The prompt I gave to the group this week meant the sayings of loved ones emerged as a strong theme. After the session was over, this got me reflecting on my own family which led to a great chat with my mum and stepdad about memories of phrases that they remember their parents saying. (The best ones contained swearing but I won’t share those today). Here are some other great ones that they came up with.
“Have two if you want one” Generous Grandad “Warmingham” (real name Cooper) used to say when asked if we could have something to eat.
In moments of affection, my mum’s dad would say “Are you lips tired? Well rest them on mine.” to my nan. In less romantic moments when asked for a kiss, he would say “Not again, I’m wet through.”
“Don’t cast a clout until May is out” was a saying of my maternal grandmother when anyone showed signs of getting excited about sunshine too early in the year, meaning don’t dress for summer too early
“Y is a crooked letter and you can’t straighten it” was the reply my stepdad’s mum would give for the lack of explanation she was willing to give when asked “Why?” by any of her 6 children.
My mum and stepdad themselves are very funny people and are always saying funny things (I think I would need a whole blog post to write about them. One thing my stepdad used to say “Let the dog see the rabbit!” meaning, move out of the way. My stepbrother Andrew once excitedly replied “Where’s the rabbit, where’s the rabbit?”
My mum’s sayings are generally ones she has made up by herself. For example, she calls a satsuma a tsunami and quinoa, ke-no-ee!
I loved reminiscing with my parents about this, we had such a nice chat and a belly laugh. Hopefully reading all our writing in this blog post will help your memories come back and get you to have a lovely chat with others too. Let us know what you came up with it the comments section at the end of the blog.
I unashamedly start this week with a picture of my gran as it was her words and phrases which immediately came to my mind when I read about this week’s theme.
I remembered vividly two of her sayings specifically. “This won’t get the baby washed” was her “call to action” akin to “shape up”. She would also say at odd times “What shall we do now – go hiking?” I think this was used in a similar way to the above but was more relaxed. It was noticeable how much grandmothers appeared in people’s reminiscences which I reflected was understandable as folklore tends to be passed down through the maternal side of families.
Another feature of the discussion was how family members either pronounced words differently perhaps because of an alternative geographical accent or used odd dialect or slang words. I recalled my Gran, who was born and raised in the West Midlands, pronounced “awkward” as “ockward” which I always thought was funny. My father on the other hand used the word “piarr” to mean a bit of an idiot as in “he’s a right piarr he is”. I have never been able to find its origin.
Phrases involving famous people or local landmarks were also recalled. One name phrase which came up was “bloody Norah” which coincidentally was my Gran’s name but nobody knows who this Norah was. There is also “Gordon Bennett” an expression of surprise and evoking Stirling Moss, the 50’s racing driver when someone is careering about. Here is a photograph of him before the 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree, Liverpool
All in all, this theme provided an abundant source of memories and I’ve only covered a portion of them.
The first thing that sprang to mind when we thought of sayings was the struggle I faced on my first day in Leeds at university. We got lost on the way to the halls, and I told my new friends from all over the country that we went “all around the Wrekin”. They had no idea what I was on about so a bit like a confused tourist abroad, I just started to say it louder and with a touch more frustration. I thought everyone knew what it meant. Then I realised I could use “all around the houses!” I had never really experienced a difference in vernacular before having spent the previous 19 years living in Shropshire where everyone knows what the Wrekin is! It’s a hill just outside Telford for those not in the know.
My mum invents her own language to a small extent. Pip is a multifunction word. Used in plural form “pips” this obviously means slippers! I’m not quite sure when or how this came about, but it’s stuck! When used in the phrase to “give one the pip” it means that it’s a bit scary. One perfect example of usage is when we were in the Red Light District in Amsterdam on a walking tour and she turned to me and whispered “This is giving me the pip, I hope we leave soon.”
Prior to this she coined the phrase to “taste like underpants”, often used at Sunday dinner when we had chicken or unripe brie. To taste like underpants means to be bland. I’ve spoken to her about it before writing this and my mum would just like to confirm that she has never actually tasted underpants, so she is not sure if this is true or not!
Her crowning glory of life advice and idioms though is to “Live life like Sandra Bullock”. Meaning that Sandra Bullock gets herself in all manner of horrific situations, but always seems to come through them with a smile on her face. I’ve been advised this when I had job interviews, party invitations, dates, exams, essays all sorts. I’m not quite sure where this came from as my mum is not a huge Sandra Bullock fan, but this is definitely sticking around for the foreseeable.
As we relaxed into the meditation, Jolene asked us to close our eyes and imagine turning the pages of a photograph album from our childhoods. It worked well for me & it wasn’t hard to then move on to “hearing” the voices of my parents and my grandmother, maybe using sayings from their own childhoods. It was fun sharing memories with Tony and Lucy, especially about moving from our home towns to other parts of the country and realizing we had an accent, or used phrases others didn’t know. When I was at University in Birmingham, friends in my shared house were puzzled when I said I was going to “side the table” (i.e. move things off the table into the kitchen but not wash up just yet!).
