for the 21st century
by John Gosselink
| I was
watching the Democrats yelling at each other during a presidential primary debate
and had the same thought you probably did - "What this country needs is an update
in its adages." How could you not?
I'm speaking of our bon mots of wisdom
we use as short hand to didacticate or explain ourselves that we toss around on
a daily basis. They're clear, universally understood, and very useful, thus I
feel compelled to try to change them just to justify my existence. I'm kind of
like a government beaurucrat, except without the cool cubicle and "you want it
when? Ha-ha" photo-copied cartoon.
As I continue my quest to never leave
well enough alone, I thought I'd give a little etymological background - it seems
most of our sayings reflect our early agrarian history, thus seem kind of antiquated
when talking about putting the cart in front of the horse as you fly 70 mph down
the free way, unless you have an especially fast cart, I guess. I will also actually
try to be helpful and suggest alternatives.
As an added bonus, all stump
speeches in primaries have me all worked up, so I'll be slipping in all kinds
of political references. There should be something to offend pretty much everyone's
no use beating a dead horse" First of all, our predecessors obviously weren't
real bright. Pa would walk into the house and Ma would ask him why he hadn't gone
to town to get some cornpone and hard tack (whatever the heck those things are).
"I tell ya, Ma, I've been sitting on the horse for a good 3 hours, just wailing
away at Ol' Blue with the whip, and he ain't moved a licked. He must be in one
of his moods."
Then Ma would go out to the pasture, notice the horse has
been dead for weeks and then go in a start beating on Pa, asking him how was she
supposed to feed the youngens without any hard tack.
Since our society
now frowns on horse beating, whether the horse is dead or alive, I suggest, when
describing especially futile endeavors, using "Might as well be voting Libertarian."
count your chickens before they hatch." Yeah, we still have chickens all over
the place, especially on my road when I'm late for work, but our chicken producers
don't have the luxury of a lot of speculative counting. Seeing that the big corporations,
referred to by us cool, anti-establishment cats as "The Man," have enslaved modern
chicken farmers as latter day share-croppers making about half a cent a chicken,
he has so small a margin for error that his pre-hatching counting better be accurate.
Otherwise, The Man don't let you have no hard tack, sucka!
I suggest, after
calming down from my politicized rantings, that we illustrate counting on capricious
possible outcomes, with "Don't spend your social security check until it clears
the bank." This is especially true for my generation after all you baby boomers
clean out the "lock-box" of social insurance we're going to pay for all our lives.
the baby out with the bath water." Well, this sure explains the high infant mortality
of the pre-industrial age. We have so many offshoot phrases from this event, babies
must have been flying out of windows all the time. Our warning, "head's up" is
actually a shortened version of "head's up, a baby about to hit you in the face.".
Your walking down the street, minding your own business, when BAM, your hit in
the head by a wet, though clean, baby. That's got to hurt.
In the same
vein, of forefathers apparently had problems with poor, and extreme, decision
making. These are the same folks who had to be told not to "cut of your nose to
spite your face." How does one spite his face? Couldn't you just spread ugly rumors
about your face rather than mutilating it? I imagine a horrifying past in which
all of these nose-less, spiteful folks are throwing babies out all willy-nilly.
I don't know how any of us survived.
My alternative for hyperbolic responses
to minimal problems, "Don't blow up a country just because someone looked at your
more than one way to skin a cat". This one raises all sorts of disturbing questions
about ancestors. Exactly how many ways are there to skin ones cat? Is this done
for the meat, the pelt, or just for fun? Did the SPCA know there were people trying
to quantify different cat skinning techniques?
It seems pretty obvious
that little Fluffy and Bobo weren't highly regarded pets in days gone by. Though
I'm not a big fan of cats, especially ours, I have yet to be tempted to skin any
of them, not even the one who sprayed my hat causing me to walk around for half
a day asking "what's that awful smell?"
I'm glad some of our more sadistic
hobbies have gone out of fashion, and lets just drop this maxim all together.
Now, in this political season, if you want to explain there are many approaches
to reach the desired effect, use "there are more than one constituency to pander
Please start sprinkling these into your every day conversation. I've
got some more I'd like to change, but I've got to go. I'm going to put my hat
on and try to figure out what's smelling so bad around here.