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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

All's swell that ends well

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

"Thou Swell," a lovely Rodgers and Hart tune born on Broadway, has an antiquated title.

"Thou" is not a word we encounter much these days except in older editions of the Bible or in Shakespeare plays and sonnets.

But the antiquity of "Thou" is only the half of it. "Swell," as well, belongs on the list of words from a different world.

Nowadays no one ever says "swell" any more. Understandably, if your legs swell after sitting or standing too long, "swell" is an acceptable verb but we no longer - according to the Language Police - use "swell" as an adjective or adverb. For example, we would not say a lady's pretty legs look "swell," like Betty Grable's.

"Who's Betty Grable?" a millennial may ask.

(I won't respond to that. Go to Google.)

What got me started on this swell topic was an email message noting outdated words, and "swell" made the list.

Another outdated word is "jalopy,' referring to an extremely old car. Teen-agers, back in my day, loved those cute, quaint, vintage vehicles. They had character. One of my classmates drove one to Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown every day with four fellow classmates. Peering with envy from the windows of boring school buses, other classmates agreed, "Now that's the way to go to school."

The lucky owner painted stars all over her jalopy, along with the song title, "Stardust."

Gee whiz, that was one swell jalopy.

While I knew what a jalopy was, I was not familiar with a jitney. Occasionally my elders would mention riding in a jitney, and I wondered if that was another word for jalopy.

Hear ye, hear ye: A jitney is a taxi. It could be a car or a bus, but - whatever - it carries passengers for a fee. The jitney business, according to my elders, boomed in the Baytown area when Humble Oil & Refining Co. workers needed transportation to and from the refinery.

Unlike "Thou Swell," from a song, numerous catch phrases from movie scripts seem to catch on permanently - classic expressions such as "Here's looking at you kid" and "Round up the usual suspects," from "Casablanca," and "We don't need no stinkin' badges," from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

Our elementary school crowd had a particular favorite: "I'll be a monkey's uncle," uttered by Bob Hope in "Road to Morocco." On the school playground we laughed our little heads off every time someone repeated that one-liner. Granted, it didn't take much to make us laugh.

Because we kids weren't allowed to cuss, Clark Gable's closing statement in "Gone with the Wind" came in handy. When we declared, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," we quickly explained we were only repeating what Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara. Golly bum, we would never say "damn" strictly on our own.

In regard to the D word, I'm reminded of its connection to Yankees - specifically, the musical "Damn Yankees." Recently I was informed by the Politically Correct Police that the word "Yankee" is racist and we shouldn't say it, especially with the damn word.

Wut?

Will "Damn Yankees" be converted to "Dang Northerners?"

Should we call the baseball team, "The New Yorkers?"

And should the song, "Yankee Doodle Dandy," be changed to "North of the Mason-Dixon Line Doodle Dandy?"

In the oldest sense of the word, that would not be swell.


Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" May 14, 2016 columns

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