Words (and Phrases) that Will Show Your Age

Learn to let go

It's easy to date (or age) yourself by using words you’ve grown up hearing. Key indicator: If a young person’s eyebrows shoot up when you say “VCR” or “How’s tricks?” you’ll know—a bit too late—that you’re now an old fuddy-duddy. But, don’t say “fuddy-duddy” or any of the other words on this list, for that matter, unless you're looking for a sympathy laugh.

Fuddy-duddy

We had to do it. It seems wise to define this gem for those who don’t know it because it's so funny. A fuddy duddy is someone very old fashioned, out of touch, and probably a bit stuffy. At any rate, it’s a term that might date you pretty quick, so be careful with it. Today, the phrases dad or old fart (still in use!) may do the job instead.

Web surfing

Oh, dear. Yes, this phrase was bandied about not so long ago. Back when the internet was new, clicking your way around (and waiting forever for the page to load) was called web surfing. Since the internet isn’t quite so novel these days, it doesn’t require its own extreme sports reference . . . and neither does television. Channel surfing, meet streaming and binge-watching.

“Dear John” letter

Coined by Americans in World War II, a Dear John letter was the name for the letter from a soldier's sweetheart saying their romance was ending. John was the most popular name for boys in 1880 through 1923, so whoever coined the phrase clearly gave it some thought.

There are occasional nods to these let-down letters in pop songs and movies, but they’re rare. It might be time to coin a new phrase, something along the lines of a “Dear Lucas text.” Or, perhaps a simple heartbreak emoji would do the trick.

How’s tricks?

In the 1950s and ‘60s, it wasn’t uncommon to ask, “How’s tricks?,” when you encountered a buddy on the street (meaning “How are things?”). Women didn’t say it; men did.

Perhaps the reason lies in the rumored root of the phrase, said to be related to the men who managed ladies of the night back in the 1930s. (A customer is still referred to as a trick.)

Davenport and Chesterfield

If you call your sofa or couch a Davenport or a Chesterfield, you’re clearly not a millennial or a Gen-X-er (and maybe not even a Baby Boomer). Both of these terms were popular in the early and mid-20th century.

And, both are eponyms: Chesterfield after the 19th-century Earl of Chesterfield (the fourth), who commissioned the first leather sofa, and Davenport after the late 19th-century furniture maker Alfred H. Davenport of Boston.

Long-distance call

Cell phones have made long-distance call a meaningless phrase. If you have a landline (you’ve already given away your age), we still think long-distance no longer applies, so be wary of any long-distance provider calls . . . .

VCR and videotape

It’s a tough habit to break, but using the word tape when discussing recording audio or video is clearly outdated. Videotapes and VCRs (from video cassette recorder) have been rendered obsolete in this digital world. Start recording those precious moments on your smartphone instead.

Little black book

This is another one that died when smartphones took over. A little black book is a small notebook with names and phone numbers of current and potential dating candidates (interpret how you will).

Playboy-magazine powerhouse Hugh Hefner kept a little black book—full of codes and secret phone numbers—which has since found its way into the Chicago History Museum. Now, few people write their shopping list down, let alone a list of lovers.

Wet-blanket

If someone calls you a wet-blanket, they are probably older than, say, any Kardashian sibling and not very nice. A wet-blanket—named for the very thing that one might smother a flame with—is usually concerned with decorum or consequences when others are not, and they may put a damper on the party.

It was used frequently in the 1800s as a verb: “She would often wet-blanket her friend’s proposals to swim au naturel.” Not to be confused with a wet-sock, which is even crueler, as it means someone who is pretty useless and who may not even be invited to the party in the first place.

Making whoopee

As much fun as it may be to say it, making whoopee will likely raise the eyebrows of many a young person. Yes, it refers to romantic intimacy, and it was sprung in the 1920s by Eddie Cantor’s frisky tune, “Makin’ Whoopee!” Better to just say “hooking up” if you want to get your point across these days.

Rolodex™

Remember the time when Rolodex ruled your contacts. Need a phone number? Look in your Rolodex. A plumber? Your Rolodex has the guy you used last year.

