The Way We Talked

Dorothy Cannell: “Less is more.” I repeat this mantra to myself whenever I scoot around IMG_6978T.J. Maxx or Target pushing a cart that could hold a body with rigor mortis while besieged on all sides by displays of items any reasonable person could live without. But the moment I pick up a bottle of liquid soap to add to the fourteen already at home all further resolve vanishes, and I reach for a garden gnome.  I must know someone who likes them.  In hops a photograph frame and a couple of scented candles

I don’t think the “less” nugget of wisdom was around when I was young, but there were plenty of others including: “virtue is its own reward” with its similar appeal to self-denial.  Or other forms of worthiness.  I remember skipping rope to:

“Patience is a virtue,

Possess it if you can,

Found seldom in a woman,

And never in a man.”

Then there were all the sayings and expressions woven into adult conversations flowing around me.  I used to think my parents had made every one of them up.

Save your breath to cool you porridge.

Silence is golden.

Many a true word is spoken in jest.

Still waters run deep.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Why have a dog and bark yourself?

Barking up the wrong tree.

Try a little elbow grease.

In for a penny in for a pound.

Be beholden to no one.

Grin and bear it.

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

I’m not going to roll over and play dead.

Tell the truth and shame the devil.

Cut your garment according to your cloth.

Show some gumption.

Many hands make light work.

Too many cooks spoil the broth (Can seem a contradiction).

There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

Don’t toot your own horn.

When I was about nine our English teacher recited to us.

“Reach to the sky, and you’ll touch the top of the oak tree,

Reach for the top of the tree and you’ll grovel on the ground.”

So many warnings and admonitions:

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

Don’t give me those crocodile tears.

Don’t forget where you’ve come from.

I wonder if dependence on speaking the tried and therefore true came from an era anchored in the aftermath of two world wars, when order equaled security. Or was such language a vestige of the Victorian age?  I doubt young people rely on it.  But I’m grateful such phrases are ingrained in me.  So useful when writing dialogue in my books set in the nineteen thirties, providing a succinct point of view or an insight into character.  A person who lips bubble over with clichés is likely to be a bore, lacking in imagination, and possibly have something to hide.

I leave you with a question that floated around years ago:  “Would you rather be more foolish than you look?  Or look more foolish than you are?”

Happy reading,

Dorothy

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8 Responses to The Way We Talked

  1. David Plimpton says:

    Thank you, Dorothy< for the trip down memory lane, most of the memories good ones. I agree that those old saws, expressions, sayings, wisdom, warnings, advice and metaphors add richness and authenticity to dialogue, especially in historical fiction.

    To answer your question, I'll use one of my mother's, which suited her and my introverted personalities: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

    My parents came from radically different backgrounds before meeting in Chicago; my mother from a dirt-poor Kentucky farm and my father from a wealthy Boston south shore family with an Irish chauffeur, from whom he (an extrovert) got most of his expressions.

    Your post triggered thee following — from both sides of the equation:

    I don't give a tinker's damn.
    All over hell's half acre.
    Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder (from a song).
    If wishes were horses, beggars woulf ride.
    You catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.
    Busier than a one-armed paperhanger.
    Walk a mile in someone's shoes before you judge them.
    I don't want you going out with every Tom, Dick and Harry (my mother to my sisters)

    Like

  2. Thank you, Dorothy, for the trip down memory lane, most of the memories good ones. I agree that those old saws, expressions, sayings, wisdom, warnings, advice and metaphors add richness and authenticity to dialogue, especially in historical fiction.

    To answer your question, I’ll use one of my mother’s, which suited her and my introverted personalities: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

    My parents came from radically different backgrounds before meeting in Chicago; my mother from a dirt-poor Kentucky farm and my father from a wealthy Boston south shore family with an Irish chauffeur, from whom he (an extrovert) got most of his expressions.

    Your post triggered these — some from each side of the equation:

    I don’t give a tinker’s damn.
    All over hell’s half acre.
    Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder (from a song).
    If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
    You catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.
    Busier than a one-armed paperhanger.
    Walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge them.
    I don’t want you going out with every Tom, Dick and Harry (my mother to my sisters)

    Like

  3. Charlene Fox Clemons says:

    The one I heard from my mother – over and over and over – “Children should be seen and not heard”. I wonder if she was trying to tell me something! Loved the memories this post brought back of favorite relatives now long gone uttering many of those lines! Thanks.

    Like

  4. Gram says:

    Oh my…how old I am to have heard every one of them…

    Like

  5. Let us not forget ‘stiff upper lip’ or ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.’

    Like

  6. Don’t dread it, do it. But mom used to have sign by her typewriter that read: Better a creative mess than tidy idleness.

    Kate

    Like

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