Friday, October 23, 2015

"It's as easy as falling off a log..."

I grew up among people who frequently peppered their conversations with colorful and humorous expressions...expressions that I fear we are losing in our busy modern life.  (Examples posted at end of article) Most of these expressions are drawn from the lives of people who lived close to the earth... Most people today "kind of know" what the expressions mean but they do not come from daily life any longer...and no longer seem appropriate for our conversations.  These expressions  have the advantage of telling a truth in simple economic language with an image that people can relate to and remember. An important part of the richness of this language was in the way it is used - the inflection and the timing of the telling made all the difference. 

If I used these expressions when I was teaching Biology (they often came naturally to me), my students would sometimes look at me quizzically and ask "Where did that come from"?  Many of my modern Silicon Valley kids had never heard the expressions before.  This topic came about when I went in for a haircut last week with my Thai lady barber... I told her that Judy (my wife) had a new "bee in her bonnet"... and then I asked her - "do you know that expression" - She said "No..."Have you ever tried to explain some of our expressions to people of another culture? "What is a bonnet, how could a bee get in her bonnet?  What did it mean?"

These expressions ( listed below ) are all either metaphors or similes. Metaphors simply state a comparison. Similes use the words “like” or “as” to compare things. Because they both make comparisons, all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.  The metaphors we use add poetry to our conversation... they add richness.  When I was a child I remember overhearing conversations in the grocery store between farmers who had come in for groceries and were taking time to visit with the barber shop as people waited in the gas station...after church on Sunday... guests in our home... Many of these lines brought out a chuckle from the listener...

Take a minute and put a check mark by those expressions that you don’t understand (I'll bet its not many) ...Then go back and read over the list and identify expressions that you use in your daily conversations. (I bet its very few) 

I know that its true that there are big regional differences in the way we speak the English language in America... Spending my teen years in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California,  I was much more likely to hear these expressions than today in the Bay Area... (but the SJ Valley is still more rural  with many people have came from the midwest...)

Why has this loss in metaphoric language occurred in the way we speak?- I'm sure its partly because today we all watch the same TV shows and have been programmed by 'standard' American English. Part of it is our faster pace of life - we say what we mean and move on - no time for little metaphoric  images.  A big part is that we no longer live in a world where we have contact with many of the natural world situations used in the metaphors.   (Who falls off a log today?  Who gets ants in their pants these days?  Slow as molasses? - What is molasses and why is it slow? 

I can’t imagine metaphors based on freeway traffic, supermarkets,  MacDonalds, and computer programming.  Somehow those images just aren’t as much fun.

All week as I remembered examples - I jotted down examples that were once part of my life. Then I alphabetized the list with the help of my computer...  I bet you can think of others...   I challenger you all to be aware of the metaphoric expressions that you hear and that you use... They add richness to your speech and they are fun to use...

A thorn in my side. 
An apple never falls far from the tree.         
Ants in his pants. 
As clear as mud.
As poor as dirt.
At the bottom of the pecking order.
Beat around the bush.
Bee in her bonnet. 
Between a rock and a hard place.
Busy as a bee.
Can't see the forest for the trees.
Closing the barn door after the horse got loose. 
Cut and dried. 
Dig yourself into a hole.
Dirt cheap.
Do I look like a turnip that just fell off the turnip truck? 
Don't count your chickens before they hatch. 
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. 
Don't make a mountain out of a molehill.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Don't upset the apple cart.

Dropped like a hot potato. 
Easy as falling off a log
Go to seed.
Got a tough row to hoe
Grass is greener on the other side of the fence
Grew like a weed. 
Have your ear to the ground. 
He had something to crow about.
He left no stone unturned.
He's a stick in the mud.
He's feeling his oats.
He's got an axe to grind. 

Hold your horses!
Let the dust settle first...
Like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Look what the cat dragged in!
Mad as a wet hen
Nip it in the bud.
Not worth a hill of beans.            
One bad apple spoils the barrel
Putting the cart before the horse.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel.
She is no spring chicken. 
Slow as molasses in January.
Slick as a weasel
Sly as a fox. 
Spill the beans. 
Stir up a hornets’ nest. 
Stuck in a rut.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
The old gray mare just isn’t what she used to be.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. 

Till the cows come home. 
...Until I was blue in the face!
Walking on thin ice.
Were you born in a barn?
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. 
You have to separate the chaff from the wheat.
You reap what you sow.
You're barking up the wrong tree.