10 Boomer Phrases Grandkids Won’t Understand

boomer phrases

Gun or remote?

Let’s face it. Some boomer phrases are just obsolete.

Recently, I asked my 12-year-old granddaughter, River, to hand me the gun. I was talking about the remote control for the TV, but River looked at me utterly shocked and puzzled.

It was the same look I got years ago when I made the fatal mistake of calling my flip-flops thongs.

When I explained that I meant the remote, River asked, clearly perplexed, “Why do you call it a gun?” Her tone of voice insinuated that was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard of.

I couldn’t come up with an explanation. After some research, I discovered that in 1955, Zenith introduced the Flash-Matic – a wireless TV remote shaped like a laser gun, so viewers could mute – or zap – commercials.

Okay, good to know.

That got me to thinking about all the boomer phrases that our grandchildren – and sometimes our own kids – won’t understand.

Like what?

An E Ticket Ride

Remember the old days, when we paid a nominal fee to visit Disneyland? Believe it or not, it was only $1.60 for an adult admission when I was four years old compared to $100-plus a day now.

Disneyland offered books of tickets and graded its rides from “A” through “E.” An “E Ticket” was for the more popular and sophisticated rides and attractions, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Pirates of the Caribbean.

As a result, we boomers sometimes used the phrase, “That was an E Ticket ride,” to describe thrilling and exhilarating experiences.

But when I used that term once to explain a ride at the fair, my grandkids were like “huh?”

Dial Tone

No doubt, your grandkids have probably never experienced a dial tone. Or the noisy dial up modem sound that came later, for that matter.

Back in our day, when you picked up a rotary phone to literally dial a number, you immediately heard a buzzing noise. This sound let you know the line was open and you could go ahead and dial the number.

Your grandchildren won’t understand the terms party line, receiver, or busy signal either.

They’ll never know the satisfaction of hanging up on a person, slamming the receiver with a loud bang. Or the pain of stretching the telephone cord attached to a wall mounted phone as far as it would go to another room for just a tiny bit of privacy.

Put a Sock in It

Although I’m familiar with this boomer slang from the the past – which means to be quiet and stop talking – I didn’t know the source.

Of course, putting a sock in someone’s mouth would certainly shut them up.

But after some research, I discovered the phrase actually came from the old days when people would put a sock in the horn of a gramophone to muffle the sound.

Since the gramophone was invented in 1887, maybe it’s time to put this phrase to rest.

Carbon Copies

When I first started working as a secretary, I used carbon copies to create multiple copies of documents.

Oh, the woes of using carbon paper. First of all, it was a pain in the neck to use. Secondly, it would leave your finger tips black – and anything else you happened to touch.

Hooray, when Xerox machines finally became common!

Although the “CC” currently used in emails refers to the archaic use of carbon copies, most young people would never make the connection.

Don’t Touch That Dial

This harkens back to the days when we actually had dials on TV sets to change channels.

Viewers were encouraged to stay tuned to a certain channel. The phrase basically meant: “Don’t you dare change the channel.”

You may still here this phrase every once in awhile on TV, but your grandkids won’t really get where it comes from.

If your grandkids recognize this phrase at all, it’s only because the second episode of the miniseries WandaVision used that title. Otherwise, forget it.

If you want to really confuse your grandkids, ask them to “adjust the rabbit ears.”

You Sound Like a Broken Record

This idiom is sometimes still used to describe someone who keeps saying the same thing over and over again.

When a vinyl record became severely scratched and skipped, it got stuck in a groove (which was not groovy). This caused a song to repeat a sound or phrase over and over again. It was irritating.

You still hear this phrase sometimes although, once again, I doubt the younger generations fully understands the reference. But then again, vinyl records are considered cool these days, so maybe they’ll get it.

We’ll see if the idiom survives in the future.

Mad as a Hatter

Not a term you hear too often these days. So, where did this phrase come from?

Turns out, in the 17th and 18th centuries, hatters made hats with mercury. They used this toxic substance to turn the fur of small animals, such as rabbits, into felt for hats.

Not a good idea, of course. Not surprisingly, prolonged exposure to mercury caused people to develop a variety of physical and mental ailments, including tremors, speech problems, emotional instability, hallucinations, and insanity.

The Mad Hatter, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is based on this phenomenon.

Who knew?

The Milkman’s Baby

I teased my younger sister that she was “the milkman’s baby” since she was born with blue eyes and our parents both have brown eyes.

Totally unfounded, but we all know how much fun it was to torture our siblings.

This expression came from when milkmen delivered bottles of milk to the doorstep and, as a rule, women didn’t work outside the home.

The idea was that while the husband was away working at his job, bored housewives were having some fun.

Now that I think about it, the joke was more insulting to my mother – who was loyal to a fault – than my sister. Sorry, Mom!

Waiting by the Phone

This term refers to the days when we only had landline phones and we’d anxiously wait at home for an important call.

In the era of cell phones and social media, obviously, this phrase no longer has any meaning.

One reason I’m personally grateful for smartphones which, if I’m honest, I’m almost as addicted to as my grandchildren.

Develop Film

Remember when photographs needed to be developed in a darkroom or at a photo lab? I do!

Because digital cameras and smartphones have made this process largely obsolete, grandkids won’t get it.

I’m happy to have technology, but these old phrases make me a bit sentimental. How about you?

I know I’ve only touched the surface. What other obsolete boomer phrases can you think of? Please share in the comments below.



Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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5 Responses

  1. Ha, what a fun one, Julie.

    Your “Develop Film” reminded me of saying, “It was a Kodak moment,” referring to a special time and memory. I always teased and said, “we should have owned stock in that company as many pictures as we took and had developed over many years.”

    Another one I said years ago to our niece, which we still laugh about today.
    She was telling me a story that I thought she was playing me and I said, “you are just trying to get my goat!” She laughed so hard and said, “why would I want your goat?” It’s an old expression our mom used to say all the time.

    Goodness, I could think of so many, but I don’t want to fill up your blog. 🙂
    Thanks for the smiles and memories, Julie.

  2. Cat Michaels says:

    Well, this brings back memories. TBH, I never knew a remote was called a gun…I’ve always called it the ‘clicker -:D. One expression I used a lot was ‘hacked off.’ Haven’t heard that one in decades!

    • juliegorges says:

      Hope I’m not the only one who calls the remote a gun – thought all boomers did. I’ve used “hacked off” in the past – but not meaning angry. More like “I’m sick of my hair so I’m going to hack it all off.” Colorful expression, now that I think about it. Lol

  3. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, that was fun. Although I was enlightened about an ‘E’ ticket, not having been to Disneyland, I have never heard of this phrase.

    • juliegorges says:

      Guess the “E ticket” phrase is primarily a California USA term, so no wonder you hadn’t heard of it! As we writers know, the English language is always changing, but it is fun to remember.

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