Southern Thing Column

Did your granny have a ‘pocketbook’? A glossary of old-fashioned words

Below is an excerpt from my column that originally appeared on It’s a Southern Thing. Click here to read the full column now. This column had a “sequel” of even more granny words. Click here to read the full follow-up now.

The other day, a friend posted on Facebook that she’d used the word “pocketbook” and completely confused her grandchildren. She wrote plaintively: “Doesn’t anyone say this anymore?” Nope. Think of it like when our parents or grandparents referred to their “sock hops” or “jalopies.” They no longer exist, figuratively speaking.

Perhaps the “pocketbook” misunderstanding is understandable for a generation of people who’ve never written a check or used a phone that was attached to a wall. Their world references might lead them to believe a “pocketbook” is a tee-tiny iPad or even a miniature graphic novel.

The post made me think of other words my grandmothers said that could be tricky for the young’uns of today. For example, when I was pre-school age, my mother worked full-time so I was sent to “nursery school,” which was really Mrs. McRaney’s house where we had zero schooling.

So I put together a handy glossary of words to help bridge the gap between folks of a certain age and whippersnappers. (Just so you know, my age puts me squarely in between boomers and whippersnappers. I carry a “purse,” not a pocketbook, but I have been known to call younger folks “young’uns” … but usually only when they’ve annoyed me.)

Kelly’s Handy-Dandy Glossary of Granny-Speak

PocketbookNoun. A purse, or handbag, usually one that has a matching pair of shoes and earbobs (see below) and a coordinating chunky necklace. Presumably, the name came from the fact that it held all the things men carried in their pockets – and so much more – rather than its size. My Grandmother Gray had an entire closet filled with pocketbooks of every color, alongside neatly stacked boxes of shoes to match every handbag. She was an Avon lady, so she also had drawers full of costume jewelry to perfectly accessorize any pocketbook-shoe set. If you’re still not sure what one is, picture Sophia’s straw handbag on “The Golden Girls.” Now that was a pocketbook.

Earbobs. Noun. Earrings. Typically made of cheap metals or colorful plastics to match shoes and pocketbooks. Often used to refer to the clip-on variety for unpierced ears, which came with tiny vice-like screws to hold them to your ear lobe. Click here to read the full column on SouthernThing.com.

Below is a brief excerpt of the follow-up column:

More Handy-Dandy Grandma Words

Y’all. After I wrote last week about words my grandmothers used to say that confuse today’s young “whippersnappers,” I got tons of responses from all of you who were having fun recalling these old-fashioned words. So many, in fact, that I feel the need to bring you a second glossary of granny-speak.

Here are words readers submitted by email or in comments on social media:

Color crayons. Noun. Crayons. (We Southerners like to say, “Why use one word when you can use two?”)

Smell good. Noun. Perfume or cologne. Example: “Put on some of that smell-good from Avon before you go.”

Step-ins. Noun. Panties, underwear. Because you literally step into them. Click here to read the full second column of granny words on SouthernThing.com.

6 thoughts on “Did your granny have a ‘pocketbook’? A glossary of old-fashioned words”

  1. At 73 I can say this was a great trip down memory lane. I loved listening to my mother and her two sisters describing these items. And I loved watching my mother get ready for church or any other “dress up” occasion. Southern women know how to put themselves together!

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  2. How are you and Big Foot doing? I think of you often and wondered if you’ve succumbed to the new dog experience yet. I think I told you I lasted 3 months before I couldn’t stand the silence in the house anymore.

    These two columns brought back so many memories of my precious Grandma Bama (Her name was really Alabama!) – pronounced *Bah-mah. *She was so pretty all gussied up in her pretties! I will be celebrating her 121st birthday on April 12. Yes, she’s been gone since I was in high school but I continue to remember her with lots of love. Am I weird?

    And, don’t ever let me anywhere near your library because I may never come out. Books are my passion and I have my own collection of signed books and old books. My prize possession are a first edition copy of *Gone with the Wind *and a 1937 cookbook of my mom’s.

    I truly appreciate the way your writing brings back such good memories!

    Blessings, Debbie

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    1. Good to hear from you, Debbie! Bigfoot and I are fine. lol. Looking forward to getting second shots and getting back into the world. I’d love you to visit my library. I offer to loan books all the time. Books are meant to be shared. I love you story of your grandmother. How sweet! And I bet your mom’s cookbook has some great old recipes. Thanks for writing and stay well!

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