Adventures in Retirement Answers to ‘words from our past quiz’

Written by Bill Leavitt. Posted in Senior Living

Published on February 03, 2021 with No Comments

Most of the words in last month’s quiz have interesting stories behind them.  Those of us who were around in the 1940s will find most of them to be familiar.  However, few of us know what each word means or why it is interesting.

“Concrete Mixer–Putty, Putty” was a cute song, using construction terminology in the words.  “Putty” is the term for concrete that has reached the consistency in the mixer.  

“Dashboard,” of course, to most of us is the area where the steering wheel and glove box are located.  Like many of the words that were carryovers from the days of horse-drawn carriages and early automobiles, the dashboard was located in about the same place, but had more to do in protecting you from dirt, mud and water being kicked up by the horse.

“Fubar” was a term used by GIs in World War II, to describe the many messed up situations they had to deal with in the army.  “F . . .ed -Up Beyond All Recognition” was one; another was “Situation Normal, All F . . .ed Up” (SNAFU).

“Honcho” is one of the most interesting words to come out of World War II.  In the Japanese army, soldiers rarely came into contact with officers.  Instead, the ones always giving them orders were the corporals (“Honcho” in Japanese).  When Japanese soldiers were captured, the U.S. soldiers quickly learned that telling them to do whatever the (American) Honcho told them to do worked well.

“Kilroy Was Here” is a fascinating story.  To summarize, a naval inspector of rivets named James Kilroy wanted to mark where he finished on one shift, so he knew where to start on the next.  At the end of his shift, he would make a chalk mark at the last of the thousands of rivets he was inspecting on ships under construction.  Since other workers often erased the chalk mark, he created a unique mark, the famous “Kilroy,” which was a face and nose looking over a wall.  Soldiers riding in these ships saw the design and copied it, placing it in every war zone to show that “Kilroy” had been there (see picture).

Rx is a common term for drug stores; it came from an abbreviation in French (Recipiere) for prescription.   “Pursuit Plane” was the term for fighter plane before World War II.  “P,” for pursuit, was the designation for many models before “F” for “Fighter Plane” came around (P-51 versus F-6F or F-86).   “Crystal Set” was what radios were called in the early days when crystals were used to create station frequencies.  “Two Bits” – I have no idea where that term came from, but it always meant 25 cents.

“Soda Jerk” is the guy in a drugstore who made milk shakes, sodas, sundaes and the like.  “Curb Feelers” were little wires attached to the fender of a car to help the drive get close, but not too close, to the curb; they made a scraping sound when they slid along the curb.  “Gams” were a forties term for shapely legs, such as, “Just look at those gams on Betty Grable.” “Ice Box” was the term for an appliance in the 1930s and 1940s with a couple of shelves for food under a big compartment on top to place a block of ice for cooling the food (see pictures).

“Ersatz” is a German word dating back to World War I; it means inferior substitute.  When the naval blockade prevented the Germans from getting a lot of important foods, such as coffee, the government created substitutes that really didn’t taste good, but made people feel that they weren’t suffering as much.

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About Bill Leavitt

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Bill Leavitt is a technical writer from Valparaiso. After retiring from a large corporation in Chicago, he did technical writing consulting for many companies. He currently teaches part-time at Purdue University Calumet. You can order Leavitt’s book, “Retirement: Life’s Greatest Adventure,” by sending $16.65 (includes shipping and sales tax) made payable to Write On Technical Writing, Inc., P.O. Box 132,Valparaiso, IN 46384-0132. Or, visit for more information.

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