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  • Mom Expressions
  • Post author
    Don Moyer

Mom Expressions

Mom Expressions

My Mom was born on November 20th more than 100 years ago. She’s gone now, but I think of her often. The sweetest lady you could ever meet. Let me tell you about some of her favorite expressions.


“He’s very down to Earth.” Mom reserved this description for people who had a view of reality that was similar to her’s. Pragmatic, not dreamy. People who might have already been knocked about by fate. People who resisted the temptation to believe that they were more important and more entitled than others. Sadly, the very fact that she had to use this expression meant that she frequently met people “with their head in the clouds” or people who “were putting on airs.” She always preferred to spend time with folks who “had their feet on the ground.”


“She is a pill.” This expression was reserved for any person Mom believed was difficult to satisfy or a steady source of irritation. People who are hard to swallow. Avoiding them and their unending complaints is an excellent strategy. But when you cannot escape “a pill,” you take it without complaint and move on.


“He needs to get his head on straight.” This expression referred to someone who was confused, discombobulated, or addled. There are many causes of this kind of confusion. For Mom, all of them should be avoided. The notion of intentionally using drugs or alcohol was insane because it is always an advantage to have one’s head on straight. 

Tip: In Mom’s world, a good cup of coffee was often a perfect way to help get one’s head on straight. That’s my belief too.


“Help me redd up the house.” In many parts of Pennsylvania, residents know that “redd up” means to clean or clear up a mess—to make things tidy. This expression comes from “redden” a Middle English verb meaning to clear an area or make it tidy. The term arrived in Pennsylvania with the early Scottish settlers and stuck. Mom grew up in Coatesville and Lancaster, so she would have heard this expression constantly. It stuck.

I live in Pittsburgh and still hear this expression frequently. It always reminds me of Mom.


“Whatever blows your hair back.” This was a phrase that Mom used to acknowledge that people are diverse and their preferences are correspondingly diverse. She preferred pinochle, sauerkraut, and classic fashions. Other people might prefer solitaire, hot peppers, and loud neckties. “Whatever blows your hair back.”

Although she was expressing characteristic tolerance of the preferences of others, there was also, in this expression, an indication that the choices of others baffled her—a tiny hint that the tastes of others were bizarre, incorrect, and impossible to justify.  

I find that I carry this view myself. Like Mom, I believe that all other people are entitled to their own notions—no matter how foolish, pathetic, and ridiculous they are. She didn’t start using this expression until she was 80. Of course, by the time one is an octogenarian, you have seen an awful lot of foolish, pathetic, and ridiculous notions.

Can you recall any expressions that you link with your parents?

Pittsburgh, November 1, 2018

  • Don Moyer

Comments on this post (59)

  • Dec 12, 2018

    “They don’t call this cold in Quebec” (Quit complaining)
    “Chop Chop!” (Hurry up)
    “And then his hat blew off” It seems that in some ancient conversations amongst the adults, someone (my Grandpa?) would realize there were children present, and the story was getting inappropriate, so they would end the story prematurely with this statement.
    My hubby’s family had one similar to one above, but: “Busier than a one-armed paper-hanger with an itch!” The itch makes it a little better :D

    — Alicia Diehl

  • Dec 07, 2018

    I used to work in Wyoming and one of my (native) co-workers was always using expressions he learned from his mom, a pioneer.

    - “I’m so hungry I could eat the north end of a skunk walking south.”
    - “I’m as nervous as a sinner in church.” (Depending on the audience, there was also an alternative version.)
    - “You look like you was rode hard and put away wet.”

    My own mother was a big Laurel and Hardy fan, so of course:
    “Here’s another fine mess…”

    — Loren

  • Nov 29, 2018

    My grandmother arrived in the US in 1913, at age 13. She travelled in steerage from the Ukraine, left in charge of her younger sisters, ages 10 and 5. She became a Union organizer and a shop owner. She read voraciously. But despite learning to master the English language she still had some “Greenhorn Speak” as I loved to call it. My favorite was when she would ask us to “make the light” which meant to turn on the lamp. She also pronounced many things as she read them When pointing to her cousin in the photograph she described her as “deef” rather than “deaf”.

    — Paula Cohen-Martin

  • Nov 25, 2018

    My grandmother’s expression of surprise was “Goodness gracious godness Agnes!” or “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” To my mom we were all “You wretched children” which we understood as a term of endearment. We could “spit in one hand and wish in the other and see which filled up first” when we were longing for something.

    — Patty DeMaria

  • Nov 22, 2018

    Oh my, these are hilarious! My favorite retort was from my Grandmother from Olympia, Washington. If you admired something such as a car, she would say, " Too bad it’s tainted. Taint yours, taint mine." Still cracks me up!

    — Alexandra Ward

  • Nov 21, 2018

    My mom (also born 1918) never said anything straight or simply. It was “dark as a stack of black cats” outside, or a high quality thing was “all wool and a yard wide”. If you had to get up early, you were “getting up before breakfast”. No one was merely stingy, they were " so tight they squeaked", or held onto a nickle “so hard you could hear it squeal”. If someone got into a bad situation but things ended up OK, they “came out smelling like a rose”. She’d exclaim “My cow!”, and also, in case of something gone seriously wrong, “Balls on a goose!”. And so many more—she was a character! Wonder what my kids will remember about my little oddities, which are, of course, perfectly normal and sensible.

    — Isibéal

  • Nov 21, 2018

    I’m really enjoying these expressions, particularly seeing which ones folks in different parts of the US have in common with us in the Canadian Maritimes. My mom was borne in 1918 and had a variety of good ones, but my favourite was an original which my cousin first uttered when he was a boy. He and his little brother were out and about one day and the younger chap peed his pants. He was so embarrassed he began to cry, and that was when his older brother told him to “Never mind. It will all dry up when the sun comes out.” Mom used it as an expression until she passed in her mid-90s.

