Things My Mother Said

My husband and I both got a smile on our face when Talk of the Nation’s guest Mary Schmich said how much she loved the term, “lollygag,” as part of Monday’s show, ‘From Groovy to Slacks: The Words That Date You.'” Though the thrust of the show was about changes in the popularity of words — bring back “nincompoop” please! — it reminded me that my Mom, who died in 1999, had some doozy turns of phrase.

She teased Dad that she had to stay home with the children when he was assigned to Canadian Army Staff College in Kingston, Ontario, while he went “gallivanting” all over Canada.

When my room was dirty, she said I had things “spread from Hell to breakfast.” When things were in disarray, she might also say everything was “cattywompus,” as my brother Dean reminded me.

When I was making out with my high school boyfriend downstairs, she yelled down to ask if we were “making love” down there. By which she meant kissing. We jumped up like we had been branded and screamed, “No!”

When we stopped at Horseshoe Bend in the Yakima River on one of many blisteringly hot treks to visit Grandmother, we “hotted off our feet.”

When she was doing this and that around the house, she was “piddling around.”

When she became upset about something, she was having “a major snit.”

There were no “heavens to Betsy”‘s in our house (given that I was in residence) but there were a fair amount of “honest to God”‘s.

She also liked, “Ye Gods,” as in: “If you could see what Dad spends on shooting…. Ye Gods, the entry fee for today’s meet is $60.”

I don’t think my mother considered “damn” and “hell” to be swear words. Her answer as to whether I was planned — since I was born when they were 40 and 41 — was, “Every once in a while we just said “Oh what the hell.”

She didn’t mind the occasional pejorative term. When she hospitalized early in 1999, I flew back from a business trip to Washington DC and arrived at her bedside. She asked, “Did you say hi to everyone except that jackass in the White House?” (Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings were underway.)

Her colorful language may have been imparted to her by her father, an attorney of some repute. He referred to a certain shade as “baby s*** brown.”

Mom wasn’t one to sit around and feel sorry for herself, or to say or write things that were too heavy; those sentiments she would call “maudlin.”

When popular usage failed her, Mom turned to a made-up word, “sorensified.” You won’t find it in the dictionary, but it’s what you feel after a truly satisfying meal.

What funny phrases of your parents do you remember?

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