Hospital corners

I almost started to write an earnest post this morning, but fortunately I came to my senses and did no such thing.  You come here for sweetness and light and ha-ha-ha-ha after all – or I do, at any rate.  Things in the news rarely insert themselves.

Having got up very early this morning, about 4.30 (and I’d been awake for ages), I was tired enough to go back to bed a couple of hours later and then slept in – it was after 9 when I got up.  As I came in here clutching my breakfast (dry toast and black tea, darlings, I’m so dull), I muttered “I’m all behind!” and found myself thinking “like a cow’s tail.”  And that reminded me of a conversation I had with Pam and Peter about expressions that used to be in common use and now are rarely if ever heard.  Old saws, clichés, common expressions – I think that many of them have been forgotten or at least not passed on to younger people, in some cases superseded by jargon that lasts a few years and vanishes again.

Advice to take your coat off indoors, or else when you leave you “won’t feel the benefit,” for example. Isn’t that a brilliant one?  It always did amuse me, but I hardly ever hear it now.  When was the last time we referred to a baker’s dozen?  I wonder if children now have any idea what that is.  We mostly use teabags, so ‘one for each person and one for the pot” has gone by the board – well, teapots have too, come to that.  Although mind you, now many of us make coffee rather than use instant, I suppose the expression could cross over to that, not that it has.  Interesting that we can be bothered to dispose of coffee grounds but that tea leaves are too much trouble….having said which, I’ve several tins with loose tea in, but that’s because I like different sorts of tea.  I’m afraid I don’t bother when it comes to straightforward builders’ tea.  And when it’s just for me, I only occasionally use a pot, even though it tastes better poured from a pot because the leaves have swirled around and released more flavour, I usually put them in a one-cup infuser.

Then there are words and phrases that come from books, have been used through several generations but probably have pretty well vanished.  Most of those from the reliable old-stagers, the Bible and Shakespeare come into that, despite Mr Gove’s efforts to rekindle reading of the Authorised Version by having one put in every school.  But there are also everyday words with a literary background, such as gamp for an umbrella, which you never hear now (well, I wouldn’t put it past the Sage.  He still calls a coach a charabanc).  Or words from history – my mother’s grandfather referred to a policeman as a peeler, she herself said bobby.  Apart from the occasional reference in a harking-back newspaper to ‘bobbies on the beat,’ that’s about gone unless you’re well over 50.

Oh darlings, help me out here.  I could think of loads of examples earlier on, but now my mind is quite empty of thought.  What do you think?

27 comments on “Hospital corners

  1. martina

    It is one for the guest, one for me, one for the pot here whether bags or loose tea is used. Never heard of a gamp or charabanc. How did those words originate?

  2. luckyzmom

    I think the full moon has made you nostalgic.

    Thank you for helping me realize that I don’t use loose tea anymore. And that concerns me because I have been trying to reduce our packaging trash. I will be looking to purchase loose tea again.

  3. Z

    A gamp is an umbrella, called after Sarey Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit (Dickens, of course), who carried a large black one. A charabanc is from French – char à bancs, cart with benches, the precursor of a coach. The word hasn’t been used by most people in England for about the last fifty years.

    Absolutely, AQ!

    Loose tea does taste better, LZM.

    John, I thought that your comments would be published once you’d filled in the wv, but they’re still going to the spam folder. I’m so sorry, I’ve looked at all my settings and I can’t see any way of verifying them permanently. When I get email notification that you’ve left a comment, I’ll go and okay it as soon as I can. Is Bill’s mother a family saying or a local one?

  4. 63mago

    “Charabanc” is translated as Kremser – I doubt that any of the young people around me would know what that is. I love to use words like “Mietdroschke” (taxi, cab) or call a shop a Ladenlokal, silly I know.

  5. Tim

    I think it was my grandmother’s cleaning lady, Mrs Troke, who used to say “Lawks a mussy!” and “What some weather!”

  6. Z

    I have a worryingly pedantic way of saying things like ‘Meteorological Office’ and ‘British Telecommunications’ instead of using the shortened versions like any sensible person. But the Sage just hasn’t moved on from the 1950s.

