10 September 2008

Happy as a Pig in ... Stuff

Dear Mandella,

The fur is flying left and right (pun intended) in our big presidential campaign because one of the candidates (the left/liberal/Democrat) used the expression “like putting lipstick on a pig” when describing the effect of the other candidate (the right/conservative/Republican) talking about bringing about change.

Do you have that expression on your side of the Atlantic?  I believe the full expression is something on the order of, “You can put lipstick on a pig but that doesn’t make it pretty.”  Or maybe it’s on the order of, “Fixing up that old house would be like putting lipstick on a pig.”  Of course, the overall intent is to convey that any effort to make something look or sound better than it is would be a waste of time and energy.  And possibly a falsehood.  Well, you just never know with aphorisms because they are so flexible.  But I do love a good simile when I come across one.

Anyway, it put me in mind of some of the good ones I’ve heard over the years.  When we dawdled at our household chores, my mother would say we were as slow as molasses in January.  The marching band professor at my university once described an unhelpful person with the phrase, “as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”  One of my favorites came from a woman in a community choir.  We were squeezing massive numbers of singers onto risers (it was for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”) and this lady said in frustration, “We are jammed in here like jelly*.”   That lady had another expression she used when something didn’t go right:  “If that ain’t what made the cake fall in the middle.”  (She had a slight Southern lilt in her voice, so it came out more like, “If that ain’t what made the cake foul in the middle,” which sort of has its own special meaning, don’t you think?)

Our language is so highly idiomatic that it’s no wonder we resort to simile and metaphor for emphasis. 

Oh, and the big to-do over the use of that particular simile at the beginning?  The Republican candidate’s running mate quipped at the Republican National Convention (which was televised for all to see and hear) that she’s a hockey mom and that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull terrier is the lipstick (on the hockey mom, presumably).  So, put the two items together and you’ve got a bunch of Republicans upset because they believe the Democratic candidate was calling the Republican running mate a pig.  (They seem to forget that the Republican candidate used that very expression a year ago.) 


Yes, we’re in the midst of the silly season for about 2 more months.  I thought I’d try to get past all of the bickering and concentrate on the culture.




*That’s “jelly” in the US sense, meaning fruit preserves, instead of the UK sense, meaning “gelatin.”


Nancy Jane said...

How about "dumber than a box of rocks". My Dad has said it for years, and I still don't get it

Anonymous said...

How about "More fun than a box of rocks." for cyniscism.

Unless of course, you are a geologist, and then a box of rocks is a LOT of fun!
-db from AZ, USA