Sayings came back to me as we talked, and I’ve remembered more since then.
Instructions to get moving: “Allez up”, “Rise and Shine”, “Come on chuck”, “Shape yourself”
Being warned: “Give over (doing that)”, “Woe betide you if..”, “You’ll be the death of me”, “If the wind changes your face will stick like that!” (I believed that one for a long time!)
At bedtime: “The time has come, the walrus said..”, “Up the apples and pears”, “Sleep tight”, “Good night, God bless”.
Grandma Kendall came to live with us when I was 11 and she was 81. Her parents were Irish but she spoke broad Lancashire. She said “Eeh!” a lot: “Eeh, champion” when she was pleased, “Eeh, I don’t know” and even sometimes “Eeh by gum!”, like they did on Coronation Street which she loved. She talked of being starved or clemmed when she was cold, not just hungry, and it was meant as a compliment if she said you were a “bonny lass” or “as fat as butter”!
It was lovely to share the break out room again with Margaret (Williams), and to hear her warm stories about her grandmother and their shared baking sessions, and other funny stories about her family.
Listening to the group feedback it was clear that many of remembered family sayings originated from grandparents or older relatives, and became part of family lore. I do not have any memories of grandparents as both my parents had lost their parents when they were children, and perhaps because of that there was not a lot of contact with the wider family, so not so much family lore to reflect on.
However, one of the things my mum used to say has always stayed with me and makes me chuckle even now when I think how I misunderstood it. When mum thought someone was trying to be a bit ‘above themselves’ and trying to be better than she thought they should be, she would say “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. As a child I could never understand this. I had never seen it written down until I was about 11 or 12, and had never dared question my mum on what it meant. I had heard of grenadier and hussar and knew they were types of soldiers, and in my mind I saw this sow’s ear being a souseeer, another type of soldier. No wonder I was confused. When I finally saw it and understood it, it was a definite light bulb moment!
One of the other things I can remember was my dad’s saying of “bloody Nora” if someone had done something out of order or he had hurt himself, and I often wondered who Nora was. Many years later when I had teenage children, and they wanted something or to do something I had refused, one of their favourite sayings was “everybody else” or “all the others”. As with Nora, I often wondered who these “everybody else” and “all the others” were!
In chatting with Jean about the things our two families often said, we found that many expressions were common to both of us, even though we didn’t live in the same part of the country. However, I remembered one thing which was most certainly unique to our family.
At this time we lived in an end terraced house which, on the gable wall, had one window on the ground floor, under which my mother had her well-used sewing machine. She was an excellent seamstress and made many of our clothes.
Above this window, on the first floor, was a similar window which was on the landing. Stairs led up to the attic from this landing and we children often played there in wet weather – there was no smart dormer window there, just a roof light, and it was very cold in winter and hot in summer!
One day my mother was sitting sewing and, as usual, singing. She loved to sing and had a good voice (which she didn’t pass on to me) and one of her favourite songs was ‘Bless this House’. As she was singing this on this particular day, one of us children dashed upstairs and thumped on to the landing, on the way to the attic. Mum had just reached “Bless the roof and chimneys tall” when with a crash part of the ceiling plaster fell down on top of her and her sewing. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, just rather shocked, but afterwards whenever we heard her start to sing ‘Bless this House’ we used to call out “Take cover!”. Happy memories.
Sadly, none of my family sayings are original. My father often sits on my shoulder when I want to rush a job, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” was a phrase he often used. He would have loved to train as a joiner when he was young, but plumbing was the only job he could secure in the 1930’s depression. He enjoyed working alongside other tradesmen, learning from them, picking up tips of how they went about jobs so he was able to do most jobs such as plastering and tiling.
He had always been used to working with others, so when I got married and he came to help me renovate an old house, he would treat me as his apprentice. He would ask me “shall we do it this way, that way or another way?” I just wanted to say “you decide and just get on with it” so that I could go and do something more interesting. How I wish I had paid more attention so I would be able to do some of the jobs like decorating that he tried to pass on to me.
He looked after his tools very well. He had often lost his tools when he first started work by lending them to other workmen who did not return them. So he made it a rule to “Neither a borrower or lender be”. Which I thought was a bit mean, I have since found out is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If we made a mistake on one of the renovation tasks, he would always say “The only man who never made a mistake is the man who never did anything” which has been of comfort to me on many occasions when I’ve made mistakes. I’m sure he did not know the phrase is reputedly from Theodore Roosevelt.
This month’s topic was such a laugh, and a much needed one at that. So many memories came up during Jolene’s guided meditation – of friends, family, and my younger self. Chatting with Babs about our respective relations’ quirks and shared experiences led to a great deal of hilarity and a few new sayings for posterity.
Sassy, probably fed up, mothers were a major theme, with childhood complaints of “I’m hungry” being met with such witticisms as “Nice to meet you, Hungry, I’m Sharon” and “What an unusual name, how are you spelling that?” Likewise, responses to various fashion faux pas abounded: I was particularly gratified to learn that I was not the sole recipient of accusations of having been “dragged through a hedge backwards” throughout my teen years.