This metal box that sat on your desk held all of your contacts, neatly written or typed (via a typewriter) and filed on cardboard cards. And, you could flip through them by turning the wheel on the side. Now, it's just best to say "contacts" and leave it at that.

Pet Rock™

This just goes to show that some clever marketing (and a fair amount of gullibility on the part of the consumer) is indeed the key to success in the business world. But, remember how much you loved your Pet Rock? It was such a cute plain rock, dropped in a small cardboard container filled with straw.

The smooth stones did came from Rosarito Beach in Mexico, how exotic. If you still have one, maybe it's time to set it free back to the beach.

Mood ring

Much like the earlier mentioned Pet Rock, the mood ring was a fad that really burned bright. And, don't forget the color chart used to interpret the ring colors that helped you get in tune with your feelings.

A mood ring was basically like wearing a thermometer on your finger. The liquid crystal changes colors depending on body temperature. If you still use your mood ring to analyze your feelings, try using emojis to express them instead (they even come in different colors).

"Just one more thing"

Didn't the late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, coin this phrase? Nope, his usage of the phrase just showed his age.

The phrase just one more thing was quite popular in the 1970s, courtesy of the rumpled TV police detective named Columbo. He'd question some poor weaselly suspect, then shamble off, only to turn back around with his head slightly bowed and one finger in the air. "Ah, if I may . . . just one more thing." That's when he'd lay the coup de grace on 'em. Fade this phrase to commercial.

The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)

Do you remember watching the pioneering sports broadcast shows called Wide World Of Sports. It ran on ABC from 1961 until 1998, and it was a showcase of all the sports you typically wouldn't see anywhere else. Their breathless intro said it all: "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport . . . the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat . . . ."

So, before you say this phrase and age yourself with the mention of the weekly sports highlights on broadcast TV, remember that there is now 24/7 sports coverage (on exclusive sports networks) as well as that thing called internet.

"Up your nose with a rubber hose"

In the mid 1970s, network television wasn't nearly as liberal with language as it is now. In the hit TV show "Welcome Back, Kotter," John Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino, a somewhat dimwitted student at a Brooklyn high school.

When he wanted to really lay someone out with a primo insult, he'd merely sneer his catchphrase retort: "up your nose with a rubber hose." Hilarious as it may seem, don't use this comeback today, even if you haven't watched a sitcom since the 70s.

Fotomat

Today, you take a photo with the camera app on your phone, and it automatically uploads to the cloud from which you can then order prints. Well, back in the day, the only clouds were in the sky.

Developing photos was fun: You'd physically drop off your film off to have it developed at a one-stop drive-through photo hut called Fotomat . . . which is now likely a drive-through coffee shop.

Walkman

Before MP3s (another outdated term) and iTunes, Sony brought you the Walkman. It turned the music and portable-electronics industries on their collective heads.

Released in the summer of 1979, the first cassette Walkman ran on a pair of AA batteries. You popped in your Bee Gees cassette and adjusted the lightweight headphones for a personal music experience. Other variants followed, including the CD Discman and the TV Watchman.

Pigpen, you got your ears on?

The CB (Citizens Band) radio craze hit the U.S. hard in the late 1970s. The movie Smokey and the Bandit did a lot for this cause—people mounted portable radios under the dash of their cars to use for short-distance person-to-person communication. You got your ears on means "are you on the air, can you hear me?"

If you want to figure out where the nearest highway patrol car is these days, it's as easy as downloading an app. So, lose the CB lingo, Pigpen. Over and out.

"Goodnight, John-Boy"

This popular 1970s TV show followed the lives of a close-knit family in rural Virginia during the Depression. Every night, the entire family would say goodnight to each other. Given the size of the family, this could take awhile. One of the characters was John-Boy, and he'd get the "goodnight treatment" along with the others.

Goodnight hasn't become a saying of the past, but adding John-Boy to the nightly send-off will probably spur some questions that will extend bedtime much longer than this phrase was cool.