A word here, a word there, everywhere a word word. And it’s gone.

My first-born brother e-mailed me what turned out to be an epiphanous “meme” yesterday on how rapidly words can fade into antiquity.

The anonymous writer of the piece started off somewhat wistfully as to how certain automotive terms nowadays requires translation by someone over age 50. He — I am assuming the writer is a male — mentions “fender skirts.” Hmm, well that might require someone more than 55 perhaps.

Fender skirts are, of course, pieces of automotive body work which cover usually the top portion of a car’s rear tires. I say usually because there are front fender skirts but you hardly see them anymore. Well, you don’t see them on the rear either. That’s what I was saying! Some show and tell here in a photo of a detachable rear fender skirt on a ’69 Buick Electra 225 a.k.a. “Deuce and a quarter.”

Gonna find me a Deuce and a Quarter and drive like I had good sense! Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz.. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The writer went on to terms that have all but disappeared:

Steering knob a.k.a. suicide knob.

–Continental kits which had a bumper extension and spare tire cover that would magically turn your car into a Lincoln Continental. Good luck with that.

–Clutch. The word is now used to excess in sports, especially baseball, such as a “clutch hitter.” That is not to be confused with a “clutch rider.” Don’t ride the clutch, you’ll wear it out, for sure!

–Dimmer switch. This as opposed to a lighter switch. Okay, that’s really going to screw with someone’s mind who doesn’t know what I am talking about. Yes, you had a metal button on the left side of the floorboard that you had to tap with your foot to make the car’s lights dim. I swear! I don’t have the imagination to make something like that up.

Okay, here is a bonus to mess with your head. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I used to drive fire trucks that weren’t equipped with electric sirens — the sirens you hear that make wailing, yelping and other odd noises these days on emergency vehicles. We had old-school “mechanical sirens” (turn up the volume) which can still occasionally be heard these days, especially on fire trucks. These loud warning signals were set off by tapping one’s foot on a switch identical to the dimmer switch, only it was located by the right foot. I think. It’s been so long. Sucker was loud though and I was cruel enough to use them at 2 o’clock in the morning because if I wasn’t sleeping, no one else should be sleeping. What a guy.

–Speaking of clutch — this is my own — how many of you out there ever drove a 3-speed on the column? A what’s-that-on-the-where? This was also called a “Three on the Tree” although not by me. I’m a poet but don’t know it but my feet show it. They’re Long fellas.

I learned to drive on a 3-speed column shifter, first in my parent’s ’65 Ford pickup and subsequently their 1972 Dodge pickup. Pull in and up for reverse, in and down for 1st gear, out and up for second and straight down for third. Oh, you’re supposed to engage the clutch or you’ll produce a very unpleasant sound. My first car, a Ford Pinto and all but two of the subsequent 10 cars I have owned have been equipped with manual transmissions operated by floor shifts. I think the majority were 5-speed transmissions, but some like the Pinto’s “SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic were 4-speeds. I imagine driving might seem complicated as hell, and I did have a bit of trouble at first learning to drive fire trucks with 5-speed, high-low, split shifts requiring double clutching. By now kiddos, I imagine your mind has achieved meltdown since you’ve only had to put the car into “D” and drive all your life.

Perhaps my Pinto had a SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic but it didn't come with one of these.

The writer of the meme continued with words that evoke cultural change such as “bra” instead of “Double-barrel slingshot.” I didn’t say that. Or someone was in a “family way,” even they might be a proton short of a nuclear family.

I really enjoyed and was, at the same time, fascinated with what was just a simple essay about words someone knew growing up and were suddenly gone. I’ve been there. Lake pipes? Bong. Pong. Ding-dong, Avon calling.

When you look up a word in a dictionary — it used to be “the” dictionary — it may be marked as archaic but who knows if the word is archaic wherever it is you plan to fly tomorrow? Do you plan to find a bar when you hit town? Maybe someone will tell you about a good “gin mill” or a “pub” or a “tavern” or “watering hole.” Then after you go to the “cafe” or “restaurant” or “deli” and get you a good “sub” or “grinder” or “gyro” or “hoagie” then perhaps you might want to catch a band at the local “nightclub” or “supper club” or “cabaret” or “honky tonk.” Although if you go for the latter, don’t expect to enter a building full of white folks playing a hand of knock rummy.

I suppose some kind of snappy closing is in order but I am getting hungry and I lack a “gentleman’s gentleman” to serve me my “TV dinner.” Don’t worry, I won’t eat my TV.


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