You Don't SayJul 01, 2021 ● By Bob Warren
For many years, perhaps when man first started talking, he has uttered some sort of slang expression. Someone said Noah, as he loaded that lone cow on the ark, may have been the first to say, “Holy cow.” I don’t know about that, but I do know people in the South have, for years, been using slang expressions, primarily ones with a rural flavor – about things they dealt with. I will list some that come to mind, explaining those that need it and giving the origin of some.
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”
Meaning don’t take something for granted.
“Mad as an old wet hen”
A wet hen can get pretty angry.
“Stubborn as a mule
Did you ever try to get a mule to do something against his will?
“Fine as frog’s hair”
Frogs don’t have hair.
“Busy as a bee”
Bees working around their hive are extremely busy.
“Cute as a bug’s ear”
Doesn’t make sense to me. I never saw a bug’s ear.
“I don’t want to bug you”
Meaning don’t want to be a bother. As you know, bugs can be pretty bothersome.
“Slow as a snail”
Did you ever watch a snail move? They’re slow!
“Slick as an eel”
They’re really slick!
“You silly goose”
Geese don’t appear to be very smart.
“You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”
Meaning you will be more successful being “sweet” to people than by treating them badly. Flies don’t care for vinegar.
“Pretty as a peach”
I never saw an ugly peach.
“A stitch in time saves nine”
Means to fix it now before it gets worse.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”
He who speaks up gets the floor.
“Make hay while the sun shines”
Do it while you can.
“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush”
What you have in your possession is much more certain than what you “just may” get. On the “other hand,” a bird in your hand could get pretty messy.
“It was like herding cats”
Did you ever try to herd a bunch of cats?
“What’s good for the goose is sauce for the gander”
What’s good for one is also good for another – perhaps even better.
“Don’t get the cart before the horse”
Meaning don’t get ahead of yourself. Put first things first.
“Between a rock and a hard place”
Between two very hard problems.
“He wouldn’t harm a flea”
That’s being pretty harmless.
Now, let’s move from the mostly rural expressions to some that are more widely known:
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
We all need to rest in order to stay well balanced.
“You’re too big for your britches”
You overestimate your value.
“Let your hair down”
“Preaching to the choir”
Preaching to those who are already “in the know.”
“Spit and polish”
A military term meaning to look your best. Those in the military in times past were actually taught to spit on their shoe before applying the shoe-shine rag in order to get a really good shine before inspection.
“Pretty is as pretty does”
You’re only good if you act right.
Three religious sayings: “Bless your heart,” “Good gracious” and “Gracious me”
All are wishes of good favor from above.
“The early bird gets the worm”
He who gets there early gets the good stuff – especially if you like worms.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”
Loved ones are missed even more when they are absent.
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill”
You’re overreacting to something minor (from a 1660 book by James Howell).
“A rising tide lifts all boats”
All are helped by an improving economy (attributed to President Kennedy).
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”
Can’t make something nice or high quality from something useless as a sow’s ear.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss”
Said to have been originated by ancient philosopher Publilius Syrus, 85-43 B.C. Meaning one who sits around and does not “take root” fails.
For those of us who see and hear the daily news – “No news is good news!”
“Beggars can’t be choosers”
We can’t always have our choice.
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”
Especially true of our women.
Our wish to an actor as he or she is to enter the stage, “Break a leg,” traces back to the Elizabethan languages when “to break a leg” meant to take a bow while bending the knee, a wish for good luck.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover”
It’s what’s inside that counts.
“That’s the best thing since sliced bread”
For you young people, loaves of bread did not always come sliced.
“I finally saw the light”
Meaning I finally understood.
A few farewell greetings: “So long,” “Ta-ta” and “See you later, alligator,” followed by the reply “After while, crocodile!”
All without any historical meaning.
And, I will leave you with one of my favorites – “The best is yet to come.” That’s a quote from a little old lady who ordered the mortician to place a dinner fork on her tummy when she was in her casket. She knew where she was going and wanted to be prepared. She knew that “The best was yet to come.”
Bob Warren is a local historian, former mayor of Frisco and a regular contributor to Frisco STYLE Magazine.