Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Never shag a gift horse when it’s down

The only books I ever saw in my younger brother Dave’s hands were Asterix comics or novels he was forced to endure for year twelve English.

Twenty years on still sees him cautiously ask if there’s a movie available whenever any discussions about books arise. Despite this, he’s forged a successful career as a town planner and seminar speaker. He is required to attend and actively participate in more than his fair share of council meetings, committees, objection hearings and conferences and throughout his adult life he has discovered that his lack of reading means that he is living a parallel life when it comes to using common phrases and old sayings.

Unusually however, this has not made him an object of scorn but as someone who has breathed new life into these hackneyed cliches and nuggets of so-called advice. For instance he’s recently worked out that Faye Acrumbly is not a malevolent committee member always mentioned but never seen but is instead someone who is actually working under the official title of ‘Fait Accompli’ and already done what she set out to do. She’s organised, is Faye.

Dave often feels as though his good project proposals and ideas get ‘Nipped in the butt.’ One’s backside may not be quite as delicate a descriptor as ‘bud’ but is certainly a deviation that most of his colleagues can understand and empathise with, especially during annual performance review time. Admitting to being caught ‘butt naked’ during a quick change by his car after an early morning surf during a week-long seminar on the coast makes a fair bit more sense as well.

We have a lively discussion over his use of the phrase ‘Six of one, a dozen of the other’. When told by his know-it-all sister that it’s meant to be ‘Six of one, half a dozen of the other,’ he merely rolls his eyes, shrugs and shoots back with, “Not where I work or live. Since when have things proved to be even-handed or consistent?” Fair point.

Doing something ‘on the spare of the moment’ makes him seem well-planned and organised rather than impetuous: a boon, apparently, in the local council planning domain. ‘Spurs’ would be far too aggressive and less team-oriented when it comes to trying to educate and cajole greedy property developers or overly-ambitious architects about the importance of considering environmental sustainability, preservation of streetscapes and planning laws. He thinks quickly on his feet, does Dave.

Neither of us know the origin of ‘Never the twain shall meet’, and he prefers using ‘Never the train shall tweet.’ He doesn’t have time for Twitter or SMS and prefers to spend his time commuting doing other stuff like stare out of the window, chatting to his mates or working on his laptop if he gets a seat – anything other than get a good novel out and start reading it.

Like a fool in a china shop, he rarely beats around the buses when getting to the point is concerned. "Why can’t I toot my own horn?” he asks, “For all intensive purposes, if you don’t toot your horn these days, you’ll never get let into the traffic flow, and as for not being able to have my cake and eat it too, that’s just pointless and cruel.” Being gracious in defeat is all very noble, he admits, but being gracious in the sheets ensures that he continues to have a happy and lasting marriage.

He starts warming up to his clashing cliches. ‘Don’t count your chickens by their cover,’ is a perfectly reasonable thing to say in his view. “Don’t remember my year eight agriculture class? I chose the white chooks for my project and they ended up pecking each other’s feathers off.”

Given his lack of love for literature, it makes sense that chickens are going to be selected and judged far more frequently than book covers in his unique world. Still, he refuses to ‘give up the goat,’ says he’s proud of being a ‘country bunkum’ and hopes he can remain analogous when it comes to being able to criticise his profession and the people he works with. “I’m all for following my dreams but only if they involve supermodels and beer and not the one where I turn up nude to my nanna’s house.”

To be fair to my lovely young brother, he’s invented a pretty effective one of his own. No holes barred, it perfectly summarises the ridiculous amount of stress we place on ourselves and sanctimoniously say to others: ‘Put your best foot forward, nose to the grindstone, head down-bum up, back to the wall, shoulder to the wheel and keep your eyes on the prize.’ If you can manage that, every stitch in time won’t gather any pesky moss or spoil your broth.


River said...

I don't think I could survive without reading. Although I have given up reading while walking.
I love Dave's mixed up cliches.

ashleigh said...

"For all intensive purposes" - we have someone at work who says that. Often. It drives me mad!

Yes, you can tell those who don't read by their mixed and mumbled and bumbled attempts to flick the cliches and phrases-of-record around.

The trouble is, English is a WEIRD langauge. The words are hard enough with their total lack of consistency in construction and structure (depending on which european language-de-jour they were nicked from). Then the sentance structure can be all over the place, with dangling participles and rogue gerunds :) AND THEN we go throwing stupid homilies, phrases, cliches (thats from French you know) and aphorisms around just to add confusion. No wonder folk from other languages and culture give a strange look when you talk about "putting your nose to the grindstone" or "for all intents and purposes". We don't say what we mean, we talk in riddles.

I deal a lot with people from other languages and countries, and go to a lot of trouble in written and spoken communication to be slow, careful, and clear. I notice a lot of my colleagues don't - they just carry on as normal - with the usual weirdness (i before e except after c... except in weird) of English as she is spoke (is there a bicycle somewhere?) - and then throw in some Oz Ockerisms as well, mate, and we'll see ya for a barbie. Will Ken be there also? No wonder foreigners thing we are all mad.

lc said...

There's one thing that bothers me more than people that mangle the English language: that's pedants that get upset and superior about it.

Heck, I've written the odd letter to a newspaper or two but the day I fire off an angry rant about the incorrect use of apostrophe's (you see what I did there?) is the very same day I'd like to be euthanised because clearly I've run out of life to live.

Baino said...

Haha . .I'm stealing some of these. My best friend does it all the time, mixes her metaphors . .a bird in the bush saves time . . crazy woman. Actually I'm with him on the reading. I do so much at work and play that the books just sit and gather dust. Having said that, I spend my days translating stuff into 'plain English' it's not all bad. Thanks LC I am the worst punctuater in the world (is that even a word? Discuss)

drb said...

Does Dave read Newspaper?
Not that newspaper helps - always using "data is" instead of "data are". Singular for "data" is "datum".

ashleigh said...

Clear readable english is a hard thing to write. I've not got the hang of the apostrophe rules. I tend to just leave em out :) Or find a way of writing that does not rely on them.

The really easy rule about putting in an apostrophe when you contract things and leave letters out is about the only rule I can remember.

franzy said...

I bet he does things off his own back too.

And LC ... you got me. I can't not twitch and shudder. You want life? Go and find Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves - an entire beatiful book on punctuation.

If it belongs to something: apostrophe before the "s" (except for "its"). The bird's beak.
If it's a plural, no apostrophe. Two birds.
If if belongs to a plural of somethings, apostrophe after the "s". The birds' beaks.

There are other rules, but I'm going to save them to drown out LC's scoffing. Coz nothing wins the cred like punctuation rules. Yeah.

Cat J B said...

English was one of my fave things at school, so I can pick a punctuation or spelling mistake out a mile a way....usually, I hasten to add.

Our family favourite was a younger sister who read out in monopoly "building loan may-tures". English, gotta love it!

deepkickgirl said...

Oh, that's fantastic. I love this sort of stuff.

On the reading side of things, I guess it's hard for avid readers to imagine a life devoid of books. My Jay is the same. He went through a stage of reading a lot of rock biographies but now he rarely reads anything apart from The Record.

Benjamin Solah said...

So sounds like my sister. She doesn't read either... hmmm...

Jilly said...

Now I know why I 'got' Dave so much! Hee Hee, I am the same and my family loves me for it! Although I have heard my husband say "as slow as a wet wig". Just cause some peole have the time to read, doesn't mean you are better... or funnier...

ashleigh said...

I do rather like the description "dumb as a sack full of hammers" :)

Helen said...

Hmmm, that horse photo is... creepy. I'm sending it to the fugly blog.