Who Are Those Conniptions Who Have Those Fits?
By Al Owens
The other day I uttered a phrase I’d never used. I was watching a rented DVD
(One of those French jobbies with subtitles that don’t quite make it to the
Carmike Cinemas). Right in the middle of the thing there was a particularly
startling moment, for which I exclaimed, “That nearly gave me a conniption fit!”
But right between the word conniption and the word fit, I thought that that
phrase is so outdated that hardly anybody not born in the 1940’s might not even
know what it means. Fortunately Terry, my girlfriend, laughed out loud, telling
me she hadn’t heard that phrase in a long time.
I guess that’s one of those phrases that have fallen out of favor with the
American public. Probably because hardly anybody knows exactly what a conniption
is. Who were they? Did the Conniptions ever exist? Did they have a country of
their own (Maybe near Egypt or something)? Did the Egyptians go to war with the
Conniptions and wipe them out? Why did those Conniptions have so many fits they
gave them their very own place in our language?
Fortunately my online edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells me there
were no such people as The Conniptions. In fact, it doesn’t even know the origin
of the word conniption. Or the phrase conniption fit for that matter.
It’s just one of our exclamations without explanation. And we use a lot of them.
I’ll bet if you’ve read this far, you might be saying, “Right On”, which means
A few months ago I wrote a column about the phrases Americans use like: get out
of bed; jump in the shower; get off the phone, phrases that don’t mean exactly
what they indicate. But this is something completely different. These are those
curious little exclamations we’ve all heard that mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
“Right on”, for instance, defies logic. I know the late singer Barry White used
to use that phrase at the end of every sentence he made in public. But I’ll bet
he didn’t even know what it meant.
I never heard him use the phrase “Far out!”
But there were millions of people who used it in circumstances that I’m not free
to discuss here. I’ve always wondered how far something has to be, before it can
be designated as “far out”.
When I was a small child in the 1950’s, my grandmother, who was in her ‘90’s
used to engage in the usual neighborhood gossip. When a neighbor would touch on
something particularly noteworthy, my grandmother would exclaim, “Land sakes
alive!” Huh? Land sakes a what? See! That’s a phrase that means ABSOLUTELY
It was probably the “Right on”, of her generation. A little later, it seems my
older brother Marlin would end every sentence with, “Great Googly Moogly”! I’d
always wondered who was that Googly Moogly guy. And what made him so great. Or
could anybody named Googly Moogly reach the heights of greatness after being
teased endlessly on the playground for having a name like Googly Moogly.
We pre-teens used to delight when that Hanna Barbera cartoon character
Snagglepuss used to exclaim, “Heavens to Murgatroid”. But that was alright with
me. Cartoon characters aren’t real Americans. I hold no special grudge against
non-American cartoon characters – even if they do say stuff that means
It’s those people who used to run around saying “Heavens to Betsy” that “get my
goat”. But that’s the stuff of another column!