"For better or worse, we are what we learned as children." -- Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Saturday, April 30, 2022

What Are You Saying?

     The other day my wife asked me to do something, follow up on some project I'd started but hadn't finished. I nodded. "Sure. In for a penny, in for a pound."

     Then I added, "I bet you haven't heard that expression in a while."

     She looked at me. "Sure I have. I used it myself just the other day. But then, as you know, sometimes I think I'm like a housewife from the 1950s."

     I didn't think there was much danger of that. But it did get me thinking. A few months ago I did a post called As My Mother Used to Say . . . which offered some age-old advice about life, love and the virtues of caution, prudence and hard work -- you know, the middle-class values we all grew up with.

     I've always said that if we'd only listened to our mothers, and just did what they told us, without question, without arguing, we'd all be better off in life.

     But that's not what happens, is it? Anyway, I thought I'd round up some other age-old bits of wisdom, advice, or just quirky expressions -- and see if you remember them, follow them, or perhaps can offer one or two of your own.

     For example, remember when someone told you that you were "knee high to a grasshopper" or remarked that someone was "busier than a one-armed paper hanger"?

     Today we use the word "meh." But back in the day we were more expressive and said, "Fair to middlin'."

     When one of us kids did something particularly stupid my dad would exclaim, "For cryin' out loud!" He also warned us, "Don't take any wooden nickels." And when he got philosophical he'd say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

     My mother, more of a realist, warned us, "You can't squeeze blood from a stone," and a variation, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." But her favorite expression was: "The proof is in the pudding."

     A teacher in middle school told us: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." She must have been a proto-feminist.

    When we were kids and whining about some horrible injustice, or begging for a treat or favor, we were told: "Go ask your father." Or sometimes, "Hold the phone," or, "Hold your horses."

     When parental patience wore out, my mother would heave a big sigh and groan, "You sound like a broken record." Or my dad would more likely laugh and say, "Not in a month of Sundays!" Sometimes we'd have to wait, "Until the cows come home."

      Following on the farm theme we were also told, usually by a teacher or coach: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." We knew that "the early bird gets the worm," and some things are "scarce as hen's teeth." Some people are "happy as a tick on a dog" while others won't get what they want "in a coon's age."

     I don't remember any specific occasion, but I do know there were instances when I was told: "Make like a tree and leave." Or more forcefully: "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." Or more poetically: "Don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you."

     Then from another point of view, there was my sister's favorite expression: "Let's beat this pop stand!"

     Is that all she wrote? Heavens to Betsy! No way! I'd be a monkey's uncle if there weren't at least six of one or half dozen of another sayings that we can still recall. So . . . a penny for your thoughts!


Red said...

Most of these are familiar to me but, I have to stop and think if I use any of them.

DrumMajor said...

That's a lot of phrases. When things weren't right with any of us, my Mom used to say, "This too Shall Pass." She said it so much that the 6 grandkids got her a plaque with that saying on it. Linda in Kansas

Ed said...

Pardon my French but I was happy as a clam to read this post.

Arkansas Patti said...

Heard them all at one time or another. Nice memory trip. My Mom use to describe an upset person as being "as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs."

Anonymous said...

My mom used a ton of these expressions, and as life happens, they often spring to mind. My favorite, though, and one that I've had occasion to offer several times, is "marry in haste, repent in leisure." So much wisdom contained in those six words!

Olga said...

My grandmother: Hold your shirt (be patient).

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

Weird... just the other day, I said "In for a penny, in for a pound" to my husband. I can't remember the last time I said or heard that... now I see it on your blog. Have you ever listened to A Way With Words on NPR? It's a great show about language and often people call in about sayings they used to hear as children. Also, they talk about how sayings have changed over the years, usually shortened to the point they no longer make sense. For instance, the saying: "The proof is in the pudding" is actually "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" which makes much more sense.

Tom said...

Janis, of course you're right about the pudding phrase, so ... I stand corrected. Olga, I've heard it as "Keep your shirt on," but your version works too. In either case, we shouldn't let our knickers get in a twists about it.

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

Ohmyword, every one of these. EVERY ONE! I think we had the same childhood, Tom!

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I'll take those expressions over the slew of cussing that goes on these days. LOL

Gail, northern California said...

"Right as rain"....and I have no clue what that means.

Anonymous said...

wow! loved the message. heard everyone of those growing up. problem is if i use one today, i also have to explain it. nice trek down memory lane.

Linda Myers said...

Shut the door behind you! Do you want to heat up the whole outdoors?

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Rita said...

Nice to read the old sayings. I don't hear them much these days. It seems we're in the new computer-internet era. It's all new crazy stuff. Sometimes I hear things on the Late Night shows that I've never heard of. I have to go look it up.

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