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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

What's the Magic Word? by Bea Tifton

If someone walked up to a small child, or even a Millennial, and asked, “What are the magic words?” would they even know what that person was asking?  It’s been years since I’ve heard the expression, and “Please” and “Thank you” do seem to be at a premium these days.

But are people really getting ruder? Most sociologists seem to agree they are. Social media has enveloped us in separate, narcissistic bubbles, even people who ought to know better have forgotten their manners. Rudeness, it appears, is contagious. 

 I was always very aware of what I saw as rude behavior. When I was about four, my parents took my sister and me to the circus. Never a big fan of circuses, but there we were, sitting close to the front as the elephants paraded past us. Just in front of us, one large elephant, um, unburdened himself. As people wrinkled their noses, I said, in that piercing voice only the young seem to have, “Well! How RUDE!”

I’m an old soul. I love old television programs, movies, and historical fiction. When I read books from the Dark Ages, I marvel that anyone actually survived given the way people treated each other. So much for rudeness being new. And the mystery series I’m currently reading takes place in the Victorian-era United States. Yes, the Victorians had many strict codes of etiquette, but it was artificial in many ways. People treated each other terribly. I think we’ve had polite people and rude people both as long as we’ve had people. Social media and the news just make those stories of rudeness more accessible.

No one thinks they are the rude ones. But we know. Since we can’t change inherent rudeness, we  can at least have a little fun with it in our own heads. Why not describe this behavior in more colorful terms? Let’s resurrect some slang to cope with today’s world. 

Victorian Slang Terms for Undesirable Behavior:

Hornswoggler- a fraud or cheat.

Mumbling Cove-shabby person or unpleasant landlord.

Rat Bag- a bad person

Wooden Spoon- an idiot or someone who displays astounding stupidity.

Western United States Slang 1800s:

Bigmouth- a person who talks too much, usually about a subject the other person doesn’t want discussed or disclosed.

Bottom feeder- a dislikeable person, someone who abuses others.

Lunk or Lunkhead- slow- witted person

Sidewinder- someone who can’t be trusted, devious person

Whippersnapper- young, smart-aleck person. 


1920s Slang:

Bad Egg-a bad person

Pill- unlikeable or bratty person

Upstage- snob

Wurp- wet blanket-type person


If you are a polite person, as I know you are, Dear Reader, all you can do is just keep your cool and respond to rudeness with politeness. After all, we know the Magic Words. 


  1. When I was an undergraduate, there was a graduate student that was always rude to me and my Mom, who worked in the department. Mom was unfailingly polite, and reminded me to be. Eventually Mom shamed her into being polite. So, persist in your politeness and you may get a few of the rude as converts. Even if you don't, you can have some fun doing it.

    1. That's true. Be polite and cheerful, it makes the other person wonder what you're up to. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I believe most people intend to be friendly. Just a couple of days ago, though, someone was rude to Hero and me and I think she intended the slight. Ha, we were polite in spite of her actions. In my opinion, that's the only way to handle such situations. I like the list of words. Thank you and please keep up the posts. See how I did that?

  3. Oooh. You know the magic words, and you made my day. See what good manners do? Thanks for your comment.

  4. Funny how those 1920s words still are used. I've heard: bad egg, pill, and upstage every so often in everyday conversation. And, I don't believe "big mouth" has even gotten old. Thanks for an enlightening post.

    1. I use those words, too. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Loved "the magic words" reference, made me smile. Fun post. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  7. I enjoyed this post, Bea. Enlightening. A sidewinder was a another name for a rattlesnake. On Westerns, sometimes a cowboy called a bad one by that name. I'm not sure about the "Bottom Feeder" term, but catfish feed from the bottom of the pond or lake and get all the nasty stuff. They are called Bottom Feeders. So, it makes sense.

  8. Human nature has not changed much since the beginning of time. The words we use may change but the sentiment behind the words does not. Perhaps we could all learn a lesson or two in politeness from Chick Fil A.

  9. Great posst, Bea. I think too many parents don't teach children those magic words. I always try to be polite. That's just the way I was raised. However, I'm officially adopting RAT BAG because I seem to have attracted a bad person who has an agenda in posting scathing, detailed reviews of my books. When I read something like the one sent to me by email last night, I figure the person has problems that have nothing to do with disliking the book being read.


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