9 old words and phrases we should use more often

Zounds! Ye olde vocabulary would be simply groovy if you found a swell way to work these into a conversation—mayhap while you’re mulling your cat-skinning options, for the love of Pete.

The other day my friend Amber referred to her kids as “the bee’s knees” on Facebook, which I saw just as I was trying to figure out what to write about for my next post.

It got me thinking about antiquated phrases we no longer use. Obviously, if someone is the bee’s knees, they might also be the cat’s pajamas. Using some of these “dead” words and phrases might serve to make our language and conversations more colorful and interesting.

Yeah, I have no idea what that means either.

Anyway, here is my list of nine words and phrases (in no particular order) that we ought to start using more. You know, because they’re from the “good ol’ days”” when men were men, and all kids seemed to be born in a barn.

1. Zounds!

Not to be confused with the similar, “Zoinks” of Scooby Doo fame, Zounds is one of those words you use when something startles and surprises you, but usually in a good way. So next time someone surprises or astounds you with that supercool YouTube video of kittens doing crazy and amazing things, you can respond with, “Zounds!” “Gadzooks!” also works in a pinch.

2. Fiddlesticks

I remember my one grandmother using this phrase when she was accusing us of lying or saying something that was just not true. Often it was probably when we were accusing her of cheating at her own personal blood sport: Monopoly. Closely related to this is another term that she used, and which I remember my father saying often, “horse feathers” when we would state some sort of fact, and he would dispute it. Because, you know, my dad was always right.

3. For the love of Pete!

This is a phrase that we utter when we can’t believe what just happened. The car breaks down, the dishwasher leaks, the kids eat the last piece of bacon-you know what I mean. A variation of this is, “For Pete’s Sake!”

This has me wondering: Who the heck is Pete, and how did he end up having his name used in this particular context, in not one, but two different phrases? Perhaps it’s Pete Best, the Beatle who left the band before they made it big. No, those phrases must predate him. Shoot, now I’m gonna be on the Internet all day Googling this. Anyone know who Pete is?

4. There’s more than one way to skin a cat

I guess I’m just fascinated by this phrase because I’m trying to wrap my mind around the whole idea of skinning cats. Who was skinning them, and why? (Maybe it was Pete.) Seriously, is there more than one way to do it? And do we really want to ponder what those ways might be?

We can use this phrase when we have trouble doing something and we have to find an alternative solution-such as when you can’t get a jar open. If the traditional manly way of twisting doesn’t work, you can get out that circular rubber jar opener thingy that your local insurance salesman/bank/funeral home gave you. Or you can purchase some fancy mechanical doohickey from Amazon that does the job. Or, you can just whack away at it with a hammer. Yeah that’s it—and I wonder if Amazon has any cat-skinning doohickies.

4. Tally ho!

We could learn a lot from the Brits. Everything already sounds much happier and fun when said with a British accent. I’m convinced that Monty Python wouldn’t have been nearly as funny if it had been done by Americans. This phrase came from the world of fox hunting, and the hunters would yell this out when they spotted the fox and the chase was on.

I’m not sure if fox hunting is a thing anymore, and I can’t remember the last time I spotted a fox in my back yard, so I think that whenever I get in the car to go somewhere, I’m just going to smile and loudly exclaim, “Tally ho!” I’ll then stand there silently for a few seconds, for dramatic effect, and so the cameras can get the right close-up, then hop into the car, start it up, and zoom off.

Of course, the whole thing will be ruined if the car won’t start—so anticlimactic.

5. Exit stage left

This is the second cousin once removed to “tally ho,” and though I’m not sure where this originally came from (a theater reference, I’m sure), my point of reference is that great American icon Snagglepuss. Some of you might be too young to remember Snagglepuss, but he was a pink cartoon mountain lion who wore nothing but a shirt collar, shirt cuffs, and a string tie. Yeah. Wow. Kind of odd and creepy now that I think about it. In his animated exploits, our hero would often find himself in a pickle (ooh, another good one) and in order to get out of it, he would utter, “Exit, stage left!” and then, whooosh, he ran off the screen, accompanied by cartoon sound effects.


Snagglepuss wasn’t a one-trick pony, mind you; he also popularized the phrase, “Heavens to Murgatroyd,” a more upscale version of, “Heavens to Betsy.” Yeah, Murgatroyd trumps Betsy every time.

6. Groovy

This one comes out of the jazz culture of the 1920s, but was popularized in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s by those dang hippies. What sealed it for me were Greg, Marsha, Jan, Peter (not Pete, mind you), Bobby, and Cindy. Yeah, if it’s good enough for the Brady kids, it’s good enough for me. It’s totes a much hipper phrase than cool, def, bad, or rad. Now, please hand me that groovy jar-opening doohickey.

7. Swell

Golly gee, let’s move back to a simpler time when things were “swell.” I think the Bradys might have uttered this one as well, but in my mind it’s more closely associated with Dennis the Menace. Or even back further in those black-and-white movies from the 1930s and ’40s. You know, the ones where the male lead (probably a detective) would say, “Gee, she’s a swell dame,” when what he really wanted to say was, “Get a load of the gams on that tomato!”

Yeah, swell is a pretty groovy word.

8. When pigs fly

This one is designed to show your disbelief that something will ever happen. It’s very similar to other more popular phrases, like “When hell freezes over,” or, “When the Eagles win a Super Bowl.” With the political situation in Washington, D.C. the way it is, I’m surprised we don’t hear this phrase a lot more.

“When will Congress ever give us a balanced budget?”

Yeah, you know the answer to that one…

9. Ye olde

Remember when stores used to have Ye Olde in their names? Ye Olde Apothecary. Ye Olde Tavern. I miss those places. I think we need to start referring to places in this way again.

“I’m headed to Ye Olde DMV to renew my license.”

“How fast is the wireless at Ye Olde Internet Cafe?”

“I’m getting that spinning disc thing, I better head down to meet the geniuses at Ye Olde Apple Store.”

Just adding “Ye Olde” in front of any business name makes it seem that much more pleasant and homey, don’t you think?

What phrases and word from yesteryear would you like to see make a return to our everyday language?

A version of this article originally appeared on Inkling Media.


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