Making Whoopee and Little Black Books

I’m a distractible adult.

I wasn’t a distractible child, but things change.

I blame the Internet. Open it to check one thing, and I’m lost for hours.

It’s like a dictionary. You know how it is: you look up ablative and right below it you see ablative absolute, and before you can close the book, you see abhenry and abraham’s bosom, and before you know it you’re on zedonk and zyzzyvas. It’s the Ice Age equivalent of web surfing.

Today the dictionary and the web got together and here I am writing a post.

I opened my email (the first mistake ) and there was my daily post from with the word of the day. I usually skip those. Sometimes I already know the word; sometimes I just don’t want to get hooked. Today’s word is messan–interesting enough to check out but surely not interesting enough to lead to disaster.

It turns out that messan, a noun, is Scottisha lap dog; small pet dog. The accompanying photo implies it’s a cute lap dog.

That’s good: a new word for my personal lexicon.

But–next mistake–scrolling down the page, I found a link to “Superb Owl and Other Copyright Loopholes.” Click bait. And then “Words (and Phrases) That Will Show Your Age.” Couldn’t resist that. Click.

Words that show my age: fuddy-duddy; web surfing; Dear John letter; How’s tricks?; Davenport and Chesterfield; long-distance call; VCR and videotape; little black book; wet-blanket; making whoopee; Rolodex™; Pet Rock™; mood ring; “Just one more thing”; “The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)”; “Up your nose with a rubber hose”; Fotomat; Walkman; Pigpen, you got your ears on?; “Good night, John Boy.”

Instead of saying, “Hahaha, I’m not old enough to remember that,” I have to admit I knew all of them without looking them up, but I don’t use them all. When I was a child, I heard some from older people. Wet-blanket was in general usage (until I read the article, I thought it still was). My mother explained Dear John letter, and, having lived through World War II, said it was a pretty awful thing to send to a soldier overseas. She also explained little black book, which I probably first heard on television; I don’t think I knew anyone who had one.

How’s tricks? also came from television, but I never heard it elsewhere. I guess fuddy-duddy came from television, too, or maybe my mom said it once or twice, but just to be amusing. Most of the adults I knew were over forty and immune to television language.

Back then, most long-distance calls were made after 9:00 p.m., when the rates went down. They were usually from my grandmother in Dallas, and were pre-arranged by letter so we knew when to expect them. The line crackled, and speakers on both ends had to repeat a lot. An un-prearranged call after nine, long-distance or not, meant bad news, or, sometimes, a new baby.

In Fentress, there was an unspoken rule that no calls were made after nine except in exceptional circumstances. The only mention of the rule occurred when my high school English teacher asked if it was a rule or just a tradition her family observed.

Fentress residents made many long-distance calls; the only town that wasn’t long-distance was Prairie Lea, the same size as Fentress, two miles away.

I refused to initiate all such calls because I was too shy to talk to a live operator. At eleven, I had a baptism of fire. I’d gone with my piano teacher and her other students to a dog show in Austin, and when we returned to her house in Martindale, I had to call my mother, seven miles away, to come for me. I was embarrassed to tell Miss Louise that I avoided operators.

I called my mother because, except for calls from long-distance family, my father rarely used the telephone. He wore a hearing aid, the kind worn in a harness against the chest, and often had to ask people to repeat. He left a job because it required frequent long-distance calls, often from high-ranking military personnel relaying sensitive information. A misunderstanding could have resulted in an airplane going down. He was also embarrassed to ask them to say things a second time.

While we were visiting his aunt one evening, her four-year-old granddaughter crawled into his lap and asked about the button  in his ear and the attached wire. He gave the usual explanation–“It’s my telephone”–and let her feel case under his shirt. A few minutes later the aunt’s telephone rang and the child turned to him and said, “Is that yours?” She looked so pleased, and so hopeful, it was a shame to disappoint her.

But back to words and phrases.

“Making Whoopee” was the title of a song I heard sung by Julie London when I was ten. She sang it slowly, in that smoky voice that was hers alone, on an LP (another word I remember) my cousin had standing in a record rack. The cover had a green background and showed Julie in profile from just below the shoulders, red hair flowing down, her face turned toward the camera. She wore a skinny strapless dress positioned so low that it made my mother say, “My goodness.” I would have simply died to wear a dress like that.

Twelve years later, Julie was a regular on TV’s Emergency! wearing a nurse’s uniform complete with cap. After the LP cover, that was such a come-down for her, and for me, a memory tarnished. She deserved better.

I began this post for a specific purpose but so far haven’t fulfilled it, but I must leave the rest for another day. I recently vowed to write posts of no more than five hundred words, and this already tops nine hundred.

Long-distance calls distracted me.


baptism of firenoun; the first time a soldier faces battle; any severe ordeal that tests one’s endurance.

From Wikipedia, the origin of the phrase:

“The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a phrase originating from the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.

“Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptizeyou with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” King James Version 1611

“The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God’s glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante’s Purgatory 27:10-15.”

Note: Nothing about telephones.


trunk call – noun; (mainly Brit); a long-distance telephone call


ablative absolute – noun, Latin Grammar.  a construction not dependent upon any other part of the sentence, consisting of a noun and a participle, noun and adjective, or two nouns, in which both members are the ablative case, as Latin viā factā “the road having been made.”