    The weather! ‘Turned out nice again’, ‘raining cats and dogs’, ‘nice weather for ducks’, the list is endless. However many words the Inuits are supposed to have for snow, we’ve got at least as many for rain. I like “what some weather’ though, and may well adopt it.

  7. Z

    I googled it (not that I use Google any more for googling since they *simplified* their information gathering) and there’s a suggestion that it harks back to the days of William and Mary – W of Orange, therefore rain clouds from the Continent. A new one to me, thanks!

  8. Z

    If we’re going to go into dialect, Sir B, that’s a fascinating subject. I think that hodmedod is Suffolk for a Norfolk dodman?

  9. martina

    Just remembered “don’t smile, or your face will crack”. Do people still say “do as I say not as I do” and “children should be seen and not heard?” My boss tells his patients “do all things in moderation, including moderation”

  10. Blue Witch

    But, but, but… I still use all of those (with one or two exceptions from examples from commentators). I also use them with children I teach and know… one has to keep the language alive and rich by using it.

    Oh – and – you’re one step behind using ‘policeman’ rather than ‘police officer’ of course.

  11. Z

    Ah no, my great-grandfather called a policeman a peeler, but that was before the days when women were in the police force – he was born in the 1840s. If I had been talking about modern times, I’d have said police officer. I was being precise in a historical context.

    And I didn’t say they are not used at all, nor that people who grew up before, say, the computer age don’t know them. Just that they are leaving the language, not being passed on as everyday expressions.

  12. mig

    We always say ‘you won’t feel the benefit’ because it reminds us of Great-great Grandma Bardsley.
    My Grandmother, who was Dutch, used to say “it’s darker at night than outside”. I never knew if this was a highly idiosyncratic translation or an enigmatic Dutch saying. And she also said “bless you and may all the little devils fly out of you” when we sneezed. (One day I must learn the Dutch for that).
    And I always add one for the pot even with teabags – if I use a pot at all! And bring the pot to the kettle, not the kettle to the pot : )
    Oh and Barney and I have argued for years over the precise meaning of “sufficient unto the day is the evil therof”.

  13. Liz

    Sir Bruin also uses the phrase “it’s black over Will’s mother’s” when the sky is black.

    I came across the word “hodmandod” in a biography of Margaret Cavendish. She was originally from Colchester so either it is East Anglian in origin or it is one of those very old English words we have hung onto in this part of the world (I know Suffolk people who still use the rather 16th century “shew” instead of the modern “showed”).

  14. Z

    Mig, I love you and Barney. The Sage would be quite bemused if I entered into such a discussion.

    Oh, and Queen Anne’s dead – haven’t heard that for a few decades!

    Liz, Dilly is a Norwich girl with the accent to prove it, and she says ‘shew.’ I love it that some local dialect is still alive and kicking. Kenny used to say snew for snowed, but I haven’t heard that from anyone younger.

  15. martina

    “two shakes of a lamb’s ear” is what my Mom says.
    Norwegian Grandma said of procrastinating grandson “He doesn’t ride the horse the day he puts the saddle on”

  16. Z

    Nanny goat’s tail or lamb’s tail, but I haven’t heard either for years. As BW says, we should be promoting these expressions, they’re brilliant! Much more fun than the jargon used now.

  17. Iota

    Re “Charlie’s dead”, meaning your petticoat’s showing, what about “It’s snowing in Paris”, meaning the same thing.

    And I always think of “two shakes of a cat’s whisker” – which is a bit bizarre, because I don’t think cats shake their whiskers.

    How about “raining cats and dogs”. Do people still say that?

    And “jam sandwich” for a police car (from the days when they were white with a horizontal red stripe down the sides).

  18. Z

    Iota, welcome – raining cats and dogs is still well known, but I’m not sure that it’s actually used a lot! Jam sandwich, I’d completely forgotten.

    Dilly read the post and was a bit surprised to find that shew isn’t what everyone says. She took it very well though and is going to talk to her mum about old expressions.

  19. Mike and Ann

    The expression ‘shew’ is still in use in Suffolk, as is ‘snew’. The word sew is pronounced sow everywhere now though, and that makes me wonder if the word new was once a tense of the word now, so that very new would mean very now or modern or up to date. Just waffling – Mike.


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