Just For Fun: Do You Know These “Everyday Holdovers”?

Will Newman

We’re going to have fun today, venturing into one of my favorite subjects: Language.

Katie Yeakle inspired today’s article with a phrase in an email. Even though it’s a common expression, it’s no longer applicable in 21st century America as it was originally used.

I’ll get to that phrase in just a few minutes. But it spurred me to talk about what I call “everyday holdovers.” Most of us over age 25 use these expressions in our everyday life. But they come from technology or activities that have long disappeared from the scene.

Let’s say you’re calling a friend. How do you start the call? You dial her. Back in the day, we stuck a finger in the circular dial on the phone and spun it. Remember those days?

When finished, you hang up. You remember when phones had handsets separate from the base? To end the call, we stuck the handset on the base. But even that expression is a holdover from the much earlier days when phones hung on the wall.

Your friend gave you some news in the call that just scorched you. So you head to the gym to blow off steam. This expression comes from the days of steam locomotives. If pressure in their boilers wasn’t vented through a release valve — blowing off steam — the boiler could explode.

After blowing off steam, you go to a store. When you’re done, the cashier rings up your purchase.

Cash registers used to have little bells. Cashiers would enter the price of each item on a set of mechanical levers, when they pressed the button to get the total, the total price would pop up in a window and the bell would ring.

When you get to your car, it’s brutally hot inside. You roll down the window. I had a friend who owned a 1951 Buick. The window crank lowered and raised the window in three quick turns, faster than any modern electric window. Ah, the good old days.

Once home, you tell your partner about the great bargains you got. And you keep on until you’re told “you sound like a broken record.” Remember the days when a scratch in a record meant you’d hear the same three notes over and over and over?

After ignoring your partner, you get on your computer to send your daughter an email about your great bargains. You also “CC” your cousin. “CC” comes from “carbon copy.” Remember carbon paper? I even remember when carbon paper smudged your fingers if you didn’t handle it carefully.

All told, it’s been a hard day. As you settle in for a quiet evening, your partner — possibly sorry for the broken record comment — says you look like you’ve been put through the wringer.

I remember the old wringer washing machines where this holdover originated. I also remember when, as a five-year-old, I decided to help my mother with the laundry. She’d gone to answer the phone. I took an undershirt from the tub and put it in the wringer … along with two-thirds of my arm!

So, this bring us to what Katie said to inspire today’s article. She’d sent a note about an Inside AWAI webinar she and Rebecca Matter are giving about “Getting Your Foot in the Door with Potential Clients.”

The everyday holdover in Katie’s message? “Get your foot in the door.” This goes back to the days of door-to-door salesmen who’d slip a foot between the door and jamb to keep the door from being slammed in their faces.

I’d love to hear “everyday holdovers” you use. Please let us know about them by commenting below.

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Published: August 11, 2016

21 Responses to “Just For Fun: Do You Know These “Everyday Holdovers”?”

  1. I loved your musings today Will. Of course our daily dialogue is CHALK FULL of "everyday holdovers". As a veteran English language instructor, I always loved teaching idioms. They can be really fun and are always useful.

    Guest (Lee Nourse)

  2. Hello Will, again, More and more these days I hear the expression "See you later". This I have to assume is a worldwide expression now, yet most times you hear it, as two complete strangers part, usually never to see each other again, so a totally irrelevant farewell.
    Where do all these anecdotes originate from and why?


  3. A common phrase that I never use, "rule of thumb".

    Guest (DNovander)

  4. I wrote a song about holdovers, and how the phrase "45 Single" would be interpreted now in the mindset of internet dating.

    and yes, I use holdovers all the time.

    Guest (cyndisam)

  5. How about gullywasher? That's a doozie!

    Guest (Clare Bills)

  6. Put him through the "wringer"

    Don't put the cart before the horse


  7. Sorry you had one of those, how about "I'll use the phone booth.


  8. Geez, Will! You've made me feel old! (and I'm not, really.)
    My mom had a wringer washing machine until I was 10. That's when we moved into a house with an "electric contraption" (her words).
    Our only rotary phone hung on the kitchen wall. ... Years later, in 1991, I was most amused when my parents bought a house with a rotary phone on the wall! In the bathroom, no less. I sometimes used it just because I could.
    Scratched records, roll-down windows, and carbon paper bring back memories, too. :)


  9. Hi Will,

    How about having enough room to swing a cat? BTW we seem to have much in common. Besides being gentlemen of a certain age, and wishing to help my mother any way I could, I too had a wringer washer "massage" my arm. Terrifying!

    Guest (Joe Reynolds)

  10. In old England, burial space was scarce; so they would dig up the coffins, empty them and reuse the grave. Approx. 1 in 25 excavated coffins had scratch marks on the inside - they were burying people alive! They began tying a string to the wrist of each of the (alleged) deceased, pulling it through and tying it to a bell. Someone would sit in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell", or could be considered a "dead ringer".

    Guest (Tiger2-4-6)

  11. There are so many of these idioms - some have survived for hundreds of years. One I'm guilty of using is "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." In the middle ages, the family's once a month bath was taken in the same large tub. Bathing was determined chronologically - oldest first. So dad, mom and kids bathed in age order. As you can imagine, the water was filthy by the time the youngest had a turn. The water was pitched out the back door;hence,"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

    Guest (Kathy Moll)

  12. "Like nails on a chalkboard." My kids have only seen - and heard - white boards. Now how do we describe that sensation?

    Lee R

  13. I use some of my favorite holdovers, when volunteering in the "Print Shop" at our local historical museum. (It's a hand-set letterpress shop). Every child, and most adults, appreciate hearing about 1.)"Upper-case and lower-case letters"-seperate cases of lead type, placed on a stand, with capital letters on top. 2.)"Cut to the chase"-removing all hand-set type in a steel press frame (the "chase"). 3.)"Mind your p's and q's"-because young apprentices could easily mix up the reversed lead letters!

    Guest (Randall S)

  14. Hoe about this: "fair to middlin" in response to the inquiry how are you.

    Richard H

  15. How about going "all around Robin Hood's barn" when you're trying to get something done. Having a rough day and "looking like something the cat dragged in." Having a heated discussion with people in total agreement is like "preaching to the choir."

    Karole Hough

  16. Being off-grid and unwilling to discard what still works, we and our daughter still use many "outdated" devices, including a wringer. We "light the stove" with a match, not a pilot. Our 1997 truck has crank windows. I just heard a newscaster refer to a "steam roller" paving roller.) Some people still say "steam shovel" (excavator.)A less common phrase I use myself (after having helped my brother in his print shop) is "Don't pie the type." (If you dropped movable type, it would get scrambled.)

    [FROM WILL: My father-in-law was a printer. I remember his using this phrase around his house periodically. Thank you.]

    R M

  17. One of my favorites is frog-strangler for a serious rain storm.

    [FROM WILL: I still hear this where I live. Of course, I live here we still hear frogs at night.]

    Guest (Pastor MB)

  18. Gone are the days we used VCR's and "taped the program" For now, we are using DVR's provided by our local cable company, until they come up with a better way to do it. But, we still ask one another, "Did you tape the program?"

    Guest (Roberta T)

  19. The other day while fixing dinner, I thought about the "onion-skin" paper that we used to type important documents. I asked my 34 year old nephew if he knew what "onion-skin" paper was and he had no idea.

    [FROM WILL: FLASH BACK! I forgot about onion skin paper and its cousin erasable (corrasable) typing paper.]

    Guest (Joyce F)

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