Somewhere in the dim and distant past I was once a child. On the whole I had a pretty good life, with two loving parents and a younger brother. My parents were reasonably strict and tried to keep me in order, although by my later teenage years they were beginning to acknowledge that this was a losing battle.
One of the things I remember about those days was the array of strange sayings and expressions they used. Of course, at the time they seemed quite reasonable because I had grown up hearing them, it is only looking back now that I think ‘what was that all about?!’
I’m sure that these expressions weren’t unique to my parents, and for all I know parents today are still using them, but I think they are odd and thought I would share ten of my favourites with you.
I should cocoa
This was one of my dad’s expressions, and broadly meant “not a chance”. It was generally employed when I asked for something he thought unreasonable, such as “can I stay up late to watch that film?” or “can we go out in the garden and throw axes at each other?” The main alternative was “Not on your Nelly.”
Both expressions apparently have very convoluted origins in cockney rhyming slang, which makes sense since my dad was born in Greenwich, London. Whilst not actually within the sound of Bow Bells, it is close enough and he was probably required by some law or ancient charter or something to use rhyming slang occasionally.
Who’s she, the cat’s mother?
This was my mother’s automatic response any time we referred to her as ‘she’, as in “she says I’m not allowed out until I’ve cleaned my room.” Why this should have any bearing on her having feline off-spring I have not been able to deduce.
Young cats were obviously an important part of my mother’s lexicon, however, as she was never scared, she was always “having kittens”. I think this is equally odd, but means maybe she was the cat’s mother.
This was my dad’s go-to term of mild abuse whenever we did or said anything particularly silly
What’s this, Scotch mist?
“Mum, where’s the [enter any elusive household item here]”
“It’s in the drawer in the kitchen”
“I can’t see it”
Mum stops whatever important thing she is doing, stomps into the kitchen, goes to the drawer and triumphantly produces the item, which clearly wasn’t there only seconds before, with a triumphant “what’s this, scotch mist?”
My only explanation is that my mother was a very skilled magician. My wife occasionally has similar abilities.
What did Horace say Winnie?
I used to find this incredibly annoying! It is what my dad used to say to my mum whenever I said anything which he didn’t hear because he accused me of mumbling, which when I was a teenager was pretty much everything. Clearly he couldn’t just say “pardon?” like a normal person as that would suggest it was his fault for not hearing rather than my fault for mumbling.
I had no idea where this came from, so I just Googled it: apparently its origins lie in a 1950s radio show.
Like the wreck of the Hesperus
This was the expression my mother used to describe the state of any room that I had occupied for any prolonged period: “it’s like the wreck of the Hesperus in here” broadly translates as “what a bleeding mess!”
Once again Google is my friend, and apparently the Wreck of the Hesperus is in fact a Longfellow poem about a shipwreck. I’m pretty sure, no matter how messy, I never left a room broken into bits and floating in the sea.
For crying out loud!
This was my dad’s go-to exclamation in place of an expletive. It is clearly a ‘save’ for when what he meant to say was “For Christ’s sake!” in much the same way you may now say “sugar” or “fork and spoon”
Other favourites were “Stroll on!”, “Gordon Bennett!” and “Strewth!”.
Go pee up your leg and play with the steam
This is a particularly inventive and uncharacteristically crude expression of my mother’s, frequently deployed in response to the statement “I’m bored”. I am pleased to report that I never found myself so bored that I took up her suggestion.
Alternatives were “go and play with the traffic” and “take a long walk off a short pier”. None of these expressions were deployed in such a heartlessly uncaring fashion as they sound, but they were frequently uttered in exasperation, when she was “at the end of her tether” or “at her wits end”.
What’s your beef
This was my dad’s way of saying “what’s the matter with you”. Another cockney rhyming slang thing possibly: beef = grief. However, a quick Google search suggests some disagreement about these origins, including kids of today thinking they invented it and it is American rapper slang. My dad would not be impressed!
Not as green as you are cabbage looking
This was a rare acknowledgement from my dad that I may actually have just said something of intellectual worth. It was a bit of a backhanded compliment as it basically means “you’re not as stupid as you look”. I’ve got no idea what cabbages have got to do with it.