Monday, November 15, 2010

Hmmm . . .

Have you ever repeated a hackneyed aphorism only to wonder what you've just said? I do this once in a blue moon, don't you? I guess the proof is in the pudding . . . Sorry. I'm wincing, too.

But why do we keep the phrase "happy as a clam" alive? Are clams especially happy creatures? I can't imagine they would be. I wouldn't enjoy living in the cold, gritty sand until some person dug me up and put me in a chowder. Who started this saying in the first place? Do you know, readers? I'm pretty sure it wasn't the clams.

And what about the he "doesn't hold a candle to you" axiom? Is it a good thing to be that close to fire? Funny, but I don't want a guy holding a candle anywhere near me. Ouch! Those things burn. Then there's the whole "falling off the wagon" thing. What wagon are we on, where are we going, and is it driving at high speed? "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." Again this sounds painful. And if you don't "know on which side your bread is buttered" should you really be allowed to eat at the grown-up table?

Don't forget these favorites . . . like two peas in a pod (only two?), a nod is as good as a wink (Is there a nod/wink standard and how do we judge their equality?), and a picture's worth a thousand words (Only if you're Vermeer).

Actually, there is one adage that I like. "No man is a hero to his valet." Can't we all relate to this? A discreet servant is so difficult to find . . .

Right. I know, I'll stop now, but first, I must ask this question.

Are there any adages that cause you to say, "#*%#, why?!"


  1. Often and numerous... many from the North of England... about to do a great deal of work and you are going to 'break eggs with a stick!'

  2. All of them cause me to say that when I read them in a ms. I'm editing :)

  3. Yes, I love exploring where these things come from, and am amazed at how so many people say all these sayings without thinking about it. Like the whole "could/couldn't care less" thing...opposite meanings but used interchangeably.

    I also love how much humor can be gained from exploring these things (that "bird in hand" commercial comes to mind).

    Finally, there are ones to avoid because of their origin. I never say, "Rule of thumb" because that comes from the the size of the stick (a thumb's width) that a man was allowed to beat his wife with in colonial times.

  4. Funny. So many of those saying make no sense. That's interesting etymology from Jennifer Hoffine.

  5. It's interesting to see how some cliches change from culture to culture. Like the cliche for raining hard: in the US, it is "raining cats and dogs" while in Wales, it is "raining old women and sticks." HA!

    Some of these old aphorisms get mixed up so they make even less sense. The pudding one I believe has been passed on to you in a muddled manner. It should be "the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

  6. I can't think of any write now but this post made me grin. Especially that last adage. The hired help see much more than anyone wishes them too.


  7. I've never heard of Happy as a clam! Happy as Larry maybe - then again who is Larry and good for him that he is a happy chappy!!

    I like "thick as two planks"! :-)

    take care

  8. An Aussie one "he shot through like a Bondi tram."

  9. How about "he's living the life of Riley"? Who's Riley and is living a really good life, in what way?

    My kids got a couple mixed together and ended up with "You scared my pants down." And, "Don't spoil the beans."

  10. I like all those sayings. To me, they're as pretty as a pair of tin slippers.

  11. I love your list. I got a book by Garrison Webb that had hundreds of these and the history behind many of them was fascinating. :O)

  12. I never did get why there are only two peas in that pod, since I've yet to find only two peas in a pod. EVER.

    My dad says this one when he goes to the grocery store around the holidays -- "It's busier than a three-peckered billy goat". That's one busy goat, if you ask me!

    ♥ Mary Mary

  13. Great post!

    I don't get "now wait a cotton-pickin' minute" I don't know if that's exactly 60 seconds or if it's longer? Maybe shorter? I've never picked cotton so I just don't know!

  14. Yes, some old sayings do get muddled with usage. I like happy as a clam though - I think it works because it has good assonance - it's the same "a" sound that is repeated the whole way through.

    The fact though that so many of them get muddled over the years demonstrates how lazily they've been used by people (politicians especially!). Which is maybe ok in speech but I think unforgivable in writing. Orwell comments well on the phenomenon in an essay "Politics and the English Language":

    "By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking."

  15. If they're used in a story in an "offbeat" way, they can be very effective. Otherwise, it's WHY...

  16. Yeah... I hate seeing these in stories. If someone comes up with an interesting twist... I like it. Otherwise... WHY, WHY, WHY!