Navigating profanity was also a common theme, from the usual suspects – “sugar” and “flip” – and parents forgetting to use them, to more devious substitutes. Somehow, while working in a café with several French staff, the only French words I learned were swearwords! Swearing in French became our tonic in stressful moments, which were not rare in such a busy café. I will not include any examples here, lest our readers hail from overseas (or simply know more French than I do – not a tall order), but I can thoroughly recommend French for rude words. I have also been fortunate enough to make friends with a few Norwegians, whose country’s proverbs have no equal. “‘Means are many,’ said the old woman, as she wiped the table with a cat” is a personal favourite.
And then there are the mispronunciations: in my family, my grandmother’s pronunciation of mange-tout (“mangy tout,” like “trout”) is legendary. Similarly, my customer service poker face was tested by an American guest’s pronunciation of Croque Provençal (“croquet provincial,” in a wonderful Boston accent). Fortunately for me, my French co-workers were kind enough not to dwell on my many slip-ups… at least, not that I know of!
When I first heard the topic for this week’s discussion my first thought was, I don’t think we have any, then almost immediately, I was transported back to my childhood and an expression my mother would use whenever I asked what was for tea, popped into my head. It is unrepeatable here but momentarily I felt very upset. I decided to ask my children if they could recall any of our family sayings, one of my daughters came to the rescue with her memories, which set me off on many of my own.
Here are some of my husband’s sayings
“Did you come here on a motorbike?” (for messy hair)
“Why have you got a pineapple on your head?” (high ponytail)
“I must, I must improve my bust” (whist pulling out his teeshirt to make them)
“I’m up and down like a bride’s nightie” (when asked to do something)
He would nod his head as if in agreement and say “Ermm, No!”
All of these he found hilarious, I think we did at first but they did wear thin.
He always searched his pockets and would say “Let me see if I have any scrap?” Then give all his change to whichever child was there.
Some of mine, mainly to my children:-
“You don’t have to be the best, just do your best.”
“The greatest love of all is learning to love yourself.” (song sang to them over and over)
When they were going out and would say “I’m off”, I would reply “I thought there was a funny smell”…… I thought it was funny but my humour wasn’t really appreciated.
I say “Oh my Giddy Aunt” a lot and also “Did I Buxton”
“Never Eat Chips, Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young” was our method of remembering how to spell necessary.
We had a rule that if any of us got up from our chair, we had to say “Chair back please, thank you”. If we forgot, then anyone could sit in it and you couldn’t claim it back. (We didn’t have enough comfy chairs for us all)
Auntie taught us all this lovely rhyme: “Smile a while and while you smile, another smiles and soon there’s miles and miles of smiles and all because you smiled.”
Whenever we used our manners she would say “You could have tea with the queen”
We used to call our children ‘The Sweats’ this was a term of endearment (honest!) Our son was ‘Snozzer’ also with love.
My husband was known as Stan the Man or simply Fat Man and he wasn’t even fat.
Nenna who wees was what my daughter thought she was called (Jenna Louise)
Lemonade was Lemomnaydum for years.
When I was a very young child my favourite TV programme was Pixie and Dixie who I wrote about in school. Unfortunately, in those days I didn’t have spell check and wrote their names as P*ss and Diss. From that day till present day any weak tea is described as Pixie! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “I can’t drink that, it’s like Pixie!”
I love talking about language. I find it fascinating to find out that words and phrases which you thought everyone used are actually regional or even specific to your own family. It works for accents too. When you’re growing up, you assume that the way you speak is “normal”, and you only hear accents when people from other parts of the country are speaking. It was only when I moved to Manchester that I found out I had a Yorkshire accent (!) Previously I’d assumed the only people with Yorkshire accents were old men who spoke in broad dialect in a way I couldn’t understand myself. But when I moved to university, my new friends quickly affectionately spelt my name “Juuur”. I’d had no idea that there was another way of pronouncing my name than this!
Sayings and family proverbs are a real source of nostalgia for me, and are at the heart of many stories. The story goes that one evening at a local “do”, one of my Great-Auntie Ann was told by another woman, “Excuse me, I’m sitting there.” Her response was simply “Has tha two arses or what?” On the theme of seating arrangements, my grandad was once on coach trip and got back onto the coach to find someone sitting in their seats. He was so affronted he commented, “Even bee-asts know their own stall.” (For context, he was a dairy farmer and ‘bee-asts’, i.e. beasts, are cows in broad Yorkshire dialect.) Finally, my grandad’s piece of advice which has passed down the generations is, “If it’s fine, take tha coat. If it’s raining, suit thi’sen.” I still have difficulty interpreting this tip, but assume it insinuates that only fools would find themselves caught out without a coat in a downpour.
I wonder what funny sayings are, right now, creating stories to be told in the future, without us even knowing?