Back In The Day

It seems the new buzz phrase going around is, “Back in the day…” Which day we're talking about is not always clear, but there has been a lot of going back to it lately.

 It’s fascinating to me how these phrases get started and are perpetuated. I first started wondering about buzz phrases when “the bottom line” started going around back in the 1980s. Then along came “been there, done that”, “it’s not about you”, and a number of others that caught on and were run into the ground.

But what of this “back in the day” thing? What happened to “back in my day” or “back in the old days”?...

I want clarity. If someone’s attempting to usurp my decrepitude without actually admitting age with their “back in the day”, I want to know what damned day they're going on about. I’m older than most people think I am, and I’ve lived enough life for three people. Besides, I’ve noticed that most of the people who use this phrase are a good 20 to 30 years younger than I am. If I can say “back in the ’50s”, surely you can confess “back in the ’70s (’80s, ’90s, etc)”.

I’ve Googled the phrase and have found some interesting ideas about it. Some people believe that it originated in the ’80s with M.C. Hammer’s song, “Back in the Day” (sounds reasonable, and if this is the case, we white folks have only just recently caught onto it, which is even more believable). Some believe that it’s used more in the sense of pleasant nostalgia rather than pulling rank (sounds possible). One person wrote that it’s a kind of rite of passage for twentysomethings who want to claim being old enough to already have an interesting past (sounds probable). Still, it just feels noncommittal to me. Age unspecific.

What catch phrase comes to your mind, and what’s your take on it? Why do we latch onto phrases like this?


  1. I think it’s older than the 80’s but I could be wrong. It seems like I’ve been hearing it for most of my life, just not very often. I get the impression that people who use it are trying to be casual but profound or literary. Or something like that. Of course, it depends on context. If someone is actually trying to “pull rank” then they should definitely say “Back in my day” or otherwise specify when they are talking about.

    Maybe people who say “back in the day” are trying to avoid sounding like they’re pulling rank.

  2. The phrases that confuse me are those little worthless filler things people use when they “talk” to each other. “You workin’ hard or hardly workin’?” to which the answer might be something like, “I’ll tell you what.” It’s not really a conversation, even though each person said something to the other.

  3. I was thinking about this for quite a while today. I think the one that I’ve really noticed is “It is what it is.” I guess you can’t argue with that. Something surely can’t be what it isn’t. I guess it’s some sort of acceptance of things as they are. It does rather put an end to conversation, though.

    It’s probably got roots in some song or other pop culture thing of which I am completely unaware. I’m a bit out of the loop.

  4. I’ve always thought that maybe the old “back in the day” somehow suggests that “the day” was better than this day. A way to wax nostalgic without sounding too esoteric.

  5. Bob, good point about worthless filler. “Conversations” like that drive me crazy. What is so wrong with simply not saying anything when you have nothing to say?

    I have to confess my own guilt though. Someone gives me a canned phrase I too often give the expected canned response which may lead to another canned phrase from the other person and there I am, trapped in a meaningless “conversation” because I’ve been conditioned to respond just to “be polite”.


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