June 24, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Say the right thing at the right time for the right reason

Cynthia DewesA “saying” says it all, doesn’t it? It’s often a pithy statement which defines an idea or imparts a bit of wisdom. It can be funny, serious, amazingly accurate or philosophical.

Other names for sayings are adages, mottoes, or witticisms, but they have about the same purpose and effect. The Bible is chock full of them, of course, as in “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and quotations from Shakespeare’s works are a close second. Both often appear in “Jeopardy” questions.

A friend and I were laughing recently over the sayings our moms used to dish out. It seems that all mothers, regardless of location, race, age or whatever, always employ the same ones. I am guilty of it myself. We are our mothers’ daughters, after all.

And most of mom’s sayings are meant to encourage good behavior. “Don’t make me come over there!” or “Because I said so!” always delivered with exclamation points, are popular favorites. And they are always delivered with the authoritative posture, the penetrating eye, the mildly menacing tone of voice.

Some sayings are meant to be helpful in managing our affairs. Things like, “Waste not, want not” or “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Unfortunately, we don’t always heed these suggestions until after it’s too late. And sayings about health often go ignored as well, as in, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat” or “Put cream and sugar in your coffee, not coffee in your cream and sugar.”

Other behavioral issues are taken up in sayings. We hear, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say,” “Handsome is as handsome does,” “Let sleeping dogs lie,” or “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” come to mind. In fact, almost any human issue is covered by a saying somewhere.

As an example, a friend whose mom was Italian told me of a saying her mother often recited to her in rhyming Italian: “Every day you wake up after age 40 brings a new ache or pain, and every day you wake up over age 50 you should jump in the river with all your clothes on.” A bit pessimistic, but maybe it sounds better in an Italian rhyme.

Certain expletives are sayings, too. My Norwegian family exclaims, “Uff dah!” in moments of surprise, indignation, horror, you name it. It’s a great all-purpose expression. I’m told there is another similar Norwegian expletive which is so naughty they wouldn’t tell it to me.

The “s” word is another popular, but naughty expletive. My niece used this expression out loud one day, only to hear her little daughter’s baby voice behind her saying, “Sit!” Of course, many a juvenile mouth has been washed out with soap for similarly inappropriate exclamations.

Over time, we all tend to develop sayings that succinctly sum up our own point of view on a subject. Some of my favorites include, “Anything tastes better with melted cheese on top,” and “Eat dirt.” The latter is reserved for commenting on terribly bad behavior or personal insult or scam IRS phone calls. And it’s usually delivered silently, although my friends know what I’m thinking.

Sayings are important because they contain words, and words are powerful, wise, inspiring. Scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). We should watch what we say because it’s God who has that final Word.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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