so I figured I’d give you a little value here) was very tall. Jeff (he never had anything other than the single name, so far as I know) was very short. So, to describe a pair of people as a Mutt & Jeff team was to immediately identify them as comprised of one tall person and one short person.

I’m not certain when Mutt & Jeff stopped being published, but I’d hazard a guess that anyone born after 1980 would have little idea what in hell you were talking about if you said that two people looked like Mutt & Jeff.

(Reproduction of "Mutt & Jeff" from Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonist's Index. Fun Page!)

Other comic strip or cartoon allusions that will make people under the age of 30 look at you strangely include:

Jane! Stop this crazy thing!


Here I come to save the day! (Those who still recognize this know that it must be sung.)

We have met the enemy, and he is us. (This has more-or-less been replaced by “D’Oh!”)

Or, if you're really hankering for a lecture about political correctness, just show them a bunch of "Andy Capp" strips.

There are not only outdated references to comic strips and cartoons, but also to real people. For instance, the title of this piece. It was said whenever someone stated something ridiculously obvious. The more vulgar version was "No shit, Sherlock!" Today, the more economical "Duh!" has become the phrase du jour. There were regional variants for other situations, such as the always-popular "Thanks for the weather report, Don Kent!" That was said if you were standing in the middle of a thunderstorm and some dope felt the need to tell you it was raining. Don Kent was a weatherman on WBZ in Boston. Of course, I probably didn’t need to explain it that fully, so maybe you just said, "Duh!"

(Those from the Boston area who really want to wax nostalgic will enjoy this clip from You Tube that features footage of Mr. Kent.)

Anachronisms abound. I often find that I have to spout them as a part of my work. Since I do voice-overs, I’m often called upon to say something akin to, "For further information, dial 617-555-4646!" Well, nobody dials anything these days, do they? We still say it, though. Silly us! Same applies to "going to the record store" - if there still are such places. I think there are, but I do all my shopping on the internet now, so I'm not sure.

Another one occurs to me. Have you ever accused someone of trying to gaslight you? If that person was under 30 - or maybe under 50 - they probably looked at you as though you had lobsters crawling out of your ears (which I stole from a more recent movie - and no prizes for telling me which one, because it’s one of those movies some people memorize all of the dialogue from and I don’t have that many prizes.)

Finally, there are those things that our parents said to us that didn’t quite make sense. Of course, I can’t tell you what nonsensical things your parents said to you. You might mention one or two in the comments, though (hint, hint.) I do know that the one thing my Mom used to say to me that left me scratching my head was something she told me when I was dirty, disheveled, or otherwise not up to her standards of cleanliness and dress. She would say, "You look like the wreck of the Hesperus!" I’m still not sure what the Hesperus was, but I know it must have looked like crap.

Well, this was hardly worth ignoring my marriage for such a long time. I’m going to go plant a big smooch on MY WIFE. I’ll try really hard to listen to every word she says from now on and not go off on unproductive mental tangents. I’ve been living the Life Of Riley for some time now. I’d hate to end up like The Bickersons.

Soon, with more better stuff.


YOUR WIFE's brother said...

Here's a local NYC term I never heard of before I moved here. Apparently, it was common for decades of mothers to urge the children to clean their rooms lest they wind up "like the Collyer Brothers":

Sean said...

Thank you. I'm 31, and my mother has been using "Mutt & Jeff" my whole life and I never really had any idea what the heck she was talking about. Once I asked her and she muttered something about a comic strip before trailing off.

My mother had a unique phrase, but it was only she was only able to use a few times because the family gave her unending crap about it:

Clearly, most parents aren't cool with their children (or their spouses) using the F-bomb. But my mother was also very uncool with "frickin'". I guess it was that hard K that bugged her. Anyway, at one "frick-happy" dinnertime she decided she had enough and demanded that everyone stop. She explained that she thought that "Frick" was too close to the verboten F---. We asked if there was a substitute that was more acceptable to her, because clearly we couldn't get by without that unnecessary adjective. She thought about it, and then blurted out, "I don't know... Fliggin'". Something about that word made everyone else in the room bust out into uncontrollable laughter. She tried to push "Fliggin'" a few more times, but realized it was a lost cause...

Jeni said...

My Grandma had a bunch of sayings but right now, since a dose of senility has struck me just now, the only one that comes to mind is "Children in China are starving." Apparently she said that to my Mom and her siblings too because years later, my Mom mentioned her having used this line on them and Mom added that apparently Grandma didn't realize as poor as they were, there were times they were a little close to the starvation thing too.

