Tag Archives: vague expressions

On “Back in the Day”

6 May

I’m not an old crank. Really. But last blog about my mom was nice, clearing space for a bit of bitchiness. Top on my current list of things people need to quit saying: “back in the day.” Like other meaningless or vague newish utterances, it seemed to appear everywhere at once, freshly sprung from some anti-literate collective brain. Its irritation quotient for me must be similar to that of the vexing “they” of my childhood to my parents, and all adults. “Where did you hear that?” my parents/other adults would ask.  “They said so,” I/other children would reply. “Who are ‘they?’” “I don’t know. The ones who said it.”

“They” made all kinds of presumably factual and historical pronouncements. “They said so” was the lazy person’s answer to the question, “where did you get that ridiculous idea?”

Because I was a tot, or, really, a preteen, I was lazy. I had no use for newspapers, magazines (other than Seventeen), encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, or any other textual sources of information and knowledge. Don’t misunderstand me. I read, and I read real books (Wuthering Heights, Huckleberry Finn, plays, collections of short fiction). But I couldn’t be bothered to look things up. I didn’t really want to know how to find information in an encyclopedia. I had zero interest in tables of content and indexes.  Generally, I’d meet suggestions that there was anything beyond my puny world view worth considering with a shrug or a “huh?”

This created additional family strife, for we older kids were given the task each week to find out some piece of information (note “given the task,” which is grammatical, simple, and fine, not “tasked,” which is ugly, wrong and lazy), such as the name of one of our state senators, or the governor. I never knew the answer.  Yelling at the dinner table would always result from my not knowing. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I look it up? “HOW DO YOU LOOK THINGS UP?!” my inner voice would yell back. I didn’t even know what that meant, other than using the card catalog at the library. And I didn’t live in a library. Besides, I had many more important things to do during the week than look things up, such as daydream about a boy with long, shiny black hair named Joe.

I’m cutting myself some slack, though, because I was a kid. Kids can get away with being mentally lazy. So much growing and changing is going on in their lives. And as you noticed, when I was a kid it took quite a lot of effort to find information. (Pre-Internet, heck, pre-computers!) I had to go to a place and then figure out how to find the right source of the information, and I was ridiculously shy about talking to strange adults, so asking a librarian was most likely out of the question.

No literate human being in a technologically advanced country with any access to said technology today has any excuse for “back in the day” though. Are you talking about the 1960s? The Eighteenth Century? Your childhood? A decade ago? Before your divorce? Before your marriage? Before the invention of sliced bread? During the time of the big flood?  During your wild years?  Your college days?  Before you ever heard Tom Waits? Before your first kiss? Back when you wore plaid pants with checkered shirts? Since we all live in time and space, there has to be a time frame for your reference, unless it’s all made up. In that case, make one up to go with.

Die, “back in the day.” Give me “the good old days,” those good days before the creation of whatever vexes you now, like the widespread use of meaningless verbalisms caused by mental laziness. Oh yeah, the good old days.


One single day after posting this, I was in the car listening to “Prairie Home Companion.” Twice during a sketch or narrative (he made me forget) Garrison said “back in the days when,” which is fine, a perfectly good expression. But I felt a sinking. I knew what was coming. Yes. He did it. He uttered the dreaded “back in the day.” Right there for all of his admiring listeners to hear and thereby get license to emulate. (Are you reading my blog and then mocking me, oh mighty creator of POEM, the “Professional Organization of English Majors?” I think not. No one much reads my blog, and certainly not you, oh great one.) I’ll get over it (really, life is overflowing with more pressing concerns), but for the moment, I feel like the holdout, the last one who believes and cares, Kevin McCarthy trying desperately, futilely, not to be turned into a pod. Sigh.

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