5 sayings that don't make sense

We all have favourite sayings and similes we use. Sometimes there’s just no better way to describe a situation than with an analogy, and I know I use “my two cents” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” a lot. But if you think about some of our sayings, quite a few don’t make much sense. Often the reason is that the meanings are archaic and you need to know their origins to understand them. So here are a few of the stranger ones demystified. πŸ˜‰

5) It’s raining cats and dogs
When has it ever rained cats and dogs? Obviously never, so its literal meaning makes little sense. But its origin is hard to pin down as well. The most likely origin is that in London in the 17th century, heavy rain used to fill the streets and carry along dead animals and people created the analogy over time.

4) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
I think this is one of the best sounding proverbs and its meaning is fairly obvious: that it is better to accept a small advantage and what you have now than to risk everything in search of more. The bush part often trips people up, but it dates back to medieval times when a falcon might rest on your hand, the “two in the bush” being prey.

3) Make no bones about it
Make no bones about it is fairly odd if you think about it. What do bones have to do with stating something without hesitation or objection? But its origin is in an earlier phrase: “to find bones in”, particularly in a meal or soup. To find no bones meant you had no problems; the saying likely evolved from that.

2) There’s more than one way to skin a cat
Some of these sayings don’t seem to like cats much. This one means that there are several ways to do or achieve something, and the most likely origin is that the cat originally referred to a catfish (which has a tough skin) and the saying was shortened over time. It’s also possible that it’s a variation of the expression “to skin the cat”, which was a child’s gymnastic trick, the “more than one way” being the different ways of performing the trick.

1) As straight as a die
I’ve always found as straight as a die very strange, in that its literal meaning is to be honest and true; how does that relate to a die being straight, something which it obviously isn’t? The simile actually dates back to an earlier saying, “make this borde as smoothe as dyce”. If you think of dice being smooth and “true” in casting them, then it makes more sense.

5 sayings that don’t make sense

We all have favourite sayings and similes we use. Sometimes there’s just no better way to describe a situation than with an analogy, and I know I use “my two cents” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” a lot. But if you think about some of our sayings, quite a few don’t make much sense. Often the reason is that the meanings are archaic and you need to know their origins to understand them. So here are a few of the stranger ones demystified. πŸ˜‰

5) It’s raining cats and dogs
When has it ever rained cats and dogs? Obviously never, so its literal meaning makes little sense. But its origin is hard to pin down as well. The most likely origin is that in London in the 17th century, heavy rain used to fill the streets and carry along dead animals and people created the analogy over time.

4) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
I think this is one of the best sounding proverbs and its meaning is fairly obvious: that it is better to accept a small advantage and what you have now than to risk everything in search of more. The bush part often trips people up, but it dates back to medieval times when a falcon might rest on your hand, the “two in the bush” being prey.

3) Make no bones about it
Make no bones about it is fairly odd if you think about it. What do bones have to do with stating something without hesitation or objection? But its origin is in an earlier phrase: “to find bones in”, particularly in a meal or soup. To find no bones meant you had no problems; the saying likely evolved from that.

2) There’s more than one way to skin a cat
Some of these sayings don’t seem to like cats much. This one means that there are several ways to do or achieve something, and the most likely origin is that the cat originally referred to a catfish (which has a tough skin) and the saying was shortened over time. It’s also possible that it’s a variation of the expression “to skin the cat”, which was a child’s gymnastic trick, the “more than one way” being the different ways of performing the trick.

1) As straight as a die
I’ve always found as straight as a die very strange, in that its literal meaning is to be honest and true; how does that relate to a die being straight, something which it obviously isn’t? The simile actually dates back to an earlier saying, “make this borde as smoothe as dyce”. If you think of dice being smooth and “true” in casting them, then it makes more sense.

What did he say?

I’ve said before that I’m a bit of a music junkie. I used to love watching the countdowns each week on Video Hits and I usually have something new on my iPod; right now it’s Ben Lee’s new album Ripe and The White Stripes’ Icky Thump. I really got into music about the same time I got into writing and I’ll often write with something on in the background to help me get into the right mood.

