Why on earth do we say what we say?

Have you ever thought about some of the weird sayings we use? Where did they come from? How did the phrase “Way to go”  transition from “the way to go”, meaning “take this path to get where you want to go” to “You did great in the race!” to “You my friend spilled the jello and are an idiot”? The intonation and general attitude goes a long way to determine the effect.

Some of these things are obvious. “Hey Einstein” (unless directed at one of Albert’s descendants) usually is a derogatory comment to someone who did something dumb, or very Un-Einsteiny. Same for “genius”, “brilliant”, “Brainiac”, etc., all of which are quite versatile in their ability to offer praise or ridicule.

“Excuse me tiny” has been directed at me more than once, being a man of significant size. Are we in Jr. High? Is it “Oppposite Day”? “Oh, sorry, genius”. See? Is that really necessary?

“That dog’lll hunt” on the other hand, takes a little getting used to if you aren’t from the rural south and accustomed to “huntin talk” ’bout does, bulls, bucks, cows, drakes, jakes, coons, and DAWGS. By the way, the phrase means “Golly, what a good idea”. May also be combined with  “Yeah, boy”, which means “I agree with you, sir”.

The old corporate saying: “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see what people think”. Huh? When did that become a measure of success or effectiveness? Was it a means of weeding out the unhealthy office staff so insurance premiums would be lower?

“People,  we need to lay off some of you. This year to be fair we are going to do it differently. John wrote an excellent memo but rather than distribute it via email so all you couch potatoes can read it, we will tape it to the top of the flagpole in front of the building. The expectation will be that you will climb the pole, read it, and give your  impression to Smithers, preferably while you slide down the pole commando style, upside down using only your legs. Smithers, lay off anyone who falls and keep track of everyone’s times. Most efficient gets a bonus. Smith, Jones, and Brown, you 3 go first. We need your offices. Good luck.”

As seen with our corporate executive in the previous paragraph, leadership qualities seem to inspire odd phrases. No, “boneheaded idiot” wasn’t really where I was heading, but thanks for the input. 

Here are some others I hear on occasion. ‘Have you lost your mind?”. “Are you crazy?”.  “Are you an idiot or something?” If I answer any of those questions with anything but “no” I open a discussion I don’t want to have, like “Ok, if you haven’t lost your mind, aren’t crazy, and deny being an idiot, then what are you and why would you do that?”. I plead the 5th.

Some of our leadership phrases are militarily based. But why? “Little General”, “Born leader”, “What a little trooper!”, ” He’s a demon!” Oh Sorry. Sure, some kids are born with natrual leadership traits, but sometimes they are not directed in a positive direction. For example, a child who is fierecely determined to have his own way may be able to convince others to follow his lead. That could be a “little soldier” who does all he is told,  is very well behaved, and all the kids follow him in the neighborhood outings. However, he could also be the “little monster” you see (or probably hear) in WalMart screaming for more candy and juice, trying to convince the world he is being wronged.

Why is the heart always being picked on? “A heart of gold” or “a heart of stone”, or “warm hearted” vs “cold hearted”, “soft hearted”, “hard hearted’. Well I hate to tell you but anything but a warm heart is pretty unhealthy. Icy hearts are good for transplants but not much else. I AM in the medical field, after all. Remember my scrubs?

Athletes know this one. “He didn’t know whether to ______ or go blind”. Place your favorite bathroom activity in the blank.and you get the basic idea. Coaches and athletes say some stupid things. I played sports from elementary school through college and have heard too many dumb sayings to count.  “Well, we just gotta give it our all and leave it all on the field”,  “If we just  focus and do what we need to do, things will take care of themselves.” “We just gotta play one game at a time.”  Well, it is confusing trying to play two games at once. Three teams on the field realy complicates things.

In general, all the sports sayings really mean: “If we execute the plays properly, we should experience success and if we score more than they do, we will win the game, which is what we all want. By the way, thanks to all our fans for coming out to support us and please keep coming, even if we stink, because if you don’t our program will fold and I will get fired”.  Of course the sporsmanship crowd says we should include something like this: “We are proud to be here and feel honored just to be able to compete. We wish the other team the best of luck and willl be pleased with the outcome either way”. Of course no one really feels that way, but we try our best to make it look like a nice civil game. Watch the Olympics and see if you can pick up on some of that banter. I find it funny to count the cliches in a typical broadcast. Try it for your yourselves.

The phrase “Believe it or not” puzzles me. You are giving me a choice?  I can believe it or not but you are going to tell me anyway? Why tell me if I won’t believe it? “You won’t believe this….”   Why not? Are you lying  again? Why should I listen to you?

“Why on earth?” Where else would it be? Would it be better if it were somewhere else? “Why on Mars would he do that?” just doesn’t work does it? Just be glad it happened on earth so more people can see it happen and when you say “You just won’t believe it”, you will at least have some witnesses to back you up.

“Back you up”.Where? Into a corner? Down the road?  Into the garage? When did that become synonymous with someone defending you? Same with “I got your back”. Did I give it to you to keep? Can I have it back?

See what I mean? It never ends.

Really? It never ends? Meaning it goes on forever, without termination at any point? Infinitely? Ad Infinitim? On and On? For the rest of time? Until the end? Beyond the stars? Until the cows come home? Is there really no end?


As long as I can think of other words to type? Forever and ever? and ever? and ever? For as long as I shall live? Till the end of time? Ad nauseum? Until the very end? Are you tired? I am. but I can;t stop since it must go one forever, without any end.

You better escape while you can. Thanks for stoping by.


4 thoughts on “Why on earth do we say what we say?

  1. Love this post because I’ve always been interested in why people say the things they do. I’ve heard the flagpole line many times but slightly different: Lets run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it. Same meaning, though. These saying often seem to morph a bit. During the reign of Charles II the aristocracy was so into their mistresses that too many illegitimate children were being born. The King issued an order that his subjects should sleep with their wives to produce legitimate heirs. The King’s order demanded that men — Fornicate Under Command of the King, shortened to F**K. Interesting that a royal command is now a swear word.

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