From old-time sayings to texting

I cannot believe that I have an issue of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association magazine in my desk that is dated early spring 2008.

Nearly five years later, I can’t even remember where I got it but know that I intended to use it as part of a column back then. Instead, I will do so now in the quiet month of January when all that the McCoys have been doing is running to doctors.

The title of the story is “Life in the 1500s – Interesting Sayings.” It notes how many of the customs of today came about through traditions of the past and the interesting sayings that ensued.

It is hard to believe that people of that time, the 1500s, went all through the cold winter months without a bath, waiting until May to make sure the frost was completely gone.

For those planning a June wedding, the couple felt they still smelled “pretty good” after a month.

To be safe, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom of carrying a bouquet when getting married. And you thought it was for beauty.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the household had the privilege of the nice clean water; then all the other sons and men; next it was the women; finally the children and lastly babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Yuck!

These interesting facts that have now become our sayings were received from Hugh Coffman of the Washington County Retired Teachers Association.


Houses had thatched roofs thick with straw that was piled high and no wood underneath to support it. It was the only place for household animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals, including mice and bugs, lived in the roof. When it rained hard, it became slippery, and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house either. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up a clean bed. Therefore, a bed with big posts would have a sheet hung over the top for some protection, and that is how canopy beds came into existence.


The floors were made of dirt in most homes. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying “dirt poor.”

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery when wet, so they spread straw, called thresh, down to keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway, and that is how the bride got carried “over the threshold.”

In the kitchen, a big kettle always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot – they ate mostly vegetables, not much meat.

The household would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight then start the next day again.

At times, the stew had food in it that had been there for quite awhile. Hence the rhyme “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.”

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which was quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show it off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”


Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning deaths. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.


Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle and guest got the top, or “upper crust.”


Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare a burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days, and the family would gather around and eat and drink, waiting to see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake.”


England is old and small, so local folks started running out of places to bury people. They would dig up coffins, taking the bones to a bone house and reusing the grave. When reopening some of the coffins, it was discovered that one out of about 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they began tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, leading it through the ground and tying it with a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell. This then became “the graveyard shift.” And thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer” by the toll or silence of the bell.


I received a telephone call last weekend from Barbara Verhovec, a baseball buddy and friend for some 40 years. She said that my mentioning the Candy Grams to be sold by the Brightway Center group for Valentine’s Day made her think of the candy her son, Steve, got her as a reminiscing present for Christmas.

It is candy from the 1950s and 1960s and Oh Boy! do I remember them. Maybe you do, too.

In the Fabulous ’50s box there were Tootsie Rolls, Walnettos, candy cigarettes, Mary Janes, Smarties, Kits, Dad’s Rootbeer Barrels, bubble gum cigars, candy bracelets and necklaces and BB Bats, to name a few. Are they starting to bring back memories?

Then we have the 1960s. I can’t remember what the description of that era was. I was too busy raising two children, with Darin arriving in the 1970s. There were Neccos, I always hunted for the chocolate and orange ones; Black Jacks; Slo Poke, I think they were caramel suckers; Boston Baked Beans; Bazooka bubble gum; and Tootsie pops, where you always hurried to get to the center of the sucker. I also remember the Mallo Cups because I would save the cardboard certificates inside that carried a number. After saving a horrendous amount, they could be sent away for a free box of four or six Mallo Cups. It was the fun of getting a big number to make the count go up faster. I got a 100 number card once and was so excited that I think I gave the candy cup away, just kept the number.


These interesting facts that have now become our sayings were received from Hugh Coffman, Washington County Retired Teachers Association.


Now for some modern technology that some of us older folks do not understand but comes natural with anyone old enough to hold a phone with a texting keyboard. This is from my cousin Tina Kollar and is called “Middle Age Texting Codes.”

I don’t even know what some of the codes mean in real language, but I’m sure that more than 85 percent of the reading audience will. I just spell things out and take forever doing it. Do you ever make a completely ridiculous word and have the phone guess the correct word? I just look on in amazement. My kids don’t understand my writing but this little gadget does.

ATD – At the doctor.

BFF – Best friend fell.

BTW – Bring the wheelchair.

BYOT – Bring your own teeth.

FWIW – Forgot where I was.

GGPBL – Gotta go, pacemaker battery low.

GHA – Got heartburn again

IMHAO – Is my hearing aid on?

LMDO – Laughing my dentures out.

OMMR – On my massage recliner.

ROTFLACGU – Rolling on the floor laughing and can’t get up.

TTML – Talk to me louder!


Now here are some things that boys from about 5-12 years old know automatically:

— A king-size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2,000 square foot house 4 inches deep.

— If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.

— A 3-year-old boy’s voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

— You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit, but the fan can hit a baseball a long way.

— The glass in windows, even double pane, doesn’t stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.

— When you hear the toilet flush and the words “Uh Oh” at the same time, it’s already too late.

— Certain Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a 4-year-old boy.

— Super glue is forever.

— Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.

— Always look in the oven before you turn it on. Plastic toys do not like ovens.

— The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy but it will a cat.

— Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.


We have covered the old-time sayings, the modern texting language and have ended this English lesson with the thoughts of young boys and how it might be good for parents to be in the know on these, too. A dizzy cat throwing up twice its body weight is not fun.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is a staff writer and food editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at