Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Few of My Favourite Sayings

Some aspects of getting older are boringly predictable. You find yourself, like generations past, lamenting the language young people use – the poor grammar, the ridiculous sayings, the odd pronunciations. It puts things in perspective to realise that the Ancient Greeks had a similar complaint; the poet Hesiod, thought to have been active between 650 and 750 BC, railed about the ‘frivolous youth of today’.

I sound like on an old fuddy-duddy. Does anyone use that expression any more? As part of my editing work I recently watched a video of kids in a classroom reading out loud together the story of the billy goats Gruff. The wicked troll yells to the goats ‘Be off with you!’ I found myself pleased that the kids were being exposed to this quaint expression.

Anyway I was not going to spend this entry complaining. Except for one use of ‘like’ I hate and probably everyone my age does too: ‘like’ instead of ‘said’, as in:

She’s, like, ‘He’s not my boyfriend any more.’

And I’m like, ‘Since when?’

I don’t like ‘like’ in this context because it makes speech unnecessarily drawn out, clumsy and difficult.

Why not use ‘said’ or, if you want more immediacy, ‘she says’? Even, if you must, ‘she goes?’ Both trip off the tongue.

I had to get that out of my system. The main thing I want to talk about is sayings I actually, like, like. And interestingly, many of these come from the USA, so often decried for spreading  grammatical no-nos (‘lay’ instead of ‘lie’, not saying ‘of’ after ‘couple’, removing ‘-ed’ from participle adjectives like ‘old fashioned’ and ‘cliched’ so they become nouns, eg ‘a cliche piece of writing’, ‘an old-fashion girl’ – okay, no more complaining). (I hope my US blog readers will forgive this outburst, which I’ve needed to get out of my system for some time – there are many things about US English I prefer, eg ‘jail’ instead of ‘gaol’.)

So here’s my list of favourite sayings for your linguistic delectation:

Here’s the thing.

Why do I love this so much? It’s incredibly economical, not to mention understated. There’s also a bit of empathy in it.

It says, in only three words, ‘That’s all true, but there’s another factor that trumps all that, and I’m about to tell you what it is.’ It’s a polite yet unassuming signpost that prepares the listener for what comes next. What’s not to love? (This latter saying is something I’m not crazy about, but I don’t hate it either.)

Moving right along ...

I have always loved this expression, ever since I first heard it said in first year uni by a friend of mine. Again, it’s very economical but with some very low-key humour in there. It basically says ‘What we’re talking about is a bit embarrassing so let’s drop the subject.’ But this ‘translation’ doesn’t begin to describe the essence of this phrase, which has a dramatic performative quality that is humorous but not so easy to deconstruct. I think of an overanxious teacher in front of a classroom of students with their ears wagging at some salacious reference, and the teacher saying brightly ‘moving right along, does anyone know how to  ...’ There’s a note of panic, of let’s-get-out-of-here-before-we-get-tripped-up, a hint of awkwardness in the face of dauntingly  sexual[?] overtones. But users of this phrase are not usually as embarrassed as the teacher; rather, they’re ironically performing the teacher role, implying ‘I may be in fact a little embarrassed at what I’ve just said but I will laugh at my own embarrassment.’ Despite the postmodern complexity, this expression manages to be fun and lighthearted.

The ego has landed.

This is a pun on the title of a bestselling book, The Eagle Has Landed, a war thriller by Jack Higgins. I’m like a child with some humorous sayings – no matter how many times I hear or say them, I still find them vaguely funny, and this is no exception. Applied to anyone with an inflated sense of self-worth, its humour lies in its applicability to that particular individual, so there’s a freshness to the saying each time. Most recently I found myself thinking it when watching a documentary about an English plastic surgeon, originally from Pakistan, who was returning there to do some altruistic cosmetic surgery on the faces of female victims of battery acid attacks. Much as I admired this man it was clear from the first frame that he was, as we say in the Antipodes, ‘up himself’ (a saying I’m also very fond of). As usual I found  it funny to pronounce ‘the ego has landed’ about this man, despite his kindness. The present tense of ‘has landed’ gives the expression a drama and immediacy that I really like.

You don’t care for that.

Ah, how I love this one. I first noticed it as something distinctively American in a memoir written by one of my favourite authors. It was in a piece of dialogue between the author and her very empathic psychiatrist. She is revelling in a heightened mood during a bipolar episode and doesn’t want to come down to Earth: he’s trying to convince her to take her mental health seriously. It’s old-fashioned and euphemistic – instead of saying ‘don’t like’ or the stronger ‘hate’ or ‘despise’ etc,  you say ‘don’t care for’.

Why is this euphemism attractive to me and not simply annoying? Because of the word ‘care’ perhaps? Or the fact that regardless of whom the subject of the sentence is, I, you or a third person, there’s a charmingly old-fashioned delicacy and politeness to it? It seems to want to spare the listener rather than, as in the case of ‘moving right along’, the speaker. It refers to a sensibility that can discriminate, and is discerning: what we do or don’t care for being what we like and dislike (or, I suppose, care about).

The young – always with us

I couldn’t find this on Google – apart from the more general ‘always with us’ – which upset me a bit because if I can’t find something on Google I tend to think I’ve made it up. For some reason I’ve always assumed that this old-fashioned expression is British. If that’s so, it expresses what is a cliche of various aspects of the traditional British sensibility – an acceptance of adversity combined with a difficulty in enjoying life.  There is a resigned tone to this saying, but also, importantly, a radical acceptance. I can almost see a middle-aged woman in a flowery hat and with one of those rectangular sixties handbags hanging off her arm sighing as she says it. It could be in response to just about anything – a child acting up, or a teenager being too boisterous or simply saying something funny or striking. It is not a complaint but an observation that has something of the long-suffering about it as well as a subtle sense of a close community, and one that is headed by its elders.

I have it.

Okay, so this expression may seem so incredibly inane that its inclusion is incomprehensible. Bear with me. This is a US saying; Australians say 'I've got it' instead. This is an ugly expression, hard on the ear. How infinitely more elegant is 'I have it'! Give me that any day. Once you've given it to me, I can say 'I have it'.

There are plenty of other expressions I’m vaguely fond of but none that tickle my fancy like these ones do. Readers are more than welcome to send in their favourite expressions, and to pick my grammar apart and highlight any errors!

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