I like idioms. They have a sense of mystery and fun about them. An idiom is a group of words that have a meaning that is not deducible from the individual words. Do you think I knew that definition? Well, your wrong if you thought that because I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. See what I mean? That's an idiom that suggests I had to look up that meaning for an idiom.
I believe there should be a movement to bring idioms into the 21st century more in sync with today's sensibility;
The old idioms are much too crude and harsh. They can offend any delicate soul and, in the culture of America today, that is the one thing we don't want to do; that is to offend anybody. We must watch our language not to offend, displease, wound, annoy, or God forbid, anger.
To give you an example of what I mean about harsh idioms, let's analyse the first idiom that I used, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In today's ethic of cautious tip-toeing word selection, we could use less contentious words to convey the same meaning. You see, the problem is that a knife suggests violence and that is oh so retro. Since we must use words of peace and love, how would this work? He's not the shiniest spoon in the table setting. The only problem with that is I believe I just offended those who belong to the National Association of Men and Women Who Wish To Offend.
Here's an idiom that is used frequently. I have a bone to pick with you. Just the image of people picking meat from a bone is offensive to vegans who try to avoid animal products that bring out images of hairy guys with bad breath dragging their knuckles along the cave floor with bloody carcasses in tow, grunting and gnawing on gristle and cartilage.
I think we should replace that idiom with, Hey there friend, how about meeting me for a chat? Isn't that infinitely more civilized than picking bones and meat remains from one's teeth? You bet it is. With obesity concerns emanating from the White House, fat dripping meat also defeats our desire to slim down America. We could also use this idiom to meet that goal, I have a crown of broccoli to munch on with you. That is much better.
Here's another throwback to less refined times. Beating around the bush. First of all, beating anything, including the bush, suggests violence and that cannot be condoned.
This beating around the bush means avoidance to discuss something of importance. But with today's sensibilities so easily irritated, we can do better. We are not Neanderthals any longer hiding in the dark. How about, 'Let's jostle our minds for lunch today.'
A dime a dozen. First of all you can't buy anything today that cheaply. Even a dozen bottled water drops that came from a spring high in the Himalayas gathered in a ceramic jug by a Nepalese virgin would cost more than a dime. What do we use to substitute for what is common and cheap?
Something that is common and cheap. How about a penny a dozen campaign promises.
We need a new substitute for barking up the wrong tree. First of all, that dog should not be free to be at the bottom of a tree barking. He should be on a leash. Secondly, if the dog is barking up the wrong tree, that's a stupid dog and it better be spayed before it has a litter. Thirdly, get that dog away from that tree before he waters it and kills it.
There is just so much wrong with that phrase. We need a new one like, 'My politically correct friend, your assumption is misdirected.'
People who are trying to cheer you up might throw out this old bromide. 'The darkest hour is just before dawn.' That's not true. Come on, we've known for years that it's darkest at 3:14 a.m. If you've ever been up at that time you know your first reaction is, "Boy, it's dark.". That means if you're up at 3:13 it's going to get worse but it also means things start getting brighter at 3:15.
Going to hell in a hand basket. Buffalo Bills fans over the past 13 years have ground this idiom into a pile of miserable draft choices. After the season stands at 0-3 we use that term to suggest things are getting bad very quickly. We need something new. After all, hell is an unfashionable concept today though Bills fans know it's a reality. Secondly, who uses a hand basket anymore? We use bags that are green friendly. So, just in case this season looks like a repeat of history, let's try this, 'My my, things are going to the recycling bin at the speed of light.'
A penny saved is a penny earned. This means it's wise to save money because it will gain in value. If you believe that, I've got a good deal for you on Syrian treasury bonds. At the current rate of interest growth, a penny will become two pennies in about 300 years which will then be taxed so outrageously that what's left will not go far towards the mortgage needed to buy a candy bar that will then cost $480. So that leads to a more realistic idiom - a penny saved is a stupid investment.
Here's an idiom that even kids know. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In the first place, what are you doing with a bird in your hand? Good grief, man. For a bird to be in your hand it's probably injured or sick. You better get rid of that bird and wash your hands right now. Ever heard of bird flu?
So what's an injured or sick bird worth? I'm afraid to say it's probably worth nothing and if it's injured you're going to take it to the vet and it's going to cost you a lot of worth to make that bird healthy enough to leave a present in your hand as it flies away.
Very frankly, if it's a crow, a starling, or a sparrow in your hand, that is not exactly an asset of value. And two in the bush doesn't increase the worth one bit. Two sparrows in a bush have greater value than one sparrow in a hand? I don't believe so. Any guy with a bird in his hand can take a sparrow to a coffee shop and it's still going to cost him big time for a caramel, peacock milk, venti uno, or whatever those delicacies are called.
If it's an eagle or a condor in your hand then you've got something. And you've also got trouble because they wouldn't be in your hand for long before they remove your eyes.
In summation, our final new century idiom is, 'A bird in the hand is not a good thing - no matter what's in the bush.'
Nin Privitera is a Fredonia resident. His column appears on the second Sunday of each month.