By Mordechai Schmutter
A while back, I wrote a couple of columns on annoying expressions that people use all the time. For example, you can be speaking to someone, and he’ll say, “If you want to know the truth, I’m not gonna lie to you. Believe you me, I have half a mind to literally totally put myself in his shoes and give him a taste of his own medicine, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. No offense. Do you know what I’m saying?”
No, I actually don’t. I lost you around the time you were implying that most of what you say, in general, is a lie, but that I should believe you this time anyway. I’m not even sure what we’re talking about.
Those columns actually got a pretty big response, with people writing in to say which expressions drive them up the wall. You can make a concerted effort to stop using an expression that annoys you, but then you keep finding yourself in the presence of people who use it anyway, some of them way more often than you’d think would be possible, and who make you want to get up and walk out the door, especially if you’re on an airplane.
So this week we’re going to talk about more annoying expressions.
I mean additional annoying expressions. The expression themselves are not more annoying.
Well, it depends who you ask.
For example, if you ask my wife, it’s very annoying when I say that I’m going to “have a catch” with my kids. She insists that you don’t have a catch, you play catch. I keep telling her that catch isn’t a game—it’s really just practicing coordination, because it can go on forever and no one really wins, and she said that in that case, our kids don’t play Mr. Potato Head, they have Mr. Potato Head. So I pointed out that our kids do have Mr. Potato Head—two of them, in fact—at which point my wife suggested that I go outside and play catch with my kids. So did we have an argument, or did we play an argument?
It also is sometimes annoying when people take words that make sense in one language (Yiddish, for example) and translate them directly into English. For example, M.L. writes that she hates when people say they’re going to “Say over” a d’var Torah, which sounds like they’re saying it again because no one was listening the first time. (“Wait, you’re done? Can you say it over? I was dealing with my kids.”) Isn’t saying “over” something pilots do so the control tower knows they’re finished talking? On the other hand, a benefit of telling people you’re going to “say over” a d’var Torah is that it implies that they already missed the first time you said it, and you’re going to be nice and say it over, but they’re better listen.
Also, S.L. of Brooklyn doesn’t understand why people say that they need to “daven for the amud.” Why? What’s wrong with the amud? Is it falling apart? Does it need a shidduch?
Yes, it needs a shidduch. It needs a chazzan, and everyone’s refusing.
“Maybe you can daven at the amud,” S.L. says. “Or near the amud, or on top of the amud, or even from the amud.”
And there are also expressions that totally distract the listener from the conversation because they put ridiculous pictures in his mind. For example, M.L. doesn’t understand why people say, “I’m looking forward.” (“As in response to a Shabbos invitation,” she says, “to which I’m tempted to respond, ‘Well, that’s better than looking backward.’” Although if she does say that, then the person probably won’t be looking forward anymore.) Sometimes it’s good to look forward, such as when you’re driving. Other times, it’s counterproductive. I know when I’m reading a mystery novel, I often find myself looking forward to see how it’s going to end. “Wait, Fernando did it? Who on earth is Fernando?” And then I find myself looking backward, because it turned out that whenever Fernando showed up in the book, I kind of tuned out, because I didn’t think he was important for later. But basically, I look forward to the end of mystery novels.
Shlomo, meanwhile, has issue with the expression, “He turned around and said.” Why is this guy turning around in the middle of a conversation? Maybe it’s a conversation about the hokey pokey. (“And then he turned around and said, ‘That’s what it’s all about.’”) Or maybe it can be used in conversations about school, such as, “I was doing the worksheet, and all of a sudden, Chaim turned around and said, ‘I can’t copy off you if you’re going to sit behind me.’” Or you can say, “The teacher wrote the sentence on the board, and then he turned around and said, “Hey, where’d everybody go?”
Either way, Shlomo is not over the moon about it, which is another expression he doesn’t like. “Very few people have ever been over the moon,” he says. But the truth is that “over the moon” really means that you’re impressed with something.
Mother Goose: “Did you see? The cat is playing a fiddle!”
Cow: “Eh. I’m not over the moon about it.”
Mother Goose: “Hey! What happened to my cutlery!”
Also, a lot of expressions are kind of unnecessary to begin with. That goes without saying.
Yeah, well I said it anyway. I wanted to make sure we were on the same page.
Well, we’re not. I’m looking forward. There’s an answer key in the back.
I used to go without saying, and my wife got very upset. Now, every time I go, I have to say. (“I’m going to be home at 8. Is that okay?”)
And how about when your kids don’t finish what’s on their plate, and you tell them, “There are starving kids in Africa”? Are you trying to teach them that if they have more than they need and someone else has less, they should make sure to use up what they have, even if they don’t want it?
But the worst are the expressions that don’t make sense at all. Like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” That’s the official dieters’ motto. What am I supposed to do with my cake, if not eat it? And doesn’t “have cake” mean to eat cake?
“What are we having for supper?”
“Are we eating it too?”
Isn’t that what’s wrong with society—having things we’re not going to use? Why ask for a piece of cake if you’re not going to eat it? There are starving kids in Africa! Send it to them!
Though actually, the expression does make sense, in a way. It actually means that you can’t have the best of both worlds. In Russia, you’d say, “You can’t sit on two chairs,” which is not entirely true in America, which is why the American version involves cake. And in German you’d say, “You can’t dance at two weddings,” which is especially true if you’re big enough to sit on two chairs. You can dance at two weddings, but not if you’re eating at both of them as well. The original English expression, though, is that you can’t eat your cake and have it too, meaning that if you eat it, you’ll no longer have it. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs quotes a 1546 compendium by John Heywood that says, “Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?” Apparently, he said the expression with a mouthful of cake.
Also, sometimes you want to have cake at a simcha to make the table look pretty, and you pretty much understand that no one’s going to eat it.
Another thing that people say is “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
Wait. Why do I want flies?
You can also catch flies by having cake and not eating it too.
Do the people around you use annoying expressions? Send them in. (Make sure to punch air holes.) v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.