20 Once-Popular Phrases Older People Know and Use, but No One Else Understands

Slang gets added to our daily language as time goes on. For example, Gen Z have terms like “sksksk,” “snacc,” “rizz,” “and I oop,” which older people have no idea of; in the same way, older generations have their own sayings and slang we don’t fully understand. If you’re interested in learning more about these once-popular phrases, read on to discover the top 20 sayings that youngsters might not be familiar with today!

“Mind Your PS and Qs.”

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Nowadays, this phrase generally refers to one minding what they say or do, or, in general, minding one’s manners. However, it’s also believed that this originally stood for “mind your pints and quarts.” This was the advice given to bar or innkeepers to keep a proper tally of customers’ drinks.

“You’re a Real Whippersnapper!”

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This is an idiom that isn’t as commonly used today as it was before. It’s used to refer to someone young, lively, energetic, or cheeky. Usually, this phrase is said with a hint of affection or amusement and isn’t used as something derogatory.

“Sock It to Me.”

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Though some people think this phrase has a sexual connotation, it’s usually not the case. To sock someone can mean to beat someone up or hit them. However, if you say, “Sock it to me,” you’re referring to an idiom that simply means speaking directly or strongly to leave a big impression. It could also be used when asking or encouraging someone to deliver a joke or a punchline.

“Close, but No Cigar.”

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This phrase is similar to the saying, “So close yet so far,” because it usually means being short of success. Reader’s Digest explains, “The expression, ‘Close but no cigar,’ means that a person fell slightly short of a successful outcome and therefore gets no reward.” This particular saying originated from the time when fairs or carnivals would give out cigars as prizes.

“Catch You on the Flip Side.”

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Nowadays, you probably wouldn’t hear anyone telling you this phrase. However, you’d be surprised that it actually means something pretty common and something that we usually say on a day-to-day basis. After all, “catch you on the flip side” means “see you later” or “see you tomorrow” in today’s slang.

“Stop Dipping in My Kool-Aid!”

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If someone keeps putting their nose in your business, then in the olden days, you’d probably tell them, “Stop dipping in my Kool-Aid!” Today, we use the much more direct translation, which is simply saying, “Leave me alone,” or “Stop being so nosy!”

“Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels.”

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This phrase is equivalent to a word of caution. Simply put, it reminds someone to be cautious when dealing with something. AP News shares, “This saying goes back to 1915 and probably began simply as a humorous warning to country folk going to the city not to be taken in by city slickers trying to pay them off with wooden nickels.”

“Wig Chop.”

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Another slang that was pretty popular in the mid to late-’90s was “wig chop.” This referred to either getting a haircut or acknowledging someone’s drastic change in appearance—in hairstyle or overall look.

“Heavens to Betsy!”

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An old-fashioned, less popular version of “Heaven’s sake” is “Heavens to Betsy!” It began as a euphemism for what people could consider blasphemous and is mainly used to express joy, surprise, or even annoyance.

“Hang Loose.”

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To “hang loose” is to relax or have an easygoing attitude. Given its meaning, it’s no surprise that this phrase originated from the laid-back surf culture in Hawaii. A more physical manifestation of this phrase is the shaka. It’s a hand gesture used in Hawaii which involves extending the pinky and thumb with the other fingers curled down.

“Word From the Bird.”

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“Word from the bird” refers to the latest news or information. Using this term also gives an air of reliability that the news came from a trustworthy source, which is why it uses a bird as a metaphor. Per historical accounts, birds, especially pigeons, were seen as effective messengers, even during the First World War. Messages were rolled up and tied to their feet, and the birds delivered the message via air and returned home.

“Bug Out.”

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This phrase is an informal way of telling someone to leave a particular situation. It is often used when facing something threatening, overwhelming, or dangerous. The phrase is also rooted in US military history, with origins dating back to World War II and the Korean War. Preppers Shop UK states, “It seems likely that it comes from the idea of bugs fleeing in a panicked, disorderly way when fleeing a boot, or if their nest is discovered under a rock.”

“What’s on the Boob Tube?”

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“What’s on the boob tube?” means, “What’s on the television?” Without the proper knowledge of the term “boob tube,” though, it will be hard to understand how the phrase came about. The term “boob” is used to refer to people who watched too much television, who, in turn, became dumb or lazy. Then, the term “tube” was used to refer to old television sets with big cathode-ray tubes inside to help show the picture on the screen.

“I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle!”

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This idiom tells people that a particular person is in complete surprise, amazement, or disbelief. In many ways, it could be equated to the phrase, “When pigs fly.” “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” can also be used to show or acknowledge the impossibility of a situation.

“Don’t Flip Your Wig!”

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When someone is facing a situation that might cause them to overreact or lose their temper, people around them would have to remind them not to “flip their wig.” This phrase was taken from the idea that someone could be so agitated or frustrated that they lose control or composure, leading to them figuratively “flipping” their wigs.

“Chrome Dome.”

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“Chrome dome” is one of the funnier slang or metaphors used before. It’s a humorous way to refer to someone who’s completely bald or someone who has just gotten their head shaved. Like a chrome ball, a head that’s been shaved could have a shiny scalp; therefore, a bald person’s head is like a chrome ball or dome.

“Getting Fried.”

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“Getting fried” is an old phrase that has two meanings today. On the one hand, it has a more literal definition, referring to someone experiencing the harmful effects of exposure to too much sun—sunburn. On the other hand, it could also refer to being burned out, overly exhausted, or overwhelmed. However, in the olden days, this would usually be used to describe someone high on drugs or alcohol.

“Come On, Snake; Let’s Rattle!”

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This phrase could mean one of two things, and it could be positive or negative, depending on the tone used. On a positive note, this phrase could be used when inviting a girl to dance. However, on the flip side, if you use a negative or demeaning tone, it’s more like you’re asking someone to fight with you. However, most would usually think of the more negative definition when this phrase is said because of the imagery of a snake rattling its tail before it strikes.

“Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch.”

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This phrase was commonly used to change a topic or transition from one point to another during a conversation or story. People believe this saying or phrase originated from old Western movies and dramas, as the plot would usually cut away from all the action so they could show what was happening at the ranch. In today’s world, this phrase isn’t used as often, but when it is, it’s used to return to the topic at hand after being interrupted or distracted.

“What’s Your Bag?”

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One of the easiest or most casual ways of starting a conversation is to ask someone what they’re interested in. In the olden days, they’d usually do this by asking, “What’s your bag?” This translates to something along the lines of “What are you into?” In more ways than one, this can be someone’s way to ask about another’s likes, dislikes, or hobbies.

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Author: Karen Danao


Karen is a writer and also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, she is someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics she loves writing about! However, her true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.