California Culture


California native Sid Hallburn loves old American slang, which he has been collecting for more than 50 years. In the picture Sid is the tall boy in the center, shown with his family in 1933.

Fun Project For A California High School or College Class: MGM Dancer's 50 Years of Old Time American Slang

By Chris MacDonald

"I thought everything was Hunky-Dory until I found out you Squealed on me for carrying a Gat. Then I ended up doing Hard Time in the Big House!"

MGM Tap Dancer Sid Hallburn, 93, loves old American slang, which he has been collecting for more than 50 years. Now Sid, who was one of Meglin's Kiddies, just like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple, is looking for a high school or college English or History class to help him put them all together for publication in a book.

The World War II Army veteran, who also taught Special Education in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 35 years, figures he may have more than 10,000 old American slang terms, either on typed paper or scribbled notes in huge bags.

"I really got serious about saving these words and phrases when my 4-year-old daughter, Kathy, did not understand when I told her, 'You're a real whipper-snapper.' 'What's that, daddy?' she said. 'It means you're very active and into everything.'"

"I thought I should write down these expressions, which I learned from my grandparents, parents, friends, teachers and Army buddies," said the man who starred as a dancer in the Rose Bowl 85 years ago. "Old time American Slang should make a fantastic book, preserving language you don't hear much anymore."

"I 'knock on wood' that it will happen," said the native of San Francisco, who graduated from Southgate High, before earning education degrees--a BA from Pepperdine and a MS from USC.

A glance in Sid's literal bags of old word wisdom, folk lore and fun phrases shows some you don't hear much anymore that begin with the letter "H:" Holy Smoke, Half-Baked, Head Over Heels, Hot Diggity Dog, Heavens to Betsy, Hit Him in the Bread Basket, He's Out Like a Light, He's Playing with Fire, He's Out Cold, Hot to Trot, Ham it Up, Heave Ho and He's Out in Left Field.

Speaking of the last word, looking further in Sid's amazing Treasure Trove, I came up with: His Elevator Doesn't Go to the Top, His Lights Are On but Nobody's Home, She's Not Hitting on all Cylinders, He's Paddling With Only One Oar in the Water, and Her Pilot Light's Out.

I started poking in the bags, looking for phrases that start with "G:" Go Jump in the Lake, Get the Hang of It, Get the Lead Out, Give a Hoot, Get Your 2-cents Worth and Give it a Shot.

I've heard my grandparents say some of Sid's scribbles: Needle in a Haystack, You're Pulling My Leg, Over the Hump, Paddle Your Own Canoe, Sly as a Fox, Something Fishy, Wild Goose Chase, Wet Your Whistle, All Washed Up, Your Ship Has Come In, Get the Hang of It, Give a Hoot, Kill Two Birds With One Stick, Getting Hitched, and He's Full of Hot Air. I haven't heard these phrases in years and think its wonderful that Sid--an old Hoofer (dancer), who can tell you stories about Gene Kelly-- is trying to save them so others can learn.

Atta Boy, Sid, you're doing a Bang Up job, which will help make our youth Bright Eyed and Bushy-Tailed. If you're an English or History teacher, who would like to have your class take on this exciting project of defining, organizing and helping create a book, which will be helpful to schools and libraries across the country, please contact Sid, c/o Not only will you help keep history alive, but it will be a project you will never forget. It should turn into a real Humdinger!

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