When in correspondence with a friend, I described our office storage as being “Fibber McGee’s closet,” he reminded me of our age difference. He pointed out that he grew up with “oldsters,” else he wouldn’t have known what I was talking about.
I’m not a contemporary of the fictional radio show character, either, and I was probably nine or ten when I asked my mother what she meant by Fibber McGee’s closet. Much like Archie Bunker or Lucy Ricardo or Dick Van Dyke, his name and funniest gags lived on for many years.
For people of a certain age or those who’ve been educated by those oldsters, the expression brings to mind an amusing picture of a storage mess so jammed and crowded with disorganized junk, it tumbles on the head of any poor soul who unadvisedly opens the door holding it all in place.
I do sometimes refer to things my readers may not be familiar with–maybe a piece of art or music, sometimes an olde English word, perhaps the use of medicinal herbs or a phrase in French or Latin. My intent is not to show off my grand education (inside joke there for my friends) but to use these unfamiliar things in a context where the reader learns something new. I enjoy learning in this manner so I presume other people might also.
I think it’s unfortunate we have been encouraged to “write on a fourth grade level” so our readers will feel comfortable. Now it seems my friend is telling me to write for the twenty-first century and I am balking at that too, at least a bit.
If we all write only contemporary language, how will the kids remember oleo, Nehi and Captain Kangaroo? How will they know where we got the phrase “dial the phone”? The retro song lyrics, “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates; you’ve got a brand new key,” won’t mean a thing.
Kids are probably already wondering why some of us refer to our keyboard’s “enter” key as the “return” key. (Do you know?)
The generation is degenerating. I think writers have a responsibility to slow the slide. What think ye?