People say funny things. Some of us demand accuracy in language, and some of us can let things go. I guess I’m in the former category, though I don’t want to be Mr. Cranky about it. I’ve read articles about “could care less” vs. “couldn’t care less” which seems like a clear-cut case of people being lazy with an extra syllable. But this subject has been beaten to death so I’ll move on. By the way, beaten to death is an accurate idiom. I like it but I don’t want to use it too much, otherwise it might die from too much beating.
Pointing out peculiarities in language is something that people who love words love. We with the fingers on the keyboards like to play Scrabble with the letters and come up with something worth 85 points if possible. We also don’t like it when someone lays down tiles that spell Phariswheal.
When something’s wrong, or even just odd, it’s worth pointing out.
Take for instance “Peed my pants” (Yep, this is www.bestbathroombooks.com, remember?) I see this in comments about blogs that are funny. I think women either pee their pants more than men, or think things are funnier than men, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man say “That was so funny I almost peed my pants.”
I have heard men say, “That scared the shit out of me” (Yep, still www.bestbathroombooks.com). So poop is equated with fear, and pee is equated with laughter. These both seem like accurate expressions because those bodily functions may occur in their respective situations. You might also say, “That was so funny I almost farted”—and this would be accurate because I’ve heard it happen. But people don’t say this, which means that it is more culturally acceptable to pee your pants than to fart. This seems odd to me, because peeing your pants generally requires more laundering than farting. I am, of course, talking about farts that are considered “normal” as determined by the National Fart Council.
We say things because everyone else has said them for so long, and to utter something new—but more accurate– is unacceptable. If you were at a dinner party and you said, “We went to go see (Hilarious Movie) and it was so funny I almost farted”, people would probably go straight to facebook and unfriend you. So, out of fear, we stick to our wet pants and our old guns (which by the way, are rusty and don’t work as well as some new ones that look different than the old ones. Why do people like the look of old guns and wet underpants so much?)
When someone “has a cow”, this means they are upset. This is an idiom that seems accurate—it would definitely be upsetting to have a cow, but couldn’t we be more accurate? How about if I “had a porcupine?” Would “having a porcupine” mean that I was even more upset? It seems more painful than having a cow, doesn’t it?
Here’s one that’s been a raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth for years:
Time is Money.
I write music as well, and I wrote a song about this. I will make your day by not providing a link. But here’s my point:
Time isn’t money. Time is time. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. Money is a finite thing, and time is infinite. Time=Money is a false equation. This axiom is usually used to describe someone trying to get something done, and the longer it takes, the more money it’s going to cost. So people shouldn’t be saying “Time is Money”. They should be saying “The Length of Time is Money.” The longer it takes to do something, the more it will cost.
Okay, maybe I’m splitting hairs (an accurate idiom), but words have meaning. We use them all the time and we repeat phrases that could be better phrases. We are fighting against culture if we dare to challenge tried if not true statements. But isn’t that what we’re here for, to sharpen and improve the meaning of things?
Try this: Think of something you say that could be more accurate. Then improve it and see if anyone notices. In other words, make up your own axiom. Maybe it will catch on, and someday everyone will be saying: That workout really excited my sweat glands.
Mr. Cranky ‘s Pet Peeve: People who use the phrase: I want to say…
They’ll use this when they’re not sure of a statistic they think you might check on your Smartphone, or they’re just guessing (they could just say they’re guessing, right?)
“How many hotdogs did you eat last night?”
“I want to say six.”
You know what, Buddy. Just say six. I won’t be upset at all.