Falling Off the Roof

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For your viewing pleasure, a painting created exclusively for Friend for the Ride:

Falling Off the Roof

My mom painted this young lady falling off the roof, inspired by a recent conversation with her friends.

During their high school and college days, in the forties and fifties, Mom said they felt oh so sophisticated confiding in one another:  “I fell off the roof.”

Meaning:  “It’s that time of the month.”

We wondered where this expression came from.

I had no luck googling, so I checked with Harry Finley at MUM, the Museum of Menstruation.

Harry doesn’t know either, but he remembers a visitor to the museum in 1994 who was writing a book on expressions.   The writer thought “falling off the roof” came from the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Perhaps, but when I reported this back to Mom, she commented that the  girls in Baltimore and the girls she met at Duke certainly knew it too.

Harry’s MUM site boasts an incredible online archive of materials related to menstruation.

A pamphlet titled As One Girl to Another, is dated 1943.

Produced by Kotex, the page below refers to the “crazy nicknames” girls have for their periods.

Yep, one of those crazy nicknames is “falling off the roof.”

Menstruation Booklet

But I still have no idea where the expression came from.

Any ideas?

Falling Off the Roof

My mom, Nancy Kiehne, paints in acrylics and watercolor. To see more of her work, check out her Tumblr site.

23 responses »

  1. Hi Barbara,
    It’s fascinating where our old sayings come from. I had never heard this one. Since falling off a roof can lead to broken bones and even death this doesn’t seem the most positive association. But I guess if you come from the “curse” generation, it makes sense.

    In college, a friend and I used to say “George” is visiting whenever we had our periods. I think I came up with the name myself–or perhaps I heard it somewhere–but for years I’d mark in my calendar a “G” on the day I started.

    Dear George is visiting less and less these days and some day soon George won’t visit at all. I can’t say I’ll miss him.

    I have no idea why I named something so distinctly feminine a male name. Perhaps it is the nickname for Georgina!

    • I like your “G ” calendar code – mines a plain old fashioned asterisk (only 2 so far in 2013, maybe none in 2014?)

    • As a child and into my teens my mother told of “a terrible” thing that I did to her when I was 3 in 1953. Our neighbor, old Mr. Balsley, saw me outside playing one day and asked me how my mother was doing. I told him, “She fell off the roof.” Mr. Balsley left me in a full run to get to our house to see if my mother needed help. No phones back then. Needless to say, my mother, at the ripe old age of 21, was mortified. He told Mom what I had repeated to him. Of course, she assured him she didn’t fall off the roof. It seems that I had overheard her telling my grandmother that she, “fell off the roof this morning.” I’ve repeated this story several times in my adult life and not one person has ever heard the phrase nor has anyone seen the humor in my faux pas. I was so pleased to find your blog and confirm my mother’s story.

  2. Wonderful drawing. Thanks for sharing! I never heard that particular term used. We used the term “I got my friend.” Weird, but at least we didn’t feel cursed. We used to also say “my Aunt Flo is visiting,” which made sense; Flo = flow? But mostly we just said we got our period. Some of the ‘rougher’ girls (the wild ones, you know, the ones who smoked and stuff…) would say they were “on the rag” which always grossed me out. I sure hope someone knows where the “fell off the roof” expression came from. 😀

    • I’ve never come across “fell off the roof” as an expression here in the UK (or” Aunt Flo” visiting for that matter – is that an American expression?).
      I’ve heard my mum refer to menstruation as “the curse”, but it wasn’t a common expression amongst my peers. Like Patti, I never particularly liked the expression “on the rag”, which I guess was linked to sanitary towels being nicknamed as “jam rags”. I’ve also heard it referred to as “flag week”, which could be a corruption of “rag week” (or maybe it derives from a red flag for danger – I think my ex would subscribe to the latter theory!).
      The most common phrase I would use was being “on”.

  3. I sure don’t know where it comes from. I’m most familiar with “I started.” The book reminds me very much of something my mom gave to me but surely I had an updated version since I was a teen in 60s.

  4. We definitely used to say ‘my friend is visiting’ or that we had ‘the curse.’ I never heard ‘falling off the roof’ either. Maybe that is a regional saying from the 40’s or 50’s. I am a southern girl who ‘started’ in 1970.

  5. I have heard “falling off the roof,” but don’t know where it came from. So glad I don’t have to worry about what to call it any more! Thanks for the link to your mom’s pics–love the Shakespeare chair!

  6. I seem to remember having been told that it was a euphemism for “on the rag,” which is pretty imagistic, when you think about it. “Off the roof” alliterates nicely with the more visceral phrase.

    • “On the rag” sure does conjure images. I’m reading Susan Gabriel’s The Secret Sense of Wildflower, and she describes how Wildflower’s mother made them each special pads from quilt pieces, a definite step up from rags.

      Fun to receive your comment!

  7. I never heard “falling off the roof” either. The only connection I see is that it could potentially be bloody to fall off of a roof. Perhaps that’s too obvious!

  8. I just had to chime in here. You know how we say Heck instead of Hell, Gosh instead of God, Fudge instead of … ways not to say it. I had always understood that Off the Roof works in that way, so that one did not have to say “on the rag.” And they *were* rags; what did women do before Kimberley-Clark came along?! PS I have a poem with as many names for Aunt Flo as I could think of in the Hot Flash Sonnets 😉 (http://www.passagerbooks.com/books/hot-flash-sonnets/)

    • Hi Moira, I’d love to reprint the poem in a post if you can send it to me and that works for you. I’d be glad to do another giveaway of the book in the post. My copy is packed up (we’re moving), so I can’t copy it myself.

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