The Baby and the Bathwater

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I’ve been reading quite a few headlines lately about celebrity parents and their lack of hygiene when it comes to their kids (and themselves). And of course, it’s none of my business if these folks want to walk around till they (and their young’uns) smell to high heaven. But every time I see these articles, I think of the same expression. 

Technically, I see this image in my head, of a baby being thrown out with the bathwater. Because if you go around for who knows how long, skipping baths, you’re going to have some pretty dirty bathwater. At least, that’s where the expression came from, back in the day, when people bathed on the not-so-regular. 

Honestly, I cringe thinking of that bathwater and the poor little babies who came last to the water party. It’s a vivid expression, and some of us still use it today to mean getting rid of something bad (the bathwater) along with something good (the baby). 

I say “some of us” because the older I get, the more I notice that colorful expressions and classic, time-honored idioms aren’t used so much. Even in the South where expressions are a way of life, I find kids using hashtags and acronyms like favorite sayings. About once a week, I have to look up all these weird initials. 

Or worse, I get a crazy look from the teenaged server when I say something like, “in for a penny, in for a pound!” when I order fried catfish and hushpuppies. 

Is this where we’re heading, the demise of expressions like that? Will we all go around saying, “YOLO!” or “FOBO” or “#love.” Maybe we’ll skip words all together and just make the heart gesture instead.


The struggle is real, y’all, for writers like me. In my everyday life (that’s IRL for you young folk), I use expressions constantly. And right now, I’m writing a cozy mystery with characters similar in age to me and so naturally, expressions I love are sprinkled liberally within: 

“You look like something the cat dragged in.” 

“He was as drunk as Cooter Brown.” 

Everyone knew she had more money than sense. 

 I feel like these are pretty common sayings, but then I begin to wonder. Will readers know what the heck I'm talking about? Should I add more context clues, just in case? Is this idiom way too regional?

It’s very tiring, second guessing oneself on nearly every page, especially when it comes to the kind of writing that I purely love. Which is to say, regional dialogue and colorful expressions. 

Ultimately, I begin to feel old and curmudgeonly, shaking my fist at the Millennials and younger who could care less about my favorite expressions. And they don’t want to hear my favorite stories as to how the expressions originated, either (though apparently we’ve exaggerated through the years).

But then I pull myself up by my bootstraps and put nose to the grindstone. Because if this manuscript sells, it’ll be to an audience of women readers just like me. So I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I’ll keep my outdated yet colorful and regional expressions in, thank you very much. (Unless an editor puts the screws to me.)


Sioux Roslawski said...

I must admit, I've never heard the Cooter Brown one. But I love quaint sayings--it adds to the flavor of a book.

You and Sue BE will lure me into reading cozy mysteries, once both your books are published. ;)

Renee Roberson said...

Oh, man, Cathy. I hear ya. I have an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old, and I'm constantly trying to keep up with their slang. The other day my son told me something I cooked was "bussin.'" I think that meant good. I love being reminded of these charming old sayings, so you keep doing you! If those expressions fit in with the flavor of your book and the demographic of your readers, I'll shake my fist right along with you!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the laugh this morning, especially about the hand-heart sign. I laughed, but then I sighed at the realization that you're so right.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, I don't know who Cooter Brown was but I think he must've been from around Georgia 'cause that's where you mainly hear that expression. And we all know what it means. (Hint: You do NOT want to be drunk as Cooter Brown!)

Thanks, Renee, I'm too old to change it up now. I have never heard bussin'...this is exactly why/when I realized I couldn't write for the contemporary YA market. :-)

And I'm glad you laughed along with me, Unknown Reader. I did a bit of sighing while I wrote this! :-)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...


I'm mentoring a new writer whose second language is English. Let's just say that I'm having to watch my writing for a wide variety of expressions just so that she knows what I'm saying to her!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Know what that's like, Sue! When I wrote my books for the Korean market, somehow none of my expressions (or humor) translated. :-)

Charlotte Dixon said...

I hear you! I have to ask my daughter what something means--all the time!! My curmudgeon is not happy-LOL

Linda O'Connell said...

Keep those idioms coming. I can't make heads or tails of many of the abbreviations. In fact just recently my husband discovered what LOL means.

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