Much as I love music, though, I found I had one of those “wait… what did he say?” moments a couple of weeks ago. It’s still bugging me now. I was listening to the radio and a song came on which I hadn’t heard before. It was Timbaland’s new single and at first listen it seemed catchy enough. But then I heard the title – The Way I Are. Ouch! I think I can hear my English teachers screaming from here.

I’ll be honest: bad grammar is a pet hate of mine. If you think The Way I Are sounds bad enough, there are worse lyrics; one that stands out is It don’t matter ’cause I’m the one that love you best, and just what the hell does Thug it out mean?

I’m not saying my grammar is perfect – I know sometimes it’s, like, so not hot. But there are a couple of reasons Timbaland’s song bugs me. First, it’s #2 on the ARIA charts this week and #1 for downloads; it’s selling well and not many people seem to be saying anything about it. Second, I listened to the entire song several times and didn’t hear The Way I Are line in it anywhere. I still don’t now; I had to go to one of the lyric sites and apparently it is in there – Can you handle me the way I are? My point is that the lyric kind of slips by in the song; I don’t think I’d notice it as much if the title was The Way You Are, which is used a lot more in the song.

But the thing which really gets me about the song is this completely unrealistic idea of dating. I don’t want to sound unromantic but I don’t know many people who broadcast that they’re broke to help score a date; first dates are about impressions and no-one said you have to be rich or a millionaire to be attractive, but what about having some dignity? Some class? I think that goes a long way and singing Baby if you strip, you can get a tip doesn’t strike me as classy. But worse, the majority of people buying this song are teenagers; it sets an example that illiteracy and unemployment are acceptable and not a barrier to finding your soulmate. It’s a lovely sentiment but it just doesn’t work in the real world; or perhaps you’re going to pay for dinner with your tips from stripping?

I don’t mean any disrespect if you like the song and I do understand why it’s popular; it’s definitely catchy and has a good beat and a good video; Keri Hilson is simply stunning. What I’ve been wondering then is whether all this comes under poetic licence and I’m just making a big deal over nothing? Artists take liberties with language all the time to heighten the effect of their work, to change a tense or make a lyric rhyme. What’s so different here? Well, to me the difference is that The Way I Are subverts language rather than uses it. There’s little artistic reason I can see for any of the errors; there’s no lyrical reason for I to be used instead of You, for instance. This isn’t Justin Timberlake with Lovestoned or Apple telling us to Think Different; it doesn’t utilise or invent language, it subverts it, and it just bugs the hell out of me.

Of course, it’s just a song; CJ, chill. Whether Timbaland says The Way I Are or not doesn’t really matter in the end. Except that I’m a writer, damn it, and language does matter to me! I think every time we accept abuses like this, we lose a little piece of what we have. But it’s #2 on the charts now and doing well and it just makes me wonder if the whole thing is really just a clever marketing ploy… cynical, I know, but maybe that’s just the way I are. πŸ˜‰

Edit: Changed Timberland to Timbaland. Thanks to Judy for pointing that out; now I just feel embarrassed! πŸ™‚

5 famous misquotes from literature

I love quotes, particularly ones which have entered the English language; but what I love even more are misquotes. You learn a lot about history and language, and it’s fun finding out where they’ve come from. I did a post before on famous movie misquotes, so these are some of my favourites from literature.

5) “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar).

Actual quote: The quote from Shakespeare’s play is correct, but it’s often incorrectly attributed to Julius Caesar; it’s Mark Antony who says it, delivering his eulogy after Caesar’s assassination by Brutus and the conspirators.

4) “I must go down to the sea again.”
John Masefield (Sea Fever).
Actual quote: The original version of Sea Fever read “I must down to the seas again” but in later editions was changed to either “go” or “sea” or both.

3) “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
William Congreve (The Mourning Bride).
Actual quote: The quote comes from the closing line of Act III: “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d/Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.” The first line of Act I is also often misquoted: “Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast” (not beast).

2) “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner).
Actual quote: The line from Coleridge’s poem should read “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” It is also apparently one of the most plagiarised lines, in one competition alone featuring in more than 200 submissions.

1) “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes).
Actual quote: Although Holmes often used “elementary“, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” doesn’t appear in any of Conan Doyle’s stories; the closest is an exchange in The Adventure Of The Crooked Man: “Excellent!” I cried “Elementary.” said he. Its first appearance is at the end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.