Jenn said...

First of all, now I can't get the Mighty Mouse theme song out of my head so thanks for that lol.

My Grampa was the king of coined expressions to itterate points. One of his favorites was "you're skating on thin ice". I never found out what happened if the ice broke and frankly at 6'-something, roughly 280 lbs of solid man with the most booming Irish voice you could ever imagine, I'm kind of happy to have always been on the sit on my lap, get a big bear hug and listen to my booming laugh end of things.

My grandmother was from Lithuania and the native language was frequently spoken once us kids learned to spell and they couldn't get away with "we're having i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m for desert" anymore. I remember being called a capusti more than once. roughly translated (and actually a pretty harsh insult in Lithuania apparently) it means cabbage head.

KellyJMF said...

My 8y.o. has seen the Jetsons on Boomerang so now she has brought "Jane, stop this crazy thing" back into the family lexicon.

In my family (my parents and my brother) we quote a lot of Bill Cosby (usually, "I didn't put the bullet in the furnace, and stop talking about my Mother"). My poor husband had picked up the shorthand but never heard the original. But last Christmas, my brother gave me a CD of Bill Cosby's album, Why Is There Air. My husband and I laughed ourselves silly and now he's in on the origin.

The Omnipotent Q said...

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You have to register, but that is quick and easy. Thanks so much!!

Rooster said...

My Dad often referred to me and a friend as "Frick and Frack"! Bet very few people these days knows where that comes from.

My grandmother would confuse my friends by telling them to look in the ice box for something. They'd look at me and shrug their shoulders not knowing what to do.

Of course, when we were in any trouble, my Dad would look at me and say "this is another fine mess you've gotten me into". (Oliver and Hardy)

Also, does anyone these days know why they say that they "went the whole 9 yards"? No, it has nothing to do with football. It is a World War 2 reference. The machine gun strands of bullets were 9 yards long (not sure for which gun exactly). To give them, or go, the whole 9 yards was to fire every bullet you had in the magazine.

Suldog said...

MY WIFE's brother - That is one of the most fascinating (and disgusting) things I've ever read. I'll have to show it to YOUR SISTER. She gets all verklempt over having a few shopping bags in her bedroom. This should put things in perspective.

Sean - Glad I could actually do someone a service with this! Funny thing - I took to saying the word "frigging" when I was about 12 or 13, as a substitute for the f-bomb, which certainly wasn't cool around the house. It was good for about a week, until someone more vocabulary-wise than me or my parents pointed out its masturbatory lineage.

Jeni - Yup. I got the children in Korea sometimes and the children in Africa others. I always replied, "Well, wrap up this stuff and send it to them!" It was not greeted with laughter, as I recall.

Jenn - MY WIFE often says something that sounds like "shanukta shenai" (I'm probably way off) with is Latvian (her heritage.) BROTHER - Do you know what I'm talking about?

Kelly - Cosby is the best. I used to have "I Started Out As A Child" memorized. I could say ten or twelve catchphrases from that album that would mystify the young ones. For that matter, the very word "album" probably does.

Q - Thanks. I'll head there as soon as I'm done here.

(I requested the info, in case anyone was wondering.)

Rooster - Yup, Frick & Frack. Of course, more recently, the guys from "Car Talk" co-opted those names, I think.

"This is another fine mess..." Yes. I should have included that one in here somewhere. Shame, too. Nothing by Laurel & Hardy should ever go out of the public consciousness.

And thanks for the "whole 9 yards" explanation. I never knew that one and always wondered.

Karen said...

I grew up "knowing" Mutt & Jeff because everytime my Mom would see two people of exact opposites, she'd say "There's Mutt & Jeff."

When she'd make too much food, she'd say "We have enough food for a German Army." Not sure why it was the German Army and not the U.S. Army! Ha.

Suldog said...

Karen - Yup. I got the army, too - but not the German one. Here's another - "Did you grow up in a barn?" That was when I left the door open.

GreenJello said...

My mom always said things were "skiddywompus" if it was disheveled or crooked. Or something.

connie/mom said...

It was the schooner Hesperus, That sailed the wintery sea; ... Such was the wreck of the Hesperus, In the midnight and the snow! ...
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

lime said...

hahahaha, i am proud to say i needed no explanation for mutt & jeff and i was compelled to sing the might mouse tune. gaslight and don kent (i think i get a pass on that since i am not from boston)were the only ones that threw me until you added hesperus.

ok, so in my childhood i recall being told i had more excuses than carter had pills. (that's what? like a turn of the last century expression?) also, and i know you will appreciate this one with your background in radio. i was told my bedroom looked like fibber mcgee's closet must look.

my brother and i were often referred to as frick and frack, after the ice skating pair.

oh and lastly, i was said to have a magical bag of tricks like my beloved felix the cat.

