Proverbs, Old and New

I once read a proverb, purported to be Native American, which said, “When a great soul dies, the winds go mad.”

Well, judging by the number of horrific windstorms we’ve endured in Indiana over the past few years, I’d say the state, if not the entire planet, is rapidly emptying of great souls.

I adore proverbs and adages, though. Some are meaningful, some obscene, some absolutely hilarious, but they all delight me as wondrous workings of the English language.

When I was a very young office worker, my female supervisor strolled into the hidden department where we lowly clerical staff worked in seclusion, sequestered from the more important (read: male) employees. Since this was an all-female office, and in a time long before the era of political correctness, many things were said that today would have one immediately on the chopping block.  On this particular day, our boss announced to us that she was “making three tracks today.”  We all looked at her in confusion; what did she mean?  “I’m making three tracks,” she repeated, and then, with a great slap on her own backside, “and the third one is the deepest and the widest.”  Ah. The light dawned: Her ass was dragging.

I loved that phrase and have used it (and explained it) many times since.

Another employee in an office where I later worked in Charleston, South Carolina, legendary for her ability to save money, told us proudly that she could “squeeze a nickel until the buffalo mooed.” Again, a marvelous aphorism that I, also being a legendary tightwad, adopted as my own.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” always tickles me, because I do precisely that. I’ve chosen many a book (and thereby discovered many a favorite author) by selecting a book based entirely on well-drawn cover art and an intriguing title.  I’m also notorious for rejecting books with what I think of as “high school art class” cover art.  No doubt I’ve missed many a good read that way, but, there you have it: I do judge my books by their covers.

During my childhood years, though, the saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” bewildered me. That was because I thought of  the word “have” in the context of being served: “I’ll have a piece of cake, yes, please.”  It took me until my teen years to figure out that the aphorism meant that once eaten, one no longer had a piece of cake.  (And speaking of cake, I have learned never to say that some task will be “a piece of cake”, because if I dare to say those words, it definitely won’t be!)  I suppose I wasn’t always “the sharpest knife in the drawer” in respect to some sayings, though, for it wasn’t until the era of political correctness that I belatedly realized the saying, “The pot calling the kettle black” was based on a racial slur.  I try not to use it any longer.  I get around it by sighing dramatically and saying, “Pots and kettles, pots and kettles”, thereby allowing people to make anything they like of the statement.

I watched and delighted in the cultural evolution of the old euphemism, “Two ants short of a picnic” or “A few bricks shy of a load” into a raft of similar but updated catchphrases such as “Two french-fries short of a Happy Meal”. Ever a Star Trek fan, I was enchanted when, “His elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor” morphed into, “He’s not operating on all thrusters.”

But perhaps the best, funniest, and most obscene saying of all I must credit to my paternal grandmother, Marie. All of us, her many grandchildren, heard her remark upon this time and again, and it is just as riotous a description today as when she said it each time a heavy rainstorm began:  “It’s raining,” she would say with a shake of her head, “like a cow pissing on a flat rock.”

‘nuff said.

4 thoughts on “Proverbs, Old and New

  1. I had to look up the Pot calling the kettle Black,. I heard the term and have used it myself. I’ve heard other African-Americans use the term also. From what I read some people who did not know much about the time period when the phrase came about. Both pots and kettles were black. I tried to paste the article but I lost it. Do a search on the term and you will find the history. You can be safe and not use the phrase so you don’t offend. It makes my head hurt that people take so much out of context. I had to look it up because I did not want to be racist against my self, I thought why would my parents and grandparents say it. I do not hear younger people say it much.


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