Friday, March 11, 2016

Tootle on Down

     It happened last weekend, when we had another couple over for dinner. B's 20-something son decided to join us because his girlfriend, who's studying to become an accountant, was working all weekend, which accountants apparently do at this time of year.

     We were sitting around enjoying a fire in the fireplace and talking about random things. B told us about a project she had going at work, and then said she had to tootle on down to the library the next day to do ... something, I forget.

     The conversation proceeded for a few more moments, until we all realized B's son was sitting there, hunched over, his face getting red, desperately trying to suppress his laughter, until he finally erupted in a sudden and loud guffaw. He kept trying to hold it in, but he couldn't, and soon he was laughing so hard he was practically falling out of his chair.

     The rest of us smiled, and we looked around at one another. We were a little puzzled.

     "What?" said his mother.

     "Tootle?" he said. More bursts of laughter. "Tootle! When does anyone actually use the work tootle?"

Maybe she'd seen this book?
     Soon he had the rest of laughing as well. While the word had just washed over us, because it was familiar -- even though none of us had probably heard it used in normal conversation in, oh, two or three decades. But now that he had mentioned it, it was pretty funny.

     As the laughter subsided -- from all except her son who still couldn't control himself -- B admitted it was a word she'd probably heard from her grandmother. And she admitted that, yes, it had probably gone out of the standard English lexicon sometime around the 1950s.

     Although I remember my mother used to used the term occasionally, probably as late as the 1970s. But actually, my mother more often said, "Toodle loo," when bidding goodbye to someone. You don't hear that one anymore, either. I looked it up. It's defined as an archaic way to say goodbye, derived from the French a tout a l'heure. I never realized my mother was so classy!

     The next morning, as B and I reviewed the previous evening, we agreed everyone had had a good time. But as you might imagine, the word tootle came up again. After all, it brought the biggest laugh of the evening. By far. And we couldn't help but wonder: what other words did we use, or at least hear, when we were younger, but are words that today would mark us as an old fogey.

     And in case you are about to argue how we older people are not old fogeys -- take it from B's son, using the word tootle does mark you as an old fogey.

     Tizzy. If you're all in a tizzy ... are you an old fogey? You're all excited and perhaps a little confused. You're in a dither ... another archaic word.

     Actually, I think old fogey is itself an archaic term, a slightly derogatory label for an elderly person who is not up on current fashions.

     How about curmudgeon or crank? Maybe Bernie Sanders has brought a little hipness back to those two terms.

Maybe she'd seen this movie?
     Scalawag. I recall my mother using the term to refer to some unsavory characters, way back when. I thought it must have some kind of nautical connection. Maybe a scalawag was a pirate? Actually it comes from the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. A scalawag was a derogatory term in the South for a white person who had Union sympathies. Kind of like a carpetbagger. Only worse, because a carpetbagger came from the North, while a scalawag was a Southerner who had become a traitor to the cause. I don't know where my mother came up with the term. She was not a Southerner, unless you count New Jersey as part of the South.

     How about jalopy, a word I sometimes use to describe my car, or Landsakes! which I've heard B's mother utter once or twice in surprise, or how about beseech or betwixt?

     I don't know what conclusion to draw from all this -- except perhaps, language does evolve, and sometimes we old fogeys have to struggle to keep up.
    

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think "tootle" is a splendid word, but would definitely identify you as being a bit long in the tooth. I never realized that "toodle oo" came from the french for toute-a-L'heure,it must have been a wartime thing.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

I've used the expression Tootle, but now I wonder what came first, the word or the little engine who could? BTW I used to read that book to my little brother. It was his book. Girls weren't always encouraged in those days.....

gigihawaii said...

Very interesting discussion about vocabulary. When I was a kid, I used to read Webster's Dictionary for fun. Lol.

Cindi said...