Suldog said...

GreenJello - Maybe that was "Cattywompus"? I've heard that somewhere in my extended demented family.

MOM - Yay! Now I know! I guess I should have asked...

(Now you all know that my Mom is extremely literate!)

Lime - Felix The Cat! That wonderful, wonderful cat! Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks!

(Cue The Professor and Rock Bottom.)

CrazyCath said...

Such memories evoked here! Especially in the comments (sorry Jim. Not being American the only bit of familiarity was the Andy Capp reference which I grew up with.)

Frick and Frack I vaguely remember as I do Mutt and Jeff despite what I just said above, but I was very small and I thought it was "Mutton Jeff"! lol

Laurel and Hardy were classics. I remember (and STILL USE with my kids!) "born in a barn" and "skating on thin ice" not to mention "cauliflower ears" and my favourite which may or may not fall into this category - - -

Where there's muck, there's brass. ;0)

Suldog said...

CC - Yeah, I knew as I wrote this that some of my non-American friends might be lost on a few. Sorry about that! I still love you, you know.

Tim King said...

My mother used to tell me not to say "For God's sake!" because that was taking the Lord's name in vain. She also, as I recall, didn't like "For goodness' sake," because there is none good but God. However, she had no problem with "For Pete's sake," because I guess we didn't know anyone named Pete.

(Hopefully, Mom's not reading. :-) )

When I first moved into the Boston area, I used to get sideways glances every time I interjected, "Man alive!" Still don't understand why.

My 12-year-old, on the other hand, actually does use the word f***ing when she gets pissed. And I've had a hell of a time trying to get her to limit her usage only to those instances that actually deserve it.

Sh**, how language has changed!


Ericka said...

we still refer to fibber mcgee's closet in my family. 'cattywhompus' is a well-used adjective as well. my best friend and i were frick and frack growing up. we also occasionally quote from hogan's heroes too - "interestink. verrry interestink."

and aside from the whole swearing in german thing, my dad also employed spoonerisms - i use "fustercluck" A LOT at work.

now i'm going to go try to remove that d*mn mouse earworm. thanks!

heh. my word verification is "fugarbat." it sounds like it should be a swear word, doesn't it?

Ladybuggz said...

Two of my uncles were always referred to as Frick and Frack for the stuff they tried to pull. We'd say they were fricking and fracking like crazy.

And an older explanation for "the whole 9 yards" is that until the 19th century, a man's suit required close to 9 yards of fabric. When he would pick up the suit at the tailor's, he'd ask for the whole 9 yards, meaning he wanted whatever was left over as well as the finished suit, since he paid for it all.

Moannie said...

Well, 'That's another fine mess you've got us all into,Suldog. Now, instead of ''paddling our own canoes, we'll be racking the brain cells for more gems. So we'll 'stir our stumps'for you and try to 'come up with the goods'

Have written my thanks to you for your lovely words.

Stu said...

First, great comics! I grudgingly admit to clear memories of Mutt and Jeff in the paper... sigh...

Second, I'm a big fan of Ani DiFranco, and, in one of her songs, she says, "People used to make records, as in a record of an event." Again, sigh...

Third, what do you think of Keith Olbermann?

(the exteremely literate) connie/mom said...

I remember we used to say "tell it to the marines" when we doubted the veracity of what someone was saying.

Does anyone know how that came about?

(the extremely embarrassed)connie/mom said...

I may be literate, but I sure can't spell!!!!!

tshsmom said...

"That means that Mighty Mouse is on the waaayy!"

This post really brought back memories! My best friend in elementary school was a boy, who was 6 inches shorter than I was. My Mom always called us Mutt and Jeff. This was especially funny, since his name was Jeff. ;)

Hilary said...

Great post! I remember most of the references and, at the risk of sounding like a "broken record" I too am struggling to get the Mighty Mouse theme out of my head.

Language evolution is indeed amusing. The old carbon copy is just "cc" to most people these days but new terms employing the use of "carbon" come into existence such as "carbon footprint."

Reading over the comments reminded me of a friend who used to inadvertently mix her phrases up. She was known to say "The whole ninechilada!"

Chuck said...

