Words to Live By

by Mel Gilden

Some tunes will stick in your head forever. I'll do you a favor and not mention any by name, but you know the ones I mean. Some are rock hits, some are commercial jingles, and some just seem to be there — they've always been there. In my world there are phrases that have just as many mental hooks as the tunes that won't go away.

For instance, "a happy Fizzies party," and "what a chocolate mess" are phrases that seem to have lives of their own. They are relics of commercials I haven't heard for maybe 40 years.


The original Fizzies ad from 1962.

Fizzies were (they may still exist — I don't know) tablets you could drop into water where they would fizz vigorously until they had completely dissolved, leaving behind root beer or some other flavor of carbonated beverage. College boys would sometimes throw the tablets into a swimming pool for some chaotic fun. These days we — other geezers and I — use the commercial phrase to comment upon any noisy social gathering.

M and Ms

"What a chocolate mess," refers to what happens if you eat a regular chocolate bar instead of M&Ms, the sponsor's product. Laurie and I quote this phrase on any occasion that requires cleaning up — from kitty urp to the remains of a dinner party. For some reason, "It melts in your mouth, not in your hand," never seemed as useful.

Not all the phrases we repeat come from commercials. During the Ascot scene of My Fair Lady Eliza Doolittle demonstrates her growing ability to speak with the upper crust lilt that Professor Henry Higgins favors. But she doesn't yet have quite the hang of it, so with her careful new delivery, all H's in the right place, she tells the crowd about her relative, a notorious drunk, who was murdered. "Them she lived with would have killed her for a hat pin," Eliza assures them in round pear-shaped tones, "let alone a hat." Inevitably, Laurie or I will speak this line as we guzzle our nearly nightly gin and tonic. Perhaps because Eliza also confided that "gin was like mother's milk to her." The "new small talk," don'tcha know?

Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle

Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle enunciating her H's clearly.

Pooh-BahIn Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, Poo-Bah attempts to explain in some detail to the Mikado himself the strange circumstances of a recent beheading. Or as Poo-Bah puts it, he invents "corroborative detail that adds verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." You might be amazed at how often this piece of dialog is useful when discussing writing and literature. In any case, like the other phrases, it is fun to say — which alone makes it worthwhile to remember.

You probably have your own phrases and quotations that stick with you through thick and thin. Some you find useful, and others you would forget if you could. Each one "adds verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." See? I told you it was useful.