Middle age plus 6/5

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Trying to keep up with modern language is a full time job. Words take on different meanings as the years progress, and slang phrases can be changed almost from day to day. A conversation with a youth sometimes needs an interpreter for both sides to get the message. The older generation had its share of sayings and expressions that may still be used today, but the original meaning has been lost. Young people can't even understand the meaning. Recently I heard a person being described as being "tough as whit leather". When I asked for a definition I found that it was really whet leather. This came from the process of sharpening razors on a razorstrop. (And if you don't know what a razorstrop is, it was two pieces of leather fastened together, one side was rough and the other smooth. The rough side was used first and then the finishing touches were done on the smooth side. Some mischievous youngsters might remember another use for a razorstrop also.) There was also a whetstone for sharpening tools and knives. I heard another conversation about a woman giving a lick and a promise to a job. I wondered what licking something (thinking of using a tongue) had to do with doing a job half way. Joe Bush told me that it came from a lumbering term. You gave a tree a lick with your ax to cut it down. If you put it off for another day, you gave it one lick, and promised yourself to come finish it later. That use of the word 'lick' fits in with threatening to give children a 'licking' if they don't behave. Which brought up the term, "she'll have to lick her calf over", which refers to a cow who cleans her calf with her tongue. When she didn't do a complete job or the calf got dirty again, she had to lick it another time. But I don't care a lick about that right now because we don't have any cows and I always do everything correctly! That statement is hard to believe. Maybe it is as hard as carrying a bedtick full of BB shot. Or maybe as hard as eating soup with a knitting needle. A horse that wouldn't work was called 'cold shouldered'. This meant he wouldn't put his shoulder against the harness to pull his share of the load. Maybe this has been altered through the years to the cold shoulder we give a person we are not welcoming into our circle. Perhaps the position of the body turned away from the outsider is similar to the way a lazy horse would position itself to avoid having the full weight of a load. I have seen mothers discipline a child with a 'look that would sour milk' when a more active or vocal discipline wasn't possible. Many old terms have to do with farming chores or farm animals. A dairy farmer friend of ours used a term when he didn't think another person would agree to an idea. He would say, "I don't think he will stand still for that". He was using the idea that you had to get a cow trained to stand still so that you could milk her. My husband was explaining how his home was heated when he was a child in the Ozarks. He said that a longer backlog was put at the back of the fireplace to burn for a long time, while shorter, smaller pieces were put in front for a hotter blaze. Does this translate into the pile of stuff on the back of my desk that needs to be done?