Many thanks to Liz, a follower of this blog, for suggesting this post after reading the last one on new words.
Gumption – This was a term for common sense. ‘Use your gumption.’ ‘She’s got no gumption.’ were the kind of things heard in conversation. My mum even used to shorten it when exasperated ‘Where’s your gumpsh?’ would be the sort of thing we’d hear her say. You can’t photograph common sense so here’s an ad for a household cleaner which was very popular here in the 50’s and was called – Gumption! I haven’t seen it for donkey’s years. So I had a rummage on the Internet. It’s long gone from here but is still available in Australia. I found a big tub of it for sale on Ebay. It was £4.13 to buy plus £23.06 postage.
Cheerio – We all know there is a cereal called Cheerios. Cheerio hasn’t completely disappeared as a word but is much less heard than in the 50s. Cheerio! for goodbye was very common back then. Even though it’s not completely dead and is still used, albeit less so, I’ve put it in here because I wanted to tell you how it originated. It was used first in London in the 17th Century and came about because when rich people wanted to hail cab, which was actually a sedan chair, they would call out of a window ‘Chair, Ho!’ The sound of this call became associated with leaving on a journey and evolved into Cheerio!
Drawers – No, not the ones you keep your underwear in. This is your actual underwear. In Victorian times knickers/ pants/ underpants were known as drawers. It was still in use by older people when I was a child and now is probably only ever used humorously – by those who remember what drawers were. I won’t bother with a picture for this one!
Cravat – The word and the item still exist but I can’t remember when I last saw a man wearing one or heard the word spoken. Here is the lovely Michael Caine sporting a jaunty number.
Natty – My mum used to use this. I never hear it now. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘(of a person or an article of clothing) smart and fashionable.’ If we were out somewhere and saw a gent in a loud or bad taste suit she would quip, quietly, ‘That’s a natty bit of gent’s suiting!’ Her dad, my grandfather, was a tailor so perhaps she got the expression from him.
Trews/ Slacks/ Flannels – All words for trousers, all now somewhat archaic. Slacks were more casual and could be men’s or women’s. Standard grey men’s trousers, usually worn with sports jackets or blazers, were always called flannels. Flannel is a soft woven fabric, of various fineness, originally made from carded wool or worsted yarn, but is now often made from either wool, cotton, or synthetic fibre.
Wireless – Once a noun, now an adjective. We still use the word wireless and it now describes an electronic connection made without wires. When I was a child in the 50s, the radio was never referred to as a radio. It was the wireless.
Gramophone – This was the first term used to describe a machine which played discs. This then morphed into record player and later into deck.
Radiogram – This was a radio and record player (gramophone and wireless) combined and cleverly disguised as a sideboard. Some also had a space for storing records. My mum and dad bought one when I was 8 or 9 and I thought it was amazing!
HP/ Never-Never – From the 1930s, if you wanted to purchase goods but couldn’t afford to buy them outright, there was the option of a hire-purchase agreement also known as the never-never. Credit cards, standing orders and direct debits didn’t exist.
Florin, shilling, sixpence, threepence, farthing, halfpenny, ten bob note, crown, half-crown, guinea etc – these are all words from our old currency. When we decimalised we only kept the pounds and the pennies (pence). When I was very young, and for many years before that, public toilets always had a slot on the door which took one penny. This gave rise to the very British expression ‘spend a penny’ which isn’t heard as much now.
Shooting Brake – These quirky vehicles were popular in the 50s and for some reason were known as shooting brakes. Basically an estate car with a wooden trim, they had a very distinctive look.
Wellington Boot/ Gumboot/ Galoshes – now always just called wellies. At some point in the early 1800s Arthur Wellesley, then Viscount Wellington, asked his shoemaker, Mr George Hoby of St James’s Street, London, to make a boot which was easier to wear with the new, fashionable, tighter-fitting trousers. Hoby removed the tassel and cut the boots lower to make them more comfortable for riding. Meanwhile, in 1856 the Edinburgh-based North British Rubber Company had started to manufacture Britain’s first rubber or ‘gum’ boots. With the name of the duke still retaining a patriotic pull on consumers, these new boots were soon also renamed Wellingtons in Britain. Their popularity did not become widespread until the First World War, when in 1916 the company was commissioned to produce millions of pairs as standard winter kit for ordinary soldiers, to prevent ‘trench foot’, a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure to damp. At the end of the war, soldiers brought them home and introduced these extremely practical items of footwear to farms, gardens and allotments all over the country. A century later, music festivals and fashion catwalks are still benefiting from this wartime legacy.
As always, I need to say that all my images are sourced from the Internet using filters in the hope that I don’t infringe copyright. If anyone objects to the use of any image please contact me immediately and I will remove it.
Credit to Wikipedia, English Heritage, Pinterest, OED, Historic UK