BREA, California – In this installment of History Corner we turn our attention to a few phrases or sayings that were once in common use by the crazy old farts in the oil patch like me but have since faded away. I spent the vast majority of my career in Texas so that is the source of most of the entries. The few younger people left in the industry will not be familiar with these phrases and this article is for their education and illumination.
“He doesn’t know shit from Shinola.”
This means that the “he” (or she) is ignorant and unable to understand simple things. The word shit is self-explanatory but Shinola requires a bit of pedagogy. Shinola was a brand of shoe polish. Its most common form was in a round, flat metal container filled with a waxy paste. Its consistency resembled that of feces, thus lending itself to comparison. Shinola went out of business in 1960 but was revived as a brand for other goods in 2011.
“Let the good times roll”
This quote originates in South Louisiana and is a translation of the Cajun French “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” It means to enjoy life, especially around the time of Mardi Gras, despite what else may be going on. In the oil patch it has a deeper meaning to not lose heart when times are bad.
“Dry as a popcorn fart”
Too often a flatus will be more than just gas and include some entrained liquid, leading to a messy, disgusting outcome. However, if one has been eating popcorn exclusively, you would expect any flatulence generated by the simple carbohydrate of popcorn to be only gas with no liquid, thus dry. So, the phrase simply means that the well is a dry hole. It is a blending of two definitions of “dry.”
“Let the bastards freeze in the dark”
This phrase originated in 1973 when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries embargoed oil shipments to the USA, Japan and Europe following the Yom Kippur War. This caused prices of crude oil and natural gas to skyrocket but at the same time the US federal government put price controls on refined products, especially those delivered to the northeast USA. Furthermore, new environmental regulations restricted drilling. This caused a lot of resentment in oil producing states such as Texas and Louisiana. The phrase is a result of that resentment, meaning that the producing states should refuse to deliver product to the consuming states if it had to be at lower than market prices.
“Now he’s too rich to kill”
This is actually a line from the 1956 movie Giant. It refers to a disreputable character, Jett Rink, in the movie (played by James Dean) who made an oil discovery on his property and became immensely wealthy. The line was spoken by a character, Uncle Bawley (played by Chill Wills) to rancher Bic Benedict (Rock Hudson). The meaning was that as a poor cowboy, Rink could have been disposed of without anyone noticing. With the oil discovery, he became too well known. Although uncommonly used, it came to mean anyone who came into a position of authority without having earned it.