AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER:
our guest is author Ralph Keyes (kize). His newest book about language
has a mouthful of a title.
RS: It's called "I Love It When You
Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the
Forgotten Origins of American Speech."
AA: "'Double whammy' and 'drop a dime.' Let's start with double whammy. What does that mean exactly?"
KEYES: "Well, this goes back to the old comic strip 'Li'l Abner' which
put an amazing number of retro terms into our conversation. And Evil
Eye Fleegle was a notorious hoodlum from Brooklyn in 'Li'l Abner,' and
Evil Eye Fleegle would point one finger at someone that he wanted to
demolish and cast his evil eye on that person and lay them low.
when Evil Eye Fleegle decided to put both of his eyes on a person or
object and point two fingers, this could stop a rushing locomotive or
topple a skyscraper. And this was a double whammy. And the only person
who could withstand not just a single whammy but a double whammy was
Mammy Yokum, Li'l Abner Yokum's wizened old mother who smoked a corncob
pipe. And she would whirl and spin and totter around, but she was still
standing when Evil Eye Fleegle tried to lay her low with a double
RS: "So a double whammy today would mean?"
KEYES: "Anything where two things lay you low. Let's say somebody
decides to run for office and it turns out they have a residency
problem and they're not old enough. That's a double whammy.
RS: "Or you could have the flu and other medical complications -- "
RALPH KEYES: "Sure."
RS: "at the same time. So you would be hit by a double whammy. What was the second ... "
AA: "It was drop a dime."
KEYES: "Drop a dime. Now this one is really problematic for kids who
have grown up with cell phones because they don't recall, as you and I
may, the glorious golden era of telephone booths. Making a call from a
public telephone in a phone booth usually cost a dime. And so when we
wanted to squeal on someone, to be a whistleblower and call the cops
from a phone that couldn't be traced or where people couldn't see us,
we would go into a phone booth, put a dime in and call the police. This
is called dropping a dime."
RS: "Is it something that is still in use today?"
KEYES: "Well, the phrase is. We still talk about dropping a dime, to
say that we're reporting someone, and then we become a dime dropper.
But gosh, how many public phones are there out there anymore?"
RS: "Not many."
AA: "And they certainly cost more than a dime now. I think they're like fifty cents."
RALPH KEYES: "That's for sure."
AA: "You use the term in here, you talk about some all-American terms and one of them is 'Ozzie and Harriet.'"
RALPH KEYES: "Yeah."
AA: "Why don't you explain to people who maybe aren't familiar with old American television."
KEYES: "Well, this is a show from the fifties where Ozzie Nelson and
Harriet Nelson ran what was considered to be the ideal American family
in 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.'"
AA: "And they were real people, weren't they?"
RALPH KEYES: "Yeah, they were actually married to each other."
AA: "Right. And then they were also actors. But it wasn't like what we would today call -- "
RS: "And their kids were part of the ... they were a real American family."
ANNOUNCER: "And now, Hotpoint presents America's favorite family
comedy, 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' starring the entire
OZZIE: "Where's Rick?"
DAVID: "Well, he was with me a minute ago."
RICKY NELSON: "I'm coming."
OZZIE: "Come on, breakfast is just about ready."
AA: "Today we'd say it would be like a reality show, but it wasn't a reality show."
RS: "No, it was all scripted."
AA: "It was scripted."
KEYES: "And in fact it was a fantasy show because people thought 'Oh,
Ozzie and Harriet, that's the way a family ought to be.' And they still
talk about that. You know, an 'Ozzie and Harriet' type of family where
everything goes smoothly and the dad wears a cardigan sweater and the
mom has an apron on and she's always bustling through the kitchen door
with a nice plate of warm brownies."
AA: Stay tuned next week for more of our conversation with Ralph Keyes, author of the new book "I Love It When You Talk Retro."
And that's WORDMASTER for this week. To learn more about American
English, go to voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne