Sunday, 11 October 2009

What we say........

Colloquial sayings are so regional and seem to be handed down through families - but they are fascinating. In a post a couple of days ago I briefly asked if you knew any. There was such an interesting response so I thought I would share some of them with you.

The one which seems to be common to all English speaking countries is the euphemism for going to the lavatory. I would hope that these days we are all less inhibited about it but everybody seems to know what is meant by going "to see a man about a dog" or "see a man about a horse".

Similarly with the weather "prophets" (there are always a few of these about, especially in England where we are pretty obsessed about the weather). All areas seem to say the same thing with a regional variation at the end. My grandfather used to say "It's black over by Fulletby" (a nearby village); my father-in-law would say "black over Zebra (a nearby hill); you added another variation "black over by Bill's mother's"; and the one I really like "Black as Newgate's knocker".

Showing astonishment seems to be another wide-ranging one. I tend to say "Hell's teeth!". A lot of you seem to say, "Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!" or "Heavens to Murgatroyd" - and one which I might well adopt as I love it - "Holy liftin' snappers!"

The one I mentioned on my post was my Father's Thursday saying, "Ah well, tomorrow will be Friday and we've caught no fish today!" Another one that you added (and my father used to say this too )"Call me early Mother dear, for I'm to be queen of the May." This is an interesting one because this comes from Tennyson's "May Queen", which leads me to believe that in those days more people were aware of poetry.

Appearance was another area where these sayings abound. "Mutton dressed as lamb" springs instantly to mind. Someone said "You look like the wild woman of Borneo" and that is familiar too and makes me wonder whether there was such a fairground sideshow in Victorian times.Looking as though you had been dragged through a hedge backwards was another common term.

But by far the biggest category was that of what I choose to call "Homilies" and I suspect that everyone who reads this could add to this list:-

Good things come in small packages.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
Don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can easily do today.
Procrastination is the thief of time.
Good, better, best - may you never rest- til your good be better and your better best.
If a job's worth doing it's worth doing well.
Never a door closes but a window opens.
A whistling woman and a cackling hen is neither use for God nor men (or variations of this).
It's wise child that knows its own father.

As Reader Wil said in her comment a few days ago - English is such a rich language, mainly because it has been enriched over the centuries by so many other languages. I think this sort of thing proves that that is so.

Just three final ones which don't fit into any of the above categories:-
A lovely nonsense one from one of you: " A lot of weather we're having at the moment, doesn't it." (Thanks for that Helen). And two from my childhood. If we met someone who was virtually a stranger but upon conversation we knew so many people in common we would say, "Well I don't think we are related, but it looks as though we used to lean our clothes prop up against your chicken run."
And if there was a glut of anything (plums, apples etc.) we would say we have "enough to cobble dogs with" (I suppose logically that would mean we had twice as much as we needed).
Enjoy this lovely sunny Sunday.


Dave King said...

My dad and maternal grandad (with whom we lived when I was small) had each of them a vast store of these. So many was I brought up with that they still present themselves in different situations half a dozen times a day. Surprise would bring forth cries of "Holy Mackerel!", though the clear favourite was "Well, I go to the foot of our stairs!" The homily ones were, as you say, the largest group by far. "A bad workman blames his tools", "God helps those who help themselves" etc. (This last was open to misinterpretation by mischievous boys.)

Elizabeth said...

In my family 'gone to see a man about a dog' was used when someone didn't really want to see someone so had just wandered off.
As in where's Peter?.........
I am 'the wild woman of Borneo'!

An American saying I like a lot:
"You catch more flies with honey"
useful for teachers and dealing with difficult people in general.

My grandmother had 'mogging' shoes for when she wanted to be comfortable.
Did you ever hear that?
Happy Sunday.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

These are so interesting and amusing! My mother used to gripe on her bad hair days that she looked "like the wreck of the Hespers" - I didn't figure out for many a year that there was a boat by that name.

Always loved Scarlett O'hara's "fiddle-dee-dee" to say something didn't matter. And Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made "fiddle-faddle" popular here in one of his disdainful remarks to the press.

I particularly enjoy ones that cause a bit of cognitive dissonance - where the grammar is out of whack or one clause has absolutely no relationship to what came before - as in the example you site from a reader - (which is escaping my mind at the moment).

SG said...

English is a fascinating language, that has been enriched through the centuries... I feel primarily because it is inherently so flexibile. It is interesting how English has picked up expressions, phrases and words from so many other languages.. and has endured the journey through time and space... oh for this resilience!

steven said...

hello weaver, when my father was bothered by something he would mutter "struth". not something i've picked up on. apparently i say "good grief". a strange phrase when you think about it!!! a lovely collection of colloquial phrases weaver!!! steven

Arija said...

One of my favourite truisms is "an hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon" and my mother's sage advice that "bread you have eaten is hard to earn".

Heather said...

I've just remembered another saying used by my grandmother when something surprised her: 'Streuth and blimey said the Princess!' There are probably many more which I have forgotten over the years, but thankyou for this fascinating insight into the regional quirks of the English language.

ChrisJ said...

And on and on it goes! I bet you could make a book of a collection like that. I'm sure I could add a couple of dozen more -- but I won't -- unless you do the book! In fact the book has probably already done!

Anonymous said...

We have a saying relating only to our family which has been passed down the generations.When my late grandmother was young, she was friendly with a little boy who had trouble with his speech. When a duke came out to Australia generations back, there were decorations everywhere and the little boy in his excitement kept talking about "decalati for the thoo" (decorations for the duke). Now we use that term for everything over decorated from overdressing, to a fancy cake! My mother-in-law's favourite saying is "least said,soonest mended", and from when my husband was a boy "don't care was made to care".My mother's was always "oh well,worse things happen at sea".

Bovey Belle said...

What a wonderful topic - how I love language, and expressions, and colloquialisms.

We had "Up the wooden stairs to bedfordshire" at bedtime; "the wild man of Borneo" was one of my mum's expressions as also was "You look like shock-headed Peter" (and only when I saw a copy of Der Struwwelpeter in the last couple of years did I begin to understand this); "It's as black as Dick's hatband" of a threatening black sky. My father was given to saying "strewth" (I am too - I believe it''s an abbreviation of 'God's Truth' isn't it?); we have "heaven's above" and a family one, whilst driving, is "come on Sunshine". "Hell's teeth" is familiar and do you know "Hell's bells and buckets of blood."? If my son asks me what day it is, I will say "Tuesday (or whichever) all day".

Many others - and I recognize many of the little homilies too.

The Weaver of Grass said...

What a huge variety there are here - and how well we all remember them and keep using them! There could be a book here I think if anyone felt like taking the trouble to compile it all. Thanks for sharing them all - I feel we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg.

Bernie said...

What a great topic! I can think of so many that I have heard or used some myself. My neighbpr used to say of a pretentious person," He dosen't have a pot to pee in nor a window to throw it out of"
And we always say "For Pete's Sake" or "for the love of Pete" or "Heavens to Betsy" or she goea on "like a ruptured duck's butt" (from the army guys) My daugher hates that one.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh goodness, we have so many rich ones here. "I'm as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin' chairs". One of my favourites.

"If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a wonderful Christmas" is another.

We even have some that are unique to my husband and I. "Write me up as an ass, Watson" is one we lifted from Sherlock Holmes and is spoken when one of us is wrong about something. So naturally, we use that one rarely!!!

Teresa said...

Well, that was fun reading the quirky expressions we use!