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I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech Hardcover – 31 Mar 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (31 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312340052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312340056
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 3.1 x 21.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,180,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Not just for Wordies... 23 April 2009
By Inga - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When our daughter-in-law's parents turned 60 last December, my husband and I sent them a box of memorabilia from our common youth containing a "Don't Trust Anyone over 30" button, a "Make Love Not War" mug (with peace symbol), a "Groovy Chick" T-shirt, the Sunset Book of Macrame Plant Hangers, and our personal fave, a barbecue apron that read "I owned an 8-track player." This was all opened in front of the kids who were visiting for Christmas. The parents howled. The kids were...baffled.

Better that we had sent them Ralph Keyes "I Love It when You Talk Retro." Not just for serious Wordies, this collection of "retro terms" (which Keyes defines as a word or current use yet [has]an origin that isn't current") is an equally fun read for your favorite boomer, clueless teenager, or simply the idle curious. It works well as a coffee table reference (we regularly find guests leafing through it) or nightstand favorite; our copy, in fact, has been regularly commuting back and forth between both places.

"I Love It When You Talk Retro" is a wonderful addition to anyone's personal library.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Great resource 7 Feb. 2010
By Anyechka - Published on
Format: Paperback
I couldn't stop reading this book because it was so packed with wonderful words and expressions, many of which I had never even heard of. As I read the introduction, I couldn't believe that so many young people entering college today have, for example, never heard of Watergate, are unfamiliar with cassette tapes, and draw a blank at the phrase "you sound like a broken record," but then again, a survey a few years back did show that more Americans can identify the Three Stooges than the three branches of our executive government, and sadly many young people believe history is boring and stupid. While many of the retroterms identified and explained by Mr. Keyes were completely new to me, that just proves the point he was making at the beginning. What's baffling or ancient history to your generation is a well-known reference or term used by another. However, because I have read a lot of older books, some of the terms that supposedly are a mystery to my generation were quite familiar, such as davenport (my preferred word for couch, actually!), icebox, victrola, Hays Code, and Comstock Act. Mr. Keyes doesn't just limit his book to 19th and 20th century retrotalk, but goes far back in history in some cases, such as for "cut a Gordian knot," "Pyrrhic victory," and "hanging by a thread." The book is divided into categories such as comic books, literature, university subjects, sports, personal names, transportation, and television. I also found it helpful as a historical fiction writer, as I discovered that some of the phrases and words I've used in my writing hadn't been coined back then!

However, I felt that a bit of a closer proofreading/editing job might have been needed, as I discovered a couple of embarrassing errors. For example, "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" is credited to The Beach Boys instead of Jan and Dean (did The Beach Boys have a less famous version of it or something?), and Wally Cleaver is identified as Beaver Cleaver's father instead of his brother! And even though I share Mr. Keyes's liberal views, I felt it was a bit unprofessional for him to so clearly advertise his stance throughout certain parts of the book. This isn't a political book, even though it does deal with some retrotalk that originated in politics. A good writer isn't supposed to let his or her personal bias show; I know I probably would have thrown the book down in disgust and not finished it had a right-wing writer been airing his own conservative views unnecessarily! Finally, I was turned off by how Boomer-centric much of the book was, particularly because Mr. Keyes says he was born in 1945, which would make him one of the youngest members of the Silent Generation, not a Boomer as he seems to think he is. I rolled my eyes whenever I read something like "Many Boomers have happy memories of..." or "If you ask a Boomer..." Why does this generation always find a way to make every single issue always come back to them and be all about their generation? I'm not a Boomer, but I'm pretty sure that most people in my generation know what a Magic Marker is, for example, and are familiar with tv shows from the Fifties and Sixties that we've seen on Nick at Nite or watched with an older member of the family! I also thought that short schrift was given to more current retrotalk.

In spite of the shortcomings, however, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in language and linguistics. It's always fascinating to see how language evolves and develops, and how things which are cutting-edge and familiar in one era are almost obsolete in another.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
More on words from a writer's writer 22 April 2009
By Virgil Hervey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Ralph Keyes is more than a writer; he has fashioned himself into an expert on the origins of expressions used in everyday American speech. I Love It When You Talk Retro is a resource work, complete with notes, bibliography and an index, that can be breezed through with the ease of reading a personal essay or a work of fiction. What he has discovered is that the origins of our everyday speech can be a source of amusement, and he readily shares the amusing tidbits he has uncovered with his readers.

"After chasing down their origins I found myself repeatedly musing, `So that's where that comes from!' Keyes writes.

In I Love It When You Talk Retro Keyes posits that expressions that enrich our language such as "bigger than a breadbox," "show me the money" and "cut and run," while seeming to have achieved universal meaning over time, may not really be understood by those of generations that follow the one that spawned them, or by those for whom English is a second language. He calls these words and phrases retrotalk.

"To qualify as a retroterm," he writes, "a word or phrase must be in current use yet have an origin that isn't current."

Catch phrase references like "I've fallen and I can't get up!" "Where's the beef?" and "cha-ching" of TV commercial fame already a generation old, are not likely to be understood by today's teens. Neither are references to scratched or broken records likely to conjure up meaningful images to young people who download their music from computers directly to their I-pods. This is the kind of stuff that is fodder for Keyes who tirelessly back-tracks to the point of origin, because some of those we think we know, we do not. The term "wimp," for instance comes from the Popeye comic strip; a "lame duck" was an eighteenth-century stock trader who didn't pay his debts; to get "caught in a wringer" refers to a feature of an old fashioned washing machine.

"They are verbal fossils, ones that outlive the organism that made their impression in the first place," Keyes writes. "This could be a person, a product, a past bestseller, an old radio or TV show, an athletic contest, a comic strip, an acronym, or an advertisement long forgotten."

"Close, but no cigar!" "not worth a tinker's damn," "kick over the traces," you think you know them? You might want to look them up in I Love It When You Talk Retro. Or you might just want to go from cover to cover. It's more than just an interesting read; it's a journey into the past.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A rather interesting book 15 Dec. 2013
By Kurt A. Johnson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Quite a few expressions we Americans use are out-of-date expressions that we nonetheless know the meaning of, more or less. But, even among those that we use, we often do not completely understand the roots of the expression. Well, in this rather interesting book, author and wordsmith Ralph Keyes goes through many retro expressions, and tells you exactly what they mean.

I must say that I found this to be a rather interesting book. The author spread a nice, wide net in finding lots of expressions and covering their meanings. Now, as you might expect he could not possibly cover *every* expression out there, so you will no doubt find expressions missing that you would like explained. But, that said, this is a very good book on the subject, one that I am quite glad that I checked out.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This Book is a Grand Slam Home Run 11 May 2009
By Nancy H. Dickson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book--I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech--is an absolute hoot for anyone with a fascination for the American Language and/or Popular Culture. For many of us it evokes a rich pre-Internet, pre-Facebook past and for younger readers a view into the lives of their parents and grand-parents. My husband, Paul Dickson, who writes about language, gave this book to me and I couldn't let go of it.
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