No Tonic Allowed in the Gym

From the 1973 DHS yearbook.

This sign hung on the door to the Dedham High gym 50 years ago, and there’s no doubt that every one of the 2,000 or so students in the school knew exactly what it meant. Hang that sign on the gym door today and you’ll get a lot of confused looks and questions…Hair tonic? Gin and tonic? Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s know that “tonic” was another word for soda. Orange ade, root beer, ginger ale, even Coke were referred to collectively as tonic. It was a common and widespread term around here back then, as seen in this ad from the Globe in 1972:

According to the Globe, the first printed instance of the word to describe carbonated beverages was in 1888 in an article describing the theft of ’10 bottles of tonic’ from a Boston store. For close to a century, folks in Massachusetts and other parts of New England could be assured of getting served a carbonated soda when asking for a tonic. The term has been pretty much abandoned these days (Wikipedia called it “antiquated!” Boy that makes me feel old). It joins these other words from my youth that have faded from modern day usage:

Hassock (ottoman)

Divan (couch- this was my father’s word, not mine)

Dungarees (jeans- see my February 2023 post about Dungaree Day)

Supper (dinner)

Cellar (basement)

Crueler (a horizontal donut, now called a stick)

Feel free to share your own “antiquated” words or phrases from back in the day. And keep that tonic out of the gym!

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7 Comments on “No Tonic Allowed in the Gym”

  1. Dave (in MA) Says:

    They used to have a Tonic aisle at Roche Bros. up until not THAT long ago, maybe 20 years.
    We still say ‘cellar’, ‘supper’ and ‘hassock’.

    Dunkin Donuts back when they were still a Donut shop would sell “crullers” that weren’t flat on the bottom like the “sticks” are now. These days they have a “French cruller’ that’s a glazed donut shaped like a truck tire.
    One antiquated phrase is “128”, and newcomers to the area have no idea what we’re talking about. That, and Rte. 1 in Dedham. Also, trash cans are called “the barrels”.


  2. Mary Fontaine Says:

    We didn’t have a living room or den but a parlor. Believe me it was not fancy but that was the word we always used. I can relate to using all these other terms.


  3. Mary Selig Says:

    Parlor also know as Living Room .


  4. Mary Spead Says:

    I remember that sign! I gave up saying tonic because so many people I met had no idea what I meant 😂
    I get very strange looks when I say pocketbook too! 😂


  5. Norris Shook Says:

    When I was visiting Washington DC in 1979, I went to a deli and asked for an Italian grinder. The clerk got all upset with me and threatened to toss me out of the store. Turned out that a grinder was slang for a prostitute. Fortunately, the store owner was standing nearby and overheard the conversation. He had lived in Boston for several years, so he knew that all I wanted was a sandwich!


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