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June 20, 2013 8:26 am

MY LOUSY WORLD: What's in a word, anyway?

Written by Doug Blough

Being a wordsmith, since being a blacksmith didn’t pay enough, I love analogies and common expressions — also called idioms, or “tropes.”

I just learned this new trope word, and we wordsmiths love learning new synonyms. I’ll most likely be throwing the word around a lot until the newness wears off.

Anyhoo, I often wonder where these old expressions originated, and if I were a more energetic Googlesmith, I could find out. I don’t like finding answers that way though — it feels too much like cheating, so I’m satisfied to just conjecture.

One of my favorite has always been “… like a bat out of hell.” It’s so descriptive and conclusive: There’s absolutely no doubt that the fleeing person or animal in question was moving as fast as humanly possible. I mean, a bat — or any bird, for that matter — somehow finding its way out of hell would certainly be moving at breakneck speed.

“Going 100 and never looking back,” an old surveying expression, also sums it up well.

It’s hot as hell in hell, and if a bat is able to flee with just its bony wings singed, that’s one lucky and grateful bat. “Bats in the belfry,” meaning a person is mentally unstable, or “cuckoo,” isn’t one of my favorite expressions, but it speaks well of the bat to be associated with two major idioms.

BTW, bat feces are called “guano,” which I learned from another classic, favorite movie, “Ace Ventura; When Nature Calls.” Jim Carrey was guano-phobic and ran like a bat out of hell any time he saw the stuff. Me? I could scrape guano off cave walls for later use and not blink an eye. Everyone is different.

But I digress, as I’m so maddeningly prone. I’m particularly enamored of idioms describing desperately needing to relieve oneself while being nowhere near a relief facility. The most eloquent and visually effective, and also my all-time favorite, is “I had to pee so bad my back teeth were floating.” Sure, having to “pee like a racehorse” is the most common urination idiom, and many use the steed as their measuring yardstick.

But if your back teeth are floating, that says it all. Of course, this is physiologically impossible, since the back teeth are secured by deep roots, but idioms weren’t meant to be grounded in reality. They’re only to get one’s point across as quickly and dramatically as possible, and I’ll tell you this: I’ve been sitting in the back seat middle of a car full of teen drinkers, and I literally felt my back teeth floating. It’s always advisable not to let the others know, because there’s always that one sadist who will reach down and push on your bladder.

When the driver finally pulls over, you’re out of there like a bat out of hell, I mean to tell you.

My fine eye doctor, James Bell, told me one time where the expression “evil eye” originated, but danged if I can remember. I do recall though he said it is the left eye, and stands for “Ocular Sinister.” Just thought I’d throw in that trope at no extra charge.

A common expression describing a scant chance of achievement is “about as much chance as a one-legged man in a kicking contest.” Many war veterans fitted with prostheses live a perfectly normal and productive life, but for obvious reasons don’t sign up for any kicking contests.

“I don’t care what anybody says” is a hearty endorsement indeed. I used to stay overnight with my high school best friend Donnie Eash, and his dad, Vern, would listen to music and say, “Now that’s a damn good song; I don’t care what anybody says.” He may have wavered on the merits of certain songs, but when he said that, his love was unshakeable and unconditional. At his age and during that ’60s era, it may have been Perry Como, but that has no bearing.

We’re all adults here (except for the Mensa children reading at an uncommonly young age), and know the common word used for describing a period of high sexual-proclivity. For whatever reason, that instance of peak hormonal activity became known as “horny.” I only bring that up to point out there’s no proof that a hoot owl is any more inclined towards immorality than a crow or a bat. For a bat out of hell of course, sex is the last thing on its mind.

Also mischaracterized this way is the billy goat. How many times have you heard, “… hornier than a 2- …” Well, never mind; some things are better left unsaid.

Another common idiom is “Stinks to high heaven?” Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one, usually when someone unwittingly enters my five-cat townhouse. I wrote recently about friends telling me I’m starting to carry the smell of my house around town with me.

So I’m sure I’ll be hearing that expression until the cows come home, for lack of a better trope.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link June 26, 2013 5:05 am posted by Debra Cooper

    And then there's "grabbing a snake by the ears" and "busier than a one armed woodchopper" or being called the "red headed stepchild." Conversations back here in western Pennsylvania are peppered with "tropes." Love your column!

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