Back in the day, my college roommate and I mystified a friend raised in Hong Kong with phrases from(I think) the twenties. (This was the early eighties, by the way. The Bookworm is old, but not that old.) Our dorm maintained a nearly round-the-clock game of spades, with people cutting in and then leaving briefly to attend to minor matter like exams, classes and term papers. In the course of the game, my roommate was wont to exclaim “Hot damn!” Pat’s International School education had given her fluent English, with a distinctly posh-sounding British accent, but it had not included this particular colorful phrase. She suspected we were making it up to throw her off her game. When sometime later we said something was “the cat’s pajamas,” she was sure of it and the fits of laughter that followed probably did cost her a trick or two.
I love old slang. It’s creative: hot spit, cool drool and warm monkey vomit. It’s playful: good grief; holy moly. It’s evocative as all get out.
My maternal grandmother had a lot of rude similes about how people looked. She would say that someone looked “like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle” (disheveled). When she said an article of clothing looked like it had been “made by loving hands at home,” it was the reverse of a compliment. Someone down in the mouth (another good one, possibly equine in derivation?) looked like “Patience on a monument smiling at Grief” (possibly as a result of being compared to a sack of potatoes, etc.).
A lot of people say something is “like white on rice” to indicate that one thing (or person) is adhering so closely to another as to be indistinguishable. I also like the rarer “on (object) like a cheap suit”. That one is vividly tactile as well as visual; I can feel that sleazy material uncomfortably tight across my shoulders. And similarly, “like a duck on a June bug” sounds like a pounce and a snap to me, despite the fact that I’m not sure if ducks can really be said to pounce, or what a June bug is.
Some of these old turns of phrase aren’t PG, and some aren’t pc, either, but often they are funnier, stronger and more evocative than mere profanity or vulgarity would be. Send along some of your favorites, without dilly dallying or lollygagging!