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 August, 2006


 A few phrases we no longer use

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But right between the word conniption and the word fit, I thought that that phrase is so outdated that hardly anybody not born in the 1940’s might not even know what it means.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 ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
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 NOTHING!

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 ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

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!