I have mentioned before how my father, Walter C. Ahrens, Jr., while thinking out loud, imparted an advanced technical vocabulary to me from my eighth year. He expatiated about reciprocating mass, chassis balance, spring rates and unsprung weight, carburetor jetting and the venturi effect, valve clearance and camshaft profiles, harmonic resonance and even volumetric efficiency.
The venturi effect was a tough one for me because in 1964, before my ninth birthday, the golfer Ken Venturi won the U.S. Open. How could he have anything to do with those three side-draft Weber carbs that Walter would be mounting on an overhead-valve V-8 in 1966?
Walter was a stealthy student of the language and especially liked colloquial expressions, slang from the early 20th century, and fart jokes. Here, for the first time, is his mid-American list:
skillet licker (dog)
house ape (kid)
horse padunkey (I guess at the spelling but he meant …
road apples, a.k.a. horse droppings)
cackleberries (chicken droppings, a.k.a. eggs)
boneyard or marble orchard (cemetery: marble was stone of choice for grave markers)
crossbar hotel (jail)
chief cook and bottle washer (proprietor)
When I stood in front of the TV (which he otherwise claimed he wasn’t watching because of his newspaper), he would say, “You make a better door than a window.”
If someone took a tumble, they went “ass over appetite.” A painful but survivable moment led him to say, “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
Advice on how to do something involved “take and put.” As in: “Take those flowers and put them over there in the garbage.”
Getting license to do something was to “have at it.”
In distinguished professor mode, he used high-flown phrases such as “for all intents and purposes.” He was a total phony in this mode because he mispronounced multi-syllable words. Erudite, for example, was “ee-ROO-dite.” Words and phrases of foreign origin–bueno, deja vu–gave him fits.
Yet he persisted. To dismiss someone’s point, he said, “It’s immaterial.” There is nothing to it, no evidence, no substance–absolutely of no consequence. Hard to figure out where he got this glossy superiority.
I guarantee it wasn’t from reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “You will be given a perfectly free hand. Surely the actual name of your client is immaterial.”