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No time for tomfoolery

| September 13, 2020 12:00 AM

While I was checking into a hotel a few weeks ago, I had to chuckle to myself at the front-desk clerk. She was a pleasant gal, probably in her late 30s, and she took a phone call while I was completing the check-in.

The call left her frazzled; apparently it was a guest who kept calling the front desk incessantly.

“I just don’t have time for this tomfoolery!” she announced to me, along with a quick apology for the interruption.

And then she kept using the word tomfoolery.

“Of course, I would have time for tomfoolery if I weren’t working, and was doing something I liked to do…” she prattled. “Perhaps there would be tomfoolery if I went out with my friends…”

The one-sided conversation was unusual enough that I told my family about this young woman using such an antiquated word.

“Someone should tell her the 1800s called and wants their word back,” I suggested with a laugh (sorry, old joke).

Turns out the word has quite a history. Tomfoolery, defined as foolish or silly behavior, was the word for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin), according to Mentalfloss.com.

“Much in the way the names in the expression 'Tom, Dick and Harry' are used to mean ‘some generic guys,’ Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one,” Mentalfloss explained.

Not long ago, a friend on Facebook shared an article from the Facebook page “Today’s Special,” a pleasant online stopping point that features “thoughts and pictures to touch our hearts.” The article honed in on lost words from our childhood, and at the top of the list was the expression “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

Many baby boomers immediately will have flashbacks to the cartoon character Snagglepuss, the pink, sassy mountain lion who popularized the saying on the “Yogi Bear” TV show in the early 1960s.

“Heavens to Murgatroyd” is an expression of surprise, a phrase apparently first used by Bert Lahr in the 1944 film “Meet the People,” Wikipedia says. But what is Murgatroyd?

Further research, i.e. a quick online search, reveals the Murgatroyd surname is thought to be “a habitational name from an extinct place name near Halifax in West Yorkshire,” according to houseofnames.com. “It has been suggested that the place name derived from the medieval personal name Margaret and the Middle English word "royd," meaning "a clearing," House of Names explains.

The “Today’s Special” article doled out a long list of lost words our children and grandchildren aren’t apt to know: “Heavens to Betsy! Gee willikers, Jumping Jehoshaphat, in like Flynn, living the life of Riley, nincompoop,” and so on.

Technology has done in many phrases, the article noted. “Don’t touch that dial, carbon copy, hung out to dry, you sound like a broken record” have all gone by the wayside, as have expressions from the ’60s — who says “groovy” or “far out” these days?

In exchange, today we have text abbreviations such as LOL (laugh out loud), BFF (best friend forever) and OMG (Oh, my God).

As I try to think of current expressions, I've come to the conclusion we don’t seem to use as many catchphrases these days. Perhaps it’s because we’ve become a texting nation. Most of us don’t use “snail mail” to correspond with others and people just don't seem to visit with each other like they used to.

Maybe we’re just not as clever as we once were when it comes to sayings that deliver some pizzazz. Well fiddlesticks, “this is a fine kettle of fish” we’ve created.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.