#69 - Familiar Sayings

Ape Cartoon

Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” That was a common joke saying in Chatham. We figured it would take an outright flood to do any harm to rhubarb. I didn’t know, then, the joke answer, “Not if it’s in cans.” I just found out it was a line in the Gene Kelly / Judy Garland movie “Summer Stock”.

To me, it epitomizes the dry humour favoured by farmers, like the Irish travel directions.
“How do I get to Galway? “
“Well, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.”

Quite a spell of weather we’re having” is vague enough to suit all kinds of weather.
Another weather-based saying was, “Never rains but it pours, eh?” but that was a bit more mystical, more in the line of “Trouble comes in threes“. I still find myself, in times of misfortune, counting and hoping to arrive at that final third event. In my family, recently, my youngest sister had emergency gall bladder surgery, my other sister had a fall and got a cut that needed stitches. My niece had a skateboard accident and is all over bruises. There! That’s three and let that be an end to it. “Never rains but it pours”.

“And let that be a lesson to you!” was said after plans went awry. The example given was of the overweight, middle-aged man who went into a drugstore soda fountain on a hot Summer day and ordered a full glass of cracked ice. He swallowed the lot in short order and died on the spot from a heart attack and “Let that be a lesson to you“.

Blown to smithereens!” is another familiar phrase and without knowing its origins it is still easy enough, in the mind’s eye to see something blown to bits and scattered.

A friend added to this collection with a deliberate substitution of Old-Timer’s Disease for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Someone whose appearance is none too neat “Looks like he was dragged through a hedge backwards”; a tradition which I try my best to uphold. He might also look like “The Wild Man from Borneo“, a sideshow attraction named after the Bornean Orangutans. which have long hair which makes them appear unkempt.

A computer friend told me, My grandfather (and his family) used to use a good one to let you know that they had enjoyed a meal and were full. “My sufficiency has been suffonsified. If I were to partake of but another morsel, I would most assuredly burst.”

Since Hector was a pup” is a bit more involved. In ancient Greece, Hector’s mother, Hecuba, got turned into a dog for killing the murderer of her older son, Polydorus. Thus, Hector by extension was a dog’s son and he lived a long time ago. The phrase seems to have become current in the 1920s and was a favourite with my mother, who was a flapper then.

I figured “Plant you now and dig you later” came out of the 1960s but I was wrong. Apparently, it dates back to sometime in the 1930s and migrated from black street slang into the Beat generation vocabulary. It shows up in Pal Joey as hip street talk.

My friend, Joan in Wiltshire wrote: “I met a Scottish lady the other day and it was so good talking to her. She came from Edinburgh, whereas I am from the West coast. We were comparing the places which we both knew and had a chat about them. She did make me laugh because she mentioned one town where she reckoned they considered themselves upper class. “You know what I mean,” she said, “Fur coats and no drawers!” (All show and no substance.) I’d almost forgotten that this is how most Scots talk. They do tend to call a spade a spade. To me, that is a good thing because you know exactly how you stand with them and most won’t tolerate anyone trying to belittle them. Anyway, she was a breath of fresh air that day and it cheered me up no end.”

My father was a salesman of pianos, home organs and heavy appliances at the Eatons Department Store in Chatham, Ontario. He had a favourite saying which I consider to be his legacy. Like most salesmen, he was not canny about saving his money but his favourite saying has carried me safely through thick and thin. It was “You can slide further on bullshit than you can on gravel!”

All done up like a Christmas tree” was a saying of my mother’s. She also liked “Done up like Lady Astor’s plush horse”. Lady Astor was a well to do American-born lady who became, through marriage, a British upper-class lady. She held a seat in the British parliament.

Another favourite with my mother was “I’m so mad I could chew nails and spit rust!

I’ll break your arm off at the elbow and hit you over the head with it!” was a mock threat used by my mother. Don’t know where it came from and there are too many words for a credible Google search, or so I thought until I published this piece on the Internet and found out I was now the source.

She also used “Your eyes look like two burnt holes in a blanket” to cover any degree of illness or fatigue.

When I asked friends for familiar family sayings they would tend to say I should just get them off the Internet. Well, the Internet is good for research but I wanted original folk sayings instead of an Internet list. Disney has taken over our childhood mythologies and Disneyfied it with cute bottoms and quirky little cartoons. The Internet, in a somewhat similar fashion, is homogenizing our memories.

My friend Steven C. from rural Illinois contributed: “Feel like I’d have to get better to die” and “Feel like the little end of nothin’ whittled down to a point.“

Hot as the hinges of hell!” was another common saying from my childhood.

I pick up little catchphrases from listening to old-time radio skits, such as saying, for someone who’s a skinflint, a miser, that they are “Tight as a toreador’s pants”. We always used to say “Tight as the bark on a tree” but I think “toreador’s pants” covers it, ahem, adequately. I’m sure many of my mother’s sayings came originally from radio and movies in the 1920s and 30s.

When defeat was confirmed beyond all doubt we could say they “Beat us all hollow!

Had the biscuit” was another common saying from my childhood. I looked it up and found that it refers to the Catholic last rites, when Communion was given to a dying person. the communion wafer was, in this case, the biscuit.

I’m sure I will run across more common sayings over time but for now “I’ve had the biscuit”.

© Sonia Brock 2008

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