Back in the day, people didn’t say “back in the day.” They said “when I was your age.” Yeah, those were the days. (More)

Viva Cliché, Part I: Back in the Day

This week Morning Feature considers clichés. Today we look back into the mists of time at history repeating itself. Tomorrow we’ll see why a penny saved is worth two in the bush. Saturday we’ll conclude with how clichés rot from the head down. Or something.

Twice upon a time….

History repeats itself, so back in the day “back in the day” probably was more common than “when I was your age.” But not when I was your age.

We did say “way back when,” way back when, and everyone knew when that was. It was a golden age, when common sense was common and a man’s word was his bond. A rose by any other name didn’t have thorns. It just smelled as sweet.

And you had to stop to smell the roses, way back when, because age wasn’t just a number and sixty wasn’t the new forty. It helped to have an ace in the hole, or up your sleeve, and that’s why you didn’t air your dirty laundry in public. They might see the holes in your sleeves.

Mixed company wasn’t a merger, but a time to put your best foot forward. Of course you couldn’t be too forward, because courtesy was as common as sense. There was a time to keep a stiff upper lip and a time to let your hair down, and nary the twain did mix. At least not in mixed company.

“And one for all”

Yes, those were the days. Oh sure, once in awhile someone would be all thumbs or all talk. But if all hell broke loose, we were all ears. All bets were off and it was all hands to the pump. All for one and one for all.

And sooner or later all the pieces fell into place, because it was all in a day’s work, even if you were all dressed up with nowhere to go and all that jazz. Still, it was all to the good, all in due time, because you always looked on the bright side, even if you were always the bridesmaid.

Okay, all that glittered wasn’t gold, but that’s for another day.

“The first day of the rest of your life”

The point is, time flew when you were having fun. And time and again, time after time, you were having the time of your life. If you saved enough, a nick here and a nick there, you could have time to spare. And even if time stood still when you were tilting at windmills, time healed all wounds, because today was always the first day of the rest of your life.

Yes, sometimes, it was two steps forward and one step back, and two ships might pass in the night, but everyone knew two wrongs didn’t make a right. (Three lefts didn’t either, way back when.)

When I was your age, when all was said and done, when push came to shove and life gave you lemons and the going got tough, you made lemonade and then you got going. Or when you were in Rome, you did as the Romans and had wine instead, because in vino veritas. You came, you saw, you conquered, and you’d only admit otherwise when hell froze over or pigs flew, whichever came first.

But time waited for no man, and the times they were a’changin’. Kids no longer stood in a corner. Instead they were sent to time out, and “when I was your age” became “back in the day.”

Misty history

That’s when things went to hell in a handbasket. We were up the creek without a paddle, because we’d forgotten the wisdom of the ages. And the rock thereof. That left us between a rock and a hard place, in dire straits. (They’re about midway between Desperate and the Azores, in case you wondered.)

That would never have happened back in the good old days. Alas, those days are gone, lost in the mists of time.

But those mists are why so many people like looking back with rose-colored glasses:

One thing, though: there’s a clarity and sweep to the ancient history atlas that isn’t matched by the later atlases – and I suspect that ignorance is the main reason. That is, we tend to impose more order and simplicity on the distant past, not because it was actually any less messy and complicated than later eras, but because we don’t have all the details and fill in with bold colors and straight lines. As I’ve noted in the past, this is why goldbugs and others who believe that they have access to truths ignored by modern economists tend to draw on supposed events in the distant past, where they can project what they think should have happened onto a mostly blank slate.

Presenting a misty past to prove a current argument is two-faced, really. And while two heads sometimes are better than one, two left feet aren’t, so I can’t give “when I was your age” two thumbs up. Because two wrongs still don’t make a right, but three lefts do, now that we say “back in the day,” which we didn’t, when I was your age.


Happy Thursday!