I’ve been writing a ‘cowgirl story’ lately and have been giving some thought to old maxims from my childhood. Some of them were well known:

Mom used to say, “Don’t cut off your nose to spike your face.” I was generally happy to agree to that one. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” seemed like good advice, too, at least on a literal level.

But some of her adages were mysteries to me. “Batten down the hatches,” for instance. We were plains farmers. I mean seriously, I didn’t know nautical terms from rocket science. In fact, I’m still not sure what a hatch is. Still I was pretty comfortable with, “Don’t give up the ship.”

I realize now that a lot of my parents’ favorite phrases involved animals. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” made perfect sense to me, because, of course, you judge a horse’s age by its teeth and don’t want to find fault with a gift. But… “Don’t let the cat out of the bag?” What? Or, “Don’t beat a dead horse?” Why would you? In our dating years we heard, “There are a lot of fish in the sea,” “Familiarity breeds contempt” and, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Early in my children’s lives I changed, “Let sleeping dogs lie,” to “Let sleeping babies lie.”

There were many days when the weather was “Not fit for man nor beast. “Idle hands were always the devil’s tools,” on the farm. And we were generally expected to “Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” I have never, however, managed to live up to, “Don’t bite off more than you could chew,” but at least it was a well-known adage. There were many that weren’t. And some that weren’t really G rated but seemed accepted simply because they’d somehow passed down through the family.

For instance, my father often said, “Tell him to go piss up a rope.” Really? Then there was, “Ugly as a mud fence.” Okay. Or, one of my personal favorites, “Worthless as tits on a boar.” Hmmm.

So how about you? Got any weird sayings that have been passed down through the ages?

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9 Responses to Maxims

  1. cindygerard says:

    Oh, I love this, Lois. but I’m stymied by your first one: “Don’t cut off your nose to spike your face.” Did you mean spiTe? if not, I’ve been wrong for years.

    Reminds me of an Credence Clear Water Revival song: “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” I always thought they were saying, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Hum.

    My dad’s favorite saying was: “Can’t never did nothing.” So – “I can’t do it.” was a phrase we never uttered in front of him, let me tell you, because he’d end up making sure that we COULD do it :o)

    • Yep, Mama said “Don’t cut off your nose to *spite* your face” too, to which I remember responding, “Why would anyone want to cut off her nose?” to which she responded, “That’s the point,” to which I replied, “The point of what?” At which point she gave up. I was a very literal kid.

      • Oh, and, Cindy, I meant to reply to your post on GaGa yesterday, but maybe it’s not too late because I don’t get her point, either. I thought Madonna took that schtick about as far as it could go. GaGa went overboard. Or jumped the shark. (I had to look that one up the first time I heard it. Turned out it referred to one of the few episodes of “Happy Days” I missed.)

  2. Helen Brenna says:

    Fun post, Lois. Yeah, I thought it was spite your face, too, but I’ve gotten words wrong in those old sayings before, so what do I know?

    LO, there’s a bathroom on the right! Too funny, Cindy. My DH is notorious for getting song phrases wrong. Ever heard the song Sex and Candy? Can’t remember who sang it. There’s a line “casting devious stares in my direction,” and my DH thought it was “Beefeater’s stares.” Go figure.

    One of my dad’s sayings was “Every knocks a boost,” and I’ve been repeating it to myself a lot these last couple of weeks!

  3. Lois, one of my favorite horse maxims is, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

  4. loisgreiman says:

    🙂 Can’t never did nothing. Helpful actually and true. Also every knock’s a boost. Need to hear those.

    Lyrics of songs….so often wrong. But it’s not usually because I can’t spell. Which by the by was the problem with ‘spike’ instead of ‘spite.’ Sorry about that. I must have read it over a dozen times and never caught it.

  5. Two that come back to me frequently:
    My grandmother (on my mother’s side): Sufficient unto each day the sorrow thereof.
    My father: Even a broken clock is right two times a day.

  6. catslady says:

    Funny but I can’t think of any growing up but surely there must have been? My quote is “never say never” because it will come back and bite you and my husband always says “no is not a word.”

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