Of course, it isn’t just old movies that provide fodder. Mike Sweeney is a retired teacher living in St. Mary’s County, Md. Once in his sixth-grade math class, his students were sharing how they solved a particular problem.
Wrote Mike: “After one group shared their strategy with the class, another student said that his group had gotten the same answer using a different method.”
That prompted Mike to say: “Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
The eyes of his students opened wide in horror: “Mr. Sweeney, how could you say such a thing?!” “That’s gross!” “Eewww!”
Mike’s students learned more than math that day.
Jon Macks of Haymarket, Va., shared a story from his daughter-in-law, whose young daughters were jabbering away in the back seat of her car, endlessly hashing over the same subject.
When mom called back to them, “You girls are starting to sound like a broken record,” the jabbering was replaced by confused silence.
Wrote Jon: “They had never even seen a record. All their music came from CDs or their iPhones! They had never had the experience of listening to a broken record repeating itself on a turntable when the needle kept skipping back to the same spot.”
Speaking of vinyl, Ben Seigel of Madison, Wis., likes the expression “That’s a deep cut,” referring to when someone makes an obscure joke or cleverly ties two ideas together. It refers, Ben wrote, “to a vinyl album track that’s presumably towards the end of the record.”
Does that work in the Spotify age?
Technology ages as quickly as culture. Diane Giuliani of Ellicott City, Md., was asked for contact information by a millennial.
“I indicated I needed to check my Rolodex,” Diane wrote. “Definitely met with a blank stare.”
Some linguistic vestiges of obsolete technology remain. Apparently people used to remove feline epidermis in different ways. And William L. Rukeyser of Davis, Calif., pointed out that we still use the expression “Drop a dime” on someone.
“When was the last time you even saw a pay phone?” he wrote. “Much less, who remembers when they charged a dime?”
Melissa Pollak of Arlington, Va., was at a lecture that included a discussion of how technological improvements in contact lens design led to their increasing popularity.
“The lecturer ended his talk with a line about Dorothy Parker being right,” Melissa wrote. “I was the only one who laughed. Apparently, I was the only person in the room familiar with Parker’s highly memorable, witty — now sexist? — line: ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ ”
Will laser eye surgery replace contact lenses the way contact lenses replaced eyeglasses? (Not that they have. It’s spectacles for me. I can’t imagine touching my eyeball.)
Francine Plunkert manages a small surgery center. “Recently, after our morning team huddle had concluded, I sent them off with, ‘Smiles, everyone, smiles!’ ” she wrote.
The younger folks on the team had no idea that it even was a reference; they just thought Francine was being weird. When she told them it was a reference — to a TV show from the 1970s called “Fantasy Island” — they’d never heard of that.
As for those Keystone Kops — the silent-movie characters who became a byword for chaos — John Koenig’s grandfather was one.
Victor Heerman Sr. got his start working for Mack Sennett in the days of two-reelers. “Years later, he told my mother that the Keystone Kops were basically anyone around the Sennett lot who could fit in to the police costumes,” wrote John, of Los Angeles.
Heerman did pretty well in Hollywood. He directed the Marx Brothers in “Animal Crackers” and, with his wife, Sarah Y. Mason, won an Oscar in 1934 for the screenplay adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
Wrote John: “The film, directed by George Cukor, starred Katharine Hepburn. To invoke a couple of other fading references, my mother’s godmother was Mary Pickford. One of my grandfather’s best friends was la Pickford’s husband, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Nobody today has heard of any of these formerly iconic figures.”
And to tighten the circle further, Doug Bloomfield was in Malta a couple of years ago and wanted to get souvenirs of the iconic statuette at the center of the 1941 film, one of his favorites. That proved harder than he thought it would be.
“Only in a few, and not many at that, souvenir stores was I able to find in a dusty corner a few miniature reproductions of the one” from the movie, Doug wrote. “In fact, falcons are quite rare in Malta, unlike naive tourists of a certain age.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.