    — Janet Mills

  • Nov 15, 2018

    My favorite saying of all time was one used by my Grandmother from Alabama. When she was feeling lazy (not often), she would say, “I haven’t done a bus-eyed thing all day.” What the heck is a “bus-eye”? Or is it Buseye? I dunno, but I always laughed when she said it.

    — Terri

  • Nov 15, 2018

    Similar to the one legged man, my mother (at 96) says “busier than a one armed wallpaper hanger”.
    Another one when we were getting unruly would be, “don’t get rumpacasideous” (rump-a-ca-sid-e-us) which I think was a made up a word but it sounded like how we were acting at the moment.

    — Gary Jackson

  • Nov 12, 2018

    My favorite one my grandmother used to say “It’ll all come out in the wash” meaning, don’t worry about it…it’ll work itself out. I didn’t understand it much when I was little, but use it ALL the time now!

    My mom would always say “be home before the street lights come on”…another one that kids today wouldn’t understand.

    Thanks for sharing your mom with us, she sounds like she was a wonderful woman. I can see that your wit and demeanor comes from her.

    — Cindy

  • Nov 09, 2018

    In response to whatever any child was ever whinging about:
    “Worse things happen at sea.”

    — Alexandra Aldrich

  • Nov 08, 2018

    Mom expressions in our house….
    Good Grief Charlie Brown

    Oh For Pete’s sake

    The Cartwright’s mount up! This was when we were about to go somewhere…with 5 kids spread over 13 years it was always a feat…it came from the fact that on the first day of filming Bonanza the first line in the script was ‘the Cartwright’s mount up’ turns out none of them knew how to ride….

    Ginger Peachy Keen….something particularly good and nifty. Sometimes shortened to GPK

    I miss my mom.

    — Emily Miller

  • Nov 04, 2018

    I grew up in the suburbs near Philly. Dad would compliment a job well done with, “My man, pots and pans!”

    If we kids wouldn’t stop going on about some imagined slight, Mom would tell us, “Oh, dry up!”

    Any word uttered by a child that was deemed to be a fancy, learned, adult word was “a fifty cent word.”

    And if the adult word was unfit for company, we would be reprimanded, “Watch your mouth!” At this, being a smartass, I would cross my eyes and look down.

    “What are you doing?” my mother asked.

    “Watching my mouth!” I would reply.

    — Amy

  • Nov 04, 2018

    We had to redd up the table for supper.

    And no one knew what that was outside or our house in Ohio.

    — Dana

  • Nov 03, 2018

    Are you familiar with the saying, “6 of one, half a dozen of the other?”
    A friend’s mother-in-law says, “Six and a half dozen of one or the other.”
    No amount of patient explanation can convince her that these two phrases do not mean the same thing.

    — Sue

  • Nov 03, 2018

    My mom had SO many marvelous sayings it’s hard to choose just a few. One of my favorites has always been, “All her taste is in her mouth,” used to describe someone who has no taste in any other area.
    “Aging is not for the faint of heart,” is another favorite. Predictably, I appreciate this one more and more as time goes by.

    — Sue

  • Nov 03, 2018

    You gave me a blast from the past. I grew up being sent to redd up my room. It was well after college that I figured out no one knew what the heck I was doing to redd up my room.

    — Leslie

  • Nov 03, 2018

    You gave me a blast from the past. I grew up being sent to redd up my room. It was well after college that I figured out no one knew what the heck I was doing to redd up my room.

    — Leslie

  • Nov 03, 2018

    My Momo (grandma) of TX-Czech descent called a suspicious looking character a “Judas” … irksome people were “chicken-shit SOB’s.” Makes me smile!

    — Sharon

  • Nov 03, 2018

    I was always being threatened with “I’m going to jerk a knot in your tail” or she was going to “tan my hide” when I was “on her last nerve”. If someone was drunk they were “three sheets to the wind”. This would be North Carolina, by the by.

    — Jessica

  • Nov 03, 2018

    I was always being threatened with “I’m going to jerk a knot in your tail” or she was going to “tan my hide” when I was “on her last nerve”. If someone was drunk they were “three sheets to the wind”. This would be North Carolina, by the by.

    — Jessica

  • Nov 03, 2018

    My Dad was a pilot in WW2 and would often tell me to “straighten up and fly right!”
    He was also a sailor and when my room needed cleaning I was told to “Stow your gear” And to get my room “ship shape”
    When he was startled by a loud noise he liked to shout "Shoot him in the pants! The vest and coat are mine!

    — Hiram Wells

  • Nov 02, 2018

    When my brother and I set the haystack on fire Christmas Eve day, my mom said “you cooked your goose” and “you made your bed, now you have to lay in it”.
    I was worried that I wouldn’t get anything from Santa that night. Santa stopped.

    — Nancy

  • Nov 02, 2018

    My mom used to say, “Cheese my beads!!!”, I assume to avoid swearing in front of the kids. One I find useful to this day is, “This too shall pass,” along with its equivalent, “In 100 years, no one will remember.” (Very like Julie’s “You’ll never see them again.”)

    Another of my favorites is, when she couldn’t find something, “Wo ist mine unterhosen?” (She studied a little German in college.) She would continue, “In der washer.” Still makes me smile.

    Thanks for starting this conversation! Your illustrations of your mom’s bon mots are wonderful, if a bit disturbing.

    — Priscilla

  • Nov 02, 2018

    “Busy as a one legged man at a butt kicking contest” has always been one of my personal faves from my childhood.

    — Shirley Clute

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