By Georgie Bright Kunkel
Stop and listen to yourself talk. Did you realize how many old sayings you repeat every day? I started writing them down and there is no end to the variety of expressions from the past. Here are several that I heard myself saying just recently: It’s not my cup of tea. I was hurrying like an old horse heading home. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. (Oh, oh. Yes you can. I am an oldie and I have learned a lot of new things just recently—using a new computer program for one.) And of course there is the stitch in time saves nine which is a lot like saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
One old Missouri expression is, “not a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.” It is interesting that in the old days urine was used in tanning leather. So people would save it in the pot and carry it to the tanner to make a little money. If you had to do this to survive you were considered “piss poor.” My late husband’s mother used to use this expression and I even quoted it in my winning essay that catapulted me to the Oprah Show some years ago. But when I was ready to read my essay on the show I realized that they had left this particular expression out of my script. I had mentioned that it was an old Missouri expression but evidently the Oprah producers didn’t want to offend modern day Missourians with that remark.
I asked my housekeeper about the sayings that she learned when she lived in Kenya. She produced two typed pages of sayings in Swahili as well as English and here are some of them. A promise is a debt. Another saying is, “If one wants to fetch something under the bed then one must bend over.” In other words, you have to do whatever is necessary in order to achieve a goal. She quoted: The remedy for fire is fire. In other words, fight fire with fire. Don’t spill rice in front of chickens means don’t spill the beans. Make way for the strong ones means, “Let brutes have their way. Sooner or later they will come down to earth. After all, brain is better than brawn.” When I mentioned the saying that blood is thicker than water she said that was also a saying in Kenya.
When I lived in the little town of Chehalis, we referred to the fellow who was the mover and shaker in the community as a big frog in a little puddle. This big man’s wife was the leader in the Ladies Aid Society at church. Once when I was going into the former Frederick and Nelson she recognized me and called out to me. She asked how my children were doing and I remarked, “They are growing like weeds.” She came back with, “Oh, no, not like weeds certainly.” So much for old sayings around the pillar of society in my home town. Referring to a big frog in a little puddle reminds me of my childhood when my little friend Percy and I would look for pollywogs in the flooded pasture across the alley from our house. When they became frogs we could hear them croaking on summer evenings.
The saying about breaking bread together was very meaningful when I visited the former U.S.S.R. in 1983. There bread was a symbol of hospitality. And the saying that a penny saved is a penny earned was very important in my early years. I remember when one of our most trusted banks managed a savings program in the elementary school. Children could bring their pennies and nickels once a week and record the amount in a little bank book. Wish that bank had continued in this encouragement of such a savings policy instead of enticing borrowers into impossible loan situations resulting in government bailouts. But there is no going back. Which reminds me of another saying, “It is all water under the bridge now.”
Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-935-8663.