“She looks like death hotted up.”
“Where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling.”
“Communism is a very good idea but it doesn’t work.”
Do any of these sayings sound familiar to you? These are examples of the sort of expressions I heard every day as a child from my mother and grandmother. Many of them underpinned a mindset which was very different to the way we view things now. Nobody in 2013 could get away with something as ill-thought out as the third one above, but this saying (or something like it) was voiced a lot in the 1960s and 1970s.
At the time these forms of words were dropping into my little ears, I supposed that people had always said these things and always would do, and, moreover, the same expressions were being used the world over. Alas, times moved on and, without my realising it, many of these colourful expressions fell into disuse, although some still carry on. Language is a living thing. Other evocative turns of phrase have appeared eg ‘Mother of Battles’, which came about as a bad translation of something Saddam Hussein said in Arabic.
This matters a lot to writers. If you are creating a story set in another age, you need to get a handle on phrases and expressions used at that time. Some don’t, even (sometimes I think particularly) the bigger names. Not only does using the right sayings give your story the right ‘feel’, but it helps anchor characters’ thought processes into the age in which the story is set. So, can you look up such things? In books? On the internet. No. There are dictionaries of slang and also many websites which list period slang, as well as regional slang, but, as far as I can see, no databases of English sayings listed according to era or generation.
On the other hand, you may know different. If so, please let us know.
In the meantime, I’m starting to build my own knowledge of knowledge base of English sayings. Here are the few I’ve collected so far. (Most are self-explanatory, but explanations are required where they might be required.)
On the Weather
“It’s looking a bit black over Bill’s mothers.” (It’s going to rain.)
Dragged through a hedge backwards. (Very untidy.)
Where there’s muck, there’s brass.
I would love to hear about the expressions you grew up with. I’m not interested in Biblical, political or literary quotes, or bits of songs, but what ordinary people said to each other, mother to daughter, father to son. Please send me your sayings, with a note about the (approximate) decade in which you heard it and where (country, region).