The Richness of Words
By Jeff Salter
We’re yakking about expressions and/or figures of speech. I won’t try to parse what makes a short set of words one or the other of those categories (or both). I’ll just list some word sets which have captured my attention over the years.
I’ll start with a relatively new one: “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.” To other fiction writers, that speaks for itself, but non-writers might need a bit of explanation. This could be said lovingly to someone very dear… or could be muttered under your breath to your horrid co-worker. You see, we need all sorts of characters for our fiction!
Words from Loved Ones
Sometimes, what makes a phrase stand out is how colorfully – or even obliquely – it is expressed. Here’s a few from dear relatives and friends who have since passed on:
“I’m so hungry, my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.” My dear friend and co-worker Gabe Holden had enough colorful expressions to fill this column today, but this one always grabbed me.
My late father-in-law was a never-ending supply of colorful phrasing. Once when we were playing golf and I faced a long shot, he advised, “Better turn loose Ole Blue.” I stopped in mid-swing and walked over to him asking, “What?” He had to explain that Old Blue was an archetypal dog … and I needed to hit the ball hard. Duh! [I can be such a literalist at times!]
One day when Denise and I had her folks with us, my mother-in-law told me we needed to head home instead of going on wherever we’d been heading. [I was driving.] I did as she instructed but continued to wonder why. Finally, my father-in-law said, “Don’t spare the horses.” So I actually slowed down to inquire what the heck he was talking about. Turned out he had an upset tummy emergency and needed a bathroom immediately. His colorful expression meant, “Hurry.” But it wasn’t like either of them to be specific or to offer any useful explanations out front.
Occasionally, schedules would be over-filled with activities and someone (usually my wife) would inquire of her mom, “Are you ready to ______?” (whatever the activity or destination had been). To which my late mother-in-law would sometimes say, “Let’s not, and say we did.” That was her way of saying, “I’ve changed my mind” or “I don’t feel up to it anymore.” But there’s an additional indecipherable element which I still can’t grasp. Seems to have something to do mollifying with other people’s expectations.
A few of my own
Dating back from the days Rawhide was on TV, I’ve loved the expression, “Head ‘em up… move ‘em out.” I use it when there are significant numbers of people milling about but seemingly without urgency or purpose. It also comes in handy when corralling kids at AWANA or VBS. You see, it conveys at least three important facets: attention, focus/direction, and movement. But wouldn’t it be dull if you stopped to say, “Okay, youse guys, listen up. Everybody get ready to go to the (whatever)… and let’s start walking now.” Head ‘em up… move ‘em out.
More recently, but for at least the past three decades, one of my frequent refrains has been, “Hurry, before the tour bus gets there.” This I invoke when there are interminable discussions (or delays) on departing for some eating establishment. The imagery itself comes from those occasions when you pull into a fast-food place and discover an entire busload of people (whatever age) had just arrived (parked on the other side of the place) and are waiting in line, in front of you. Trust me — if you see a tour bus at the golden arches, just keep driving.
The Numbers Game
Not sure how many generations this goes back, but my parents used it to get us kids moving. “I’m counting to three.” If we were being willful and directly disobedient, my folks often reached the dreaded Number Three and we faced the consequences. But if we were making visible efforts to accomplish (whatever), then we often received the grace of some fractions after two: “…two-and-a-half…two-and-three-quarters…” etc.
With our own kids, we did the same thing (if they were trying), only I believe I used decimals: “…two-point-three… two-point-six…” etc. I found decimals gave me more flexibility if they really were trying to comply but it was taking longer than a straight three-count.
I’ve witnessed my daughter’s variation of this three-count with her children. However Julie often skips the announcement and begins the actual count: “One…” In the cases I’ve witnessed, she usually gets compliance by “two”.
A General Parting Word
This expression is not used with everyone, but to the folks – usually guys – who understand it, it can be quite meaningful. When friends or colleagues are parting, their last words (after all the other farewells) might be: “Keep your powder dry.” It means a lot more than its historical context of the old black powder muskets. It also means, “take care of yourself” … “watch out for (whatever)” … “be encouraged” … “we’re counting on you” … “come back in one piece” etc.
Figure of Speech
By the way, a true figure of speech is something like, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” It very seldom (anymore) refers to actual cat-skinning. It represents the notion that there are multiple solutions to a given situation/problem.
What colorful expressions stick out in your mind?