My father used to use the phrase "no more likely than a man on the moon" when I was growing up, even though this was well after the success of the Apollo program. I guess he heard it a lot growing up and it stuck with him.

Buck said...

Two words the "under 30" crowd don't get... and really should: Firesign Theatre.

You may have had entire Cosby albums memorized, Jim, and that's a notable accomplishment (srsly). I spent my time in the '70s memorizing Firesign Theater. For instance: "If you lived here, you'd be home now!"

Janet said...

These were great. I knew all the references, thanks to my mother the queen of literary, media, and movie trivia. And having actually seen the movie "Gaslight." And I sing "Here I come to save the day" around the house occasionally for no apparent reason. The kids look at me funny when I do that. (Even though they've recently taken to spitting the "Big Bad Wolf" song.)
No cuss words in our house. I remember one time in the car when my stepfather used the word "sumbitch" when someone cut him off, and I had no idea what he meant, but I knew it was something I would never repeat. Of course, once I got to college I used variations on the theme, but never that actual word.
Firesign Theatre and Dr. Demento. Ah the 70s.

Janet said...

Oh yeah, to answer the question, "If you keep making that face, it'll freeze like that."

Stu said...

In response to the query of the origin of "Go tell it to the Marines," here's what I found on

The US Marine Corps are probably the best-known marines these days and this American-sounding phrase is often thought to refer to them. This isn't an American phrase though and, although it has been known there since the 1830s, it originated in the UK and the marines in question were the Royal Marines.

The first marines were The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot, formed in 1664, in the reign of Charles II. They were soldiers who had been enlisted and trained to serve on board ships. The recruits were considered green and not on a par with hardened sailors, hence the implication that marines were naive enough to believe ridiculous tales, but that sailors weren't. Such a tall tale is often quoted as the source of this phrase. It is said King Charles II made a remark to Samuel Pepys in which he mocked the marines' credulity in their belief in flying fishes. That's a nice story, but it has been shown to be a hoax that was perpetrated in the 1900s by the novelist W. P. Drury - a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Marines.

Most of the early citations give a fuller version of the phrase - "You may tell that to the marines, but the sailors will not believe it". This earliest reference I can find to it that uses the short version that is used today comes from the transcription of a journal that was written by John Marshall Deane, a private in the Foot Guards. His journal was written in 1708 and was transcribed and printed in 1846, under the title of A Journal of the Campaign in Flanders. The preface, which was the work of the transcriber rather than Deane and so must be dated as 1846 rather than 1708, includes this:

[The commanding officer] if a soldier complained to him of hardships which he could not comprehend, would be very likely to recommend him to "tell it to the marines"!

The longer version of the phrase is found earlier, in John Davis's The Post-Captain, or, The wooden walls well manned comprehending a view of naval society and manners, 1804:

"He may tell that to the marines, but the sailors will not believe him."

Shrinky said...

Oh boy, astute or what? Thanks for the "Mutt and Jeff" explaination, all my life I have known each represents opposite extremes of each other, but never really questioned why. Had no idea it was a spin off from a comic strip.

As to "Flo' and Andy Cap"? Sheesh, I was weaned on that stuff (grin), along with "The Broonies" and "The Bash Street Kids". Now you're talking!

Darn it Suldog, now you've gone and made me feel old again (pout), but in a good, kind of comforting way I guess..

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

jeez, you just keep raising that bar higher and higher suldog!!

Sean said...

"It was good for about a week, until someone more vocabulary-wise than me or my parents pointed out its masturbatory lineage."

I never even knew anything about that lineage... Now that my mom has given up the good fight, I'll have to ask her if that was the REAL reason she was anti-frig...

Angie Ledbetter said...

Showing my age (not that I care) here, but my fav is: "Warning, warning, Will Robinson," which makes my teenagers look at me like I really am lost in space. I did hear an interesting one recently from one son's GF after he'd made an obvious Sherlock statement - "Thanks for that, Captain Observation." I like it, even though I don't know what she was referencing.

Your 10 days of noncommunication with the WIFE was well worth it. Enjoyed this post so much.

I heard tons of those childhood sayings I never understood either: "She thinks she's the Queen of Sheeba," and I'll stop there before I time travel and can't get back. :)

womaninawindow said...

Why do I feel like crying now? My mom used to say I was as useless as tits on a bull, or something as equally horrifying. And why was she always laughing when she said it? Suldog, why was she always laughing?

Something about Borneo too, but it escapes me now. My dad died when I was young. He didn't get much of a chance to terrorize me. (That does sound just terrible, doesn't it?)

ed said...


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