Here's a new slant. I know that my sayings have changed since I started watching Downton Abbey. (and other British movies on PBS as well as in the theater....i.e James Bond) Why, just two weeks ago Lord Grantham said 'Good golly gumdrop' or something to that effect when he learned something nice was going to take place.
Perhaps that's where B heard the word. And many more.
Now, I have to pop off and see to a few errands.
Tootle Loo.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I'm afraid I've been guilty of the tootle word myself now and then. I also, and God only knows where I got it from is "lollygag". I actually use that one quite a bit. But the word that drives my husband Thom crazy is baboe (I'm not even sure how to spell it!) Long before using Comet to clean, I was raised to use baboe....and I still use it when I want that kind of cleaner. Thom thinks I made the word up and that it never existed, but that's what my mom called it and I still say it! Do you (or anyone else?) remember that word?? ~Kathy

Tom Sightings said...

We watched Downton Abbey, too, but as far as I know we haven't picked up any sayings from it (tho' that a good one!) I have never heard of baboe, but Kathy, B says you are absolutely right -- it's a cleaner like Comet, she confirms, although she admits she hasn't heard of it in quite a while.

joared said...

Oh sure, I remember Bab-O Cleanser and there were others, Old Dutch Cleanser, preceding Comet.

Language is indeed always evolving and not fixed as we might think -- even the spelling of words, often dropping letters -- especially any that are silent in verbal pronunciation. There are still some more letters we should drop as would help with spelling and with people learning English as a second language. I remember seeing Chaucer in high school in original old English, or other writings I've seen and some words are hardly recognizable i.e. whythe, or something like that for 'with'.

I think of all the euphemisms used as I was growing up in place of the actual word which we dare not say aloud and I don't hear those substitute words much any more. Unacceptable curse words, for example, required using instead gosh, darn, shoot, goldarn, heck to name a few. I sometimes said, "sh-h-h-... dragging it out until my Mom would arise to the fear of what she thought I might be about to say and would either give me a look or verbally chastise me. I would say, "But Mom, I was only going to say shoot!"

Carol Cassara said...

I haven't used that term in so long, but I did use it! I love Cindi's comment about Good golly gumdrop, which I didn't notice two weeks ago on Downton. I have to adopt it now. I'm already grieving the loss of Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowe's clever turn of a phrase.
Carol

Janette said...

The most embarrassing thing is to be told by a student that something you commonly used, in my case "fricking" actually was a "dirty word" in their vocabulary. I said it in one class and I thought the entire group of eighth grades were going to throw up.
I use Toodles often- since Disney uses it often on their Clubhouse show. Tootles was one of Peter Pan's lost boys. Yes, I do watch Disney Clubhouse with the two year old.
My Nana used to say Toot a loo to us when she left. Even reading those words brings back a sense of joy.
Isn't language terrific?

Barbara - said...

My boss in Germany was from the UK and she used to give orientations and tours for the new soldiers who would come to the base. She would always tell them, she would be around in the morning to "knock them up". The look on their faces? Priceless. The one that always got me (my parents retired to Beaufort SC and never had a slang issue except for this one), is when my retired dad used to say he was going to "carry your mother to the store"

Lynn - Encore Voyage said...

"Sup, bro...Dat post was Totes Awesome!" I believe we should stick with Tootle.

Barbara said...

All the words are part of my history too. I've probably used scalawag the most recently. I think I said it to one of the grand girls. Haha. Some words just feel good to say and calling someone a scalawag works even if you or they don't know the real meaning behind it.

Jon Schommer said...

I don't always get to it, but I enjoy reading your thoughts and observations...but I'm just an old fogey, too!

Anonymous said...

I just recently heard someone use 'cattywampus' (catawampus) and remarked what an old-fashioned word - but I loved hearing it again! Then there's 'copacetic' - which my (now deceased) dad used - and which I never hear, but use frequently.
(Btw, Aloha! Came over from Gigi Hawaii blog)

Tom Sightings said...

Welcome ... any friend of Gigi's is a friend of mine! Actually, just last week a student down at the community college reported to me, "Everything is copacetic." I was "dumbfounded." (Is that another one?)