Mayfield: Old-timey lingo
My dad used to warn us away from the fire or a hot kitchen stove by shouting, Why, its hotter than a two-dollar pistol with a bent barrel! A very unusual saying from a man who disallowed any form of weaponry in the house more lethal than a fly rod.His other well-used colloquialism came when he stepped back from a project he was working on to admire the finished product. Hed take a deep breath, let out a low whistle and exclaim, Just like downtown Amarillo! Now, as far as I know, he never set foot in Amarillo, Texas but one had the distinct impression that his exclamation contained more than a hint of mockery.Dont ask me why or how but I came across a list of figures of speech common to Newfoundland and thought they might serve as instructional for those of you with nothing better to do than continue to read this column. For instance, it appears that in Newfoundland it is common to hear the expression, Flat as a pancake which, of course, is not limited to Newfoundlanders. But the same list included this strange turn of phrase: Foolish as a caplin. I have searched all my dictionaries and the Internet and have yet to find a definition of a caplin. So Ive wondered if a caplin is someone who wastes an inordinate amount of time trying to find the definition of caplin. I didnt realize those Newfoundlanders could be so clever.In a book Im currently reading, I came across this colorful phrase: As mad as a hog on ice. It is a most descriptive expression and can lead one who has just wasted several precious hours searching for the meaning of caplin to stop and waste a few more imagining just how mad a hog on ice could be.Incidentally, never having heard the aforementioned expression before, it was with something of a shock that the very next day someone used this very phrase in my presence. I immediately added it to my list of proofs for the existence of God.A friend of mine has a friend of hers who once used the expression, Shes trying to ride both sides of the same horse. You figure it out.Even the ones we can figure out dont always make a lot of sense. Have you ever closely examined two peas in a pod? Enormous differences! Have you ever tried to take candy from a baby? Not from any of my kids! And yes, I have watched horses eat and its nothing compared to my son. Plain as the nose on your face. What does that mean, exactly? Ive always found my beak to be anything but plain. Grand, immense, splendid, of course, but plain, never!Burdened by an English heritage, Ive still yet to understand most of the expressions employed by my relatives across the pond. A good example of their nonsense is this one hurled back at someone who came up with a particularly scathing critique: Same to you with brass knobs on! My hunch is this doubtfully clever expression falls into the same camp as the grammar school retort: Sos your mother! Even more bewildering is the one that escapes each time a hammer hits somewhere other than the nail, Gor Blimey!, says my cousin as he holds his thumb and dances around on one leg. Gor blimey?Speaking of mothers, mine celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday. Although an amazingly active and bright woman, I cant recall any expression particular to her. What I do remember is her chasing me around the house with a wooden spoon in her hand. Usually by then clever expressions were limited to: Just wait until your father gets home! And when he did get home and finished with me my bottom was as red as a fire engine and hotter than a two-dollar pistol with a bent-barrel.Rich Mayfield is the author of Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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