Musing from the Hill, Oct. 1, 2015
We recently celebrated grandparents’ day. I often wonder how many grandchildren today benefit from the counsel and the family values imparted to them by grandparents or great-grandparents and close-by relatives. Years ago, one of my numerous grandchildren, who attended grade school in Colorado, told me she was the only child in her class whose parents or grandparents had never been divorced. I do not condemn divorce (sometimes it is the best solution for many different reasons). In my school years I knew only one person whose parents were divorced. By the end of my schooling, divorce was not uncommon. How quickly time changes our lives.
Terminology from the time of our grandparents is still in use today, although the meaning may have changed or been lost. Do you know the origin of the term “turn pike”?
In New Jersey, when I was young, we called two well-used roads to the Jersey beaches the White Horse Pike and the Black Horse Pike. Before the Jersey Turn Pike or Throughway was built, it was difficult for “over-the-mountain men” to make their way to the more heavily populated coasts or lowlands where paved roads were common. We called them “black tops.” It was almost impossible to drive a flock of sheep of herd of turkeys through mountain passes and forests to markets on the well-settled coasts. From hence came privately owned “pikes.” In order to use a privately maintained pass over the mountains, which was blocked by a pike on a turn stile, passage was paid and the pike was turned, thus opening the path for use. Fees varied for a wagon, a horse etc. That is the meaning behind the term “turn pike,” a name used hundreds of years ago and still in use today.
When I was a child, we often traveled the paths over the mountains, which eventually became the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We often saw thousands of migrating monarch butterflies. I had recently heard that on the monarch population has decreased significantly due to the loss of their habitat. Monarch butterflies frequently lay their legs on the milk weed plants, from which they hatch and fed.
We are familiar with the term “bootlegger.” Over-the-mountain men, were constantly besieged by “the law.” Stills were common and well hidden as they made liquor from corn or whatever! They had no way to drag corn over difficult mountain passes — it was easier to make and transport liquor (if one could avoid the law. They put the liquor into bottles, which they stuffed inside their boots and paid no taxes. From hence came the term “bootlegger.” Goodnight rum runners, speak easy prohibition.
Another old term still used today is “Sleep tight, hope the bed bugs don’t bite.” “Tight” refers to the ropes which used to hold the makeshift mattresses in place. If the ropes did not “hold tight” the occupants often fell to the floor. Unfortunately nightly news informs us bed bugs are returning — even to the best motels.
“Saved by the bell” and “dead ringer” derive from the same place. Many told me they thought the first in some way referred to school bells. Wrong. Long ago, it was often difficult to determine if a person really was dead. They would tie a string to a person’s finger when they were buried and the string would be tied to a bell above ground. There would always be someone in the grave yard just in case, thus, “dead ringer.”
The phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” harkens back to Saturday bath nights. After father, mother and children took their turns in the same bath water, the baby would be the last. So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
The term “painted lady” was used to describe women, who often in the old West, served the general public. Paint meaning make-up. This was usually the only job open to them when the west was being settled; women were few and far between.
The old terminology stills lingers on in one form or another. We use them every day never knowing from whence they came.