Don’t Be A “Flat-Leaver”…and Other Expressions from the Past


by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

A few weeks back I was chatting on the phone with my friend, JoAnn, from grade school and we came upon the topic of old time expressions. Growing up in the Bronx we used words that are now lost so many decades later. The topic started when she laughingly told me about a recent visit from her 30 something son. He came for dinner and was going to watch a hockey game with his dad after eating, then changed his mind about staying for the game. JoAnn said she teased and said to him, “Are you going to be a flat-leaver?” Naturally this was not a familiar phrase to him and he asked “A what?”  She explained it as “hanging out with one friend and then leaving, perhaps to go with someone “cooler” or accept a better offer.” I got a kick out of her story as we would use that term all the time when we were younger and a friend left us unexpectedly.

After that phone conversation I thought about all of the expressions we knew that “date us” to the younger generation when we use them in context that puzzles them.  Ever tell someone to “scootch over” when sitting on a crowded bench? Perhaps growing up you had a younger sibling that was going to report what you did to mom or dad and you said “Don’t be a fink”, meaning a tattletale. When you were tired and wanted to take a nap, the expression could be “I’m going to catch some z’s, which most likely came from the Sunday funnies when a cartoon character had a long line of “z’s” above the head to show someone snoring. Growing up in the city in the 1950’s or 60’s we knew what a Johnny Pump was when the water came gushing out. For non city folks, that a fire hydrant. In the summer there was always “tar beach” (the roof of an apartment building) where you could spread a blanket and catch some sun with your friends and listen to your transistor radio. If you were lucky enough to have a friend with a car and you wanted to sit up front, the first to say “I have dibs on the front sit”, guaranteed you the coveted spot. Hopefully this friend drove safety and did not feel the need to “burn rubber” each time the car was started and you were ready to leave. Naturally we were dressed either in dungarees or pedal pushers during those days, when jeans and Capris had not yet come into being as the new terminology. Heavens now when I think of it, as a young teen girl, there was no thought of not going out with your hair in large rollers and a kerchief tied over them to make you look fine.

Snack time: The choices were endless but one of my favorites was the heavenly dessert called a Charlotte Russe. It was such a fancy name for a round piece of pound cake inside a white cardboard tube. It was topped with whipped cream and a cherry on top. The beverage of choice was the very popular egg cream made with Fox’s Ubet Chocolate syrup, seltzer and a bit of milk. There was no egg and no cream, so I always wondered where that name came from. Those were simpler days, fun days and now just enjoyable to reminisce about.