Monday, October 27, 2008

A look back at how we've been looking back

It used to be that when people talked about the way things used to be, they'd say, um, "It used to be that..."


"Back in the old days..."


"I can remember when..."

In the past few years, this seems to have been replaced with:

"Back in the day..."

Somehow this phrase has never seemed quite right to me.

For one thing, whenever I hear it I always think a word is missing. Do we mean "back in the day when such and such happened"? Or "back in the day of horses and buggies"? Don't we need a "when" or an "of" there somewhere?

And the singular "day" makes the phrase, to my ear, even more awkward, as if it's implying we're talking about a particular date. ("On Feb. 18, 1886, women wore hoop skirts.")

As a replacement for the previously mentioned phrases, it doesn't seem to add anything.

But maybe that's the point.

Maybe it's supposed to subtract something, namely the personal element.

For if you say "Back in the day" instead of, say, "I can remember when" or "It used to be," you're avoiding saying (or hinting) that you yourself are old enough to remember something.

Whereas with "Back in the day," you can distance yourself, as if to say, "I don't have personal experience of this, mind you, but I have heard it said that The Beatles created quite a sensation in the U.S. in the '60s."

Will I ever get used to this phrase? Am I the only one who finds it awkward?

I suppose those are questions for another day....

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