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ArlingtonOpinion'Old School' column: Tag lines

‘Old School’ column: Tag lines

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My family was big on colloquial sayings and used them in everyday speech. I arrived in Arlington, “fresh off the boat” and had no idea my fellow residents didn’t know them, too.

I learned this disturbing detail in a restaurant with poor service, when I turned to my companion and said, “This waitress is slow as molasses in January.” The response was, “Huh?”

On another occasion, I complained about my frugal father and said, “He was tight as the bark on a tree.” Another “Whaaa?”


After I described a person in need of orthodontia as “So buck-toothed she could eat apples through a picket fence,” that friend was convulsing with laughter. In fact, he asked me to repeat it so he “could remember it.” I’m not sure if delight, or eye-rolling at the hick was the motivation.

At that point, I realized I had discovered a new art form – “Hoosier-isms,” so named because I have never met anyone from another state who knows, let alone uses, all these phrases.

I’m wondering if other states have interesting local phrases too. I lived in Illinois for five years, and never heard those sayings once. We lived downstate, but maybe in Chicago, they say things like “That was an EL of a ride,” or “I’m as windy as this city.”

All my Hoosier-isms came from my parents, probably learned from their parents.

When someone was facing a difficult period in their life, my dad described the person as headed for “Twenty miles of bad road.” And when driving fast, they were traveling “hell-bent for leather.” After many charming trips on I-95, both sayings came in handy.

Another favorite, reserved for chronic complainers: “That guy would gripe if he was hung with a new rope.”

Describing an especially impoverished family, my mother would often say, “They’re poor as church mice.” Since I’ve never examined the living circumstances of such creatures, I’ll take her word for it.

And everyone, when describing friends, said they were “thick as thieves.”

There were special expressions for the weather, too. On extremely hot, humid days, my mom and her friends said, “My, it’s CLOSE today.”

Damp, chilly days were described as “raw,” while heavy rain, was a “gully-washer.” I’ve experienced all in our river basin climate and have the edge on those who can’t describe them succinctly.

Meanwhile, I need lunch. My Old School stomach thinks my throat’s been slit.

Reach Carol McEwen at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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