I used to think that old people used old-people words because it was how people talked when they were growing up. But lately, something strange has been happening. I open my mouth to speak, and the vocabulary of an old man tumbles out. I’m starting to think that as you get older your brain gets repopulated with a dictionary of “adult language.” I don’t mean the kind that nets you a PG-13 rating, or the deliberately stodgy words that some people say to be funny, like “kerfuffle” or “gee whilickers.” They’re just these words that I thought only people who were born prior to 1950 used – until now.
I cannot overstate how much I hated “blouse” growing up. It always sounded poofy and ruffly, like the Puffy Shirt from Seinfeld. A few years ago, I decided that it was sort of funny to refer to shirts as “blouses,” like I was the kind of lady who also planned vacations using a travel agent and had some sort of deliberate hairdo. It is slowly trickling into my regular vocab list.
It’s kind of misleading to call your platonic female friends your “girlfriends.” Whenever a coworker or casual acquaintance mentions going to a movie with her “girlfriend” or her “girlfriend who lives downstate” I try to ask vague yet leading questions to figure out what, exactly, is up so that I don’t say something stupid later. But in some ways, girlfriend is more specific than friend – I always think it implies a fairly close friend, not some rando you get coffee with occasionally – and it sounds more adult than “best friend.” Just like “blouse,” this entered my vocab because it tickled my funnybone, but I think it’s here to stay.
They’re slimmer and less schlumpy than “pants.” They aren’t necessarily khakis. They aren’t jeans. They’re slacks. Oh god, I’m the oldest lady in the world.
I don’t know what it is, but lately my usual term – purse – has started to sound like an old-lady word itself. If you listen to it divorced of context, it even sounds like something they would have named a baby girl in 1905. Bertha. Maude. Gertrude. Purse. Handbag is a likely alternative, but I don’t think anything I own costs enough to qualify as a handbag. I usually just say “bag” – but I think “pocketbook.”
I remember a substitute teacher who always used to say “ladies, this isn’t the Chit-Chat Club” when my friends and I were talking. And I always used to think “I wish it were, that sounds like the best club ever!” Now I am an old lady both in that I use the phrase “chit chat” to describe idle talk, and also because I have developed a total aversion to it. Chit chat club? Blegh. No thank you.
I usually call t.v. shows “shows,” because I am 28 years old. I know some people say “stories” from time to time, but that’s when they’re trying to be cute. But program is what my old Italian neighbor, Nancy, used to say. Apparently the old lady in my brain also says “program,” because I found myself saying it entirely by accident a few months ago.
Every day I catch the bus in a station teeming with high schoolers. They stand in clusters talking way too loud and laughing at things that aren’t funny. And every time I move through a chunk of teenagers trying to catch my bus, I think “why won’t these kids just scram!” “Get out” sounds too basic, and “dissemble” too dainty. What I really want these youths to do is scram.
Not in terms of intelligent, but as in crisply tailored. I don’t know if it’s so much an old lady term, or that before my mid-20s I wasn’t as interested in owning a “smart blazer.”
I swear, I told one of my nephews he looked “really sharp” in his Easter outfit. But he was wearing a smart tie, what else was I supposed to say?
Book Bag or Backpack
Speaking of those crazy kiddos, several months ago I told one of the four-year-olds to get his book bag. Or backpack. I can’t remember which one, because in my mind they’re interchangeable. Apparently for children born in the 2010s, they are NOT. I was swiftly and sternly corrected. It’s already happening. Using normal words from my youth is making me sound like an old lady. He’s just lucky I don’t call his Leapfrog device a “Gameboy.”
I thought this was normal, too. Apparently it’s not. Apparently you’re supposed to say “elementary school,” which I thought was the same thing. But whether you say elementary or grade, I think we can agree that the REAL old man phrase is “grammar school,” and I’m not there – yet.
A few years ago, my cousin described Pete Cambell from Mad Men as a “weenie.” Pete is the ultimate weenie, and I was so tickled by the word that it entered my everyday vocab. It’s an outmoded term, but totally useful. There are plenty of guys you’d usually call a douche or a bro, but they have that extra simpering quality that makes them weenies.
When I was shopping for a new television, I accidentally said “tv set.” Woah. Nobody really says that anymore. It reminds me of how my parents still say “vacuum sweeper.” Yeah, they put a nickname on my birth certificate, yet they go through the trouble of saying “vacuum sweeper.” The older I get, the more I understand.
I could keep going: housedress, lunch pail (this is actually what my dad used to say when I was a kid), luncheon, lollygag (another dad favorite). I used to be young and relatively hip, but those days are over. Now I just put on my blouse and slacks and lollygag in front of the TV set with my girlfriends, speaking in the least cool “adult language” ever.