Emily Jaycox editorial

COLUMN: Expressions of the times

I’ve caught myself lately answering, “Oh, fair-to-middlin’” when people ask me how I’m doing.

Problem is, nobody seems to know what that means, and it slowly dawns on me each time it slips that it’s likely not, nor ever was, a common expression. The already awkward moment then becomes just a little more unbearable as I then have to explain what the heck I’m trying to say.

(At least I find it awkward — I’m always caught between the impulses of being brutally honest or repeating a socially accepted nicety such as “I’m good, or “just fine.”)

See, fair-to-middlin’ is something my Mom used to say all the time, and it means you’re doing somewhere in the middle. Trouble is, she used to say it in an Irish accent, which I also seem to have picked up, which really gets people confused.

To this day, I have no idea if it’s an expression they used to say “Back in the Olden Days” (there’s another one) or just something unique to my dear mother.

She had other, ‘lovely’ expressions that I refuse to perpetuate to the next generation, such as “You’re a pot-licker” or “You ought to be horse-drawn and quartered.”

She was stunned to learn my siblings and I had taken those sayings literally. She had no idea; to her, they were just mild, innocent expressions of frustration.

I bet we could all come up with some gems of colloquial expressions or idioms we grew up with. For better or for worse, such expressions make up a part of who we are.

It makes me wonder what expressions this generation may be indelibly marked with, that will stay with them, far after this current pandemic is finally over.

There are certainly terms that have become commonplace that were unheard of pre-COVID-19, such as “social distancing,” or “self-isolating,” and it’s probably been a few decades since the phrase “unprecedented times” entered into casual conversation.

Kids are being taught to wash their hands for 20 seconds or to sing the alphabet song once through, or being reminded to wear masks into stores or on the school bus. Although these may not turn into catchy phrases that will follow them into adulthood, they are certainly learning habits and behaviours that may be hard to let go of, once this is all over, for good or bad.

The good news is, kids are versatile. If they ever stopped, they’ll learn to hug openly again, though they may even miss feeling like superheroes wearing masks out in public.

There are some habits I wouldn’t mind if they continued. Although everyone hopes for an end to this pandemic and all the lock downs and extreme public health measures along with it, people being more conscious of washing their hands and preventing the spread of germs has been a good thing.

For now, I guess we’ll just go on doing the best we can to “Keep Calm and Carry On” (first coined in 1939 as Britain prepared for war and became popular again in 2008).

What are some expressions you grew up with or are hearing more of now?