What Makes Us Talk That Way?

You have to admit that some of the expressions that Americans use to describe people or comment on the state of things are pretty interesting. I have made a list of some of them, and, being the person I am, cannot resist adding my unique comments. Disclaimer: I do not plan to go to the trouble of researching any of this, so you are free to take whatever I write with a grain of salt (see No. 2 below) as possibly being the product of a disjointed mind with nothing better to do.


Dumber Than a Sack of Hair

Why people choose to equate lack of intelligence with being stuffed with hair is beyond me, but let’s face it – if your head is full of hair instead of brain cells you are going to be pretty stupid. Also, have you ever thought of how useless hair is when it isn’t attached to your head? Just ask any hairdresser who has to sweep the mess off the floor after giving someone a haircut. A sack full of that stuff is a pretty idiotic thing to keep around for no reason.

The Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home

In other words, that person’s body is moving, but he/she is so dumb that it is questionable if there is a real human inside. I like this one, especially the electric light metaphor. Metaphors do that to me sometimes. Psychiatrists want to study me, just for this – well, and a couple of other reasons that I’m not telling.

A Couple of Sandwiches Short of a Picnic

Ah! Another metaphor to describe someone who is many IQ points below MENSA level. This one is more flexible. It can also be used for someone who is a little bonkers, but not enough to be committed or told to stay upstairs when company comes over. This expression can be modified by using other metaphors of incompleteness. Example: a couple of pages short of a novel; a couple of beers short of a six-pack; etc.


Take It (i.e. Something that Someone Said) With a Grain of Salt

I don’t understand. What does salt have to do with the reliability of a source of information? And why just one grain of salt for the skeptic? Isn’t that pretty stingy? Come on! If someone has the brains to question your statements and the nerve to say so, at least give the person a teaspoon of salt for his trouble.

Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!

This is baffling. Why would someone’s pants spontaneously combust just because the wearer tells a lie? Even better: HOW does a pair of pants automatically know when to catch fire? I think this was made up by some anonymous smart mouthed kid back in the old days and went viral. That’s what I think.


(I/You/He/She/They)(Have/Has) Been Screwed/Fucked

You would think that sex, being an inherently pleasurable activity, would not be used to indicate bad luck, unfortunate life choices or falling for a scam, but it is. I think this got started because using dirty words gave emphasis to a complaint. (“Ummvv! You said “fuck!”) You’ll get a lot more attention with “I am screwed” than you would with “I am really unlucky and I fell for a grifter.” Just saying.


Colder Than a Witch’s Tit

If a witch were to stick her chest into a bucket of ice cubes for twenty minutes, you could say she had cold tits. Other than that, I don’t think so. This whole thing got started because people back in medieval times thought that all witches had extra tits to use to nourish either their familiar animal spirits or Satan, or both. Whenever anyone was accused of witchcraft, the authorities could have a good time searching the body of the accused by sticking her (or sometimes him) with something sharp. This wasn’t fun for the suspected witch, but at least this test wouldn’t kill her, like some of the others did. The theory was that if they found a spot where she couldn’t feel the pain that was where the secret spot was. It was supposed to have no sensation. Thus: colder than a witch’s tit.

I didn’t make that up. Honest.

Raining Cats and Dogs

Has anyone ever seen a cat or a dog freefalling from a cloud? Neither have I. I often see my cat jumping down from windowsills, furniture and the top of the kitchen cabinet, but as far as I know she has never tumbled down from the sky, although there are times I swear she came from another planet. That’s a whole other story, though.

Nobody really knows for sure how this expression got started, which is okay with me because it’s dumber than a sack of hair.

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8 thoughts on “What Makes Us Talk That Way?”

  1. I was raised hearing “you’re dumber than a stick of stove wood”. Evidently trees are smartly elegant but the same can’t be said for their body parts.

    1. My grandmother had an old wood burning stove before she finally got an electric range. If the wood she carried in to load the stove was a little green or a little wet, it wouldn’t light and she’d have a hard time. Maybe that’s where the expression came from. Who knows?

    1. Actually, I broke down and did do some internet research before I published this piece, even though I didn’t tell anyone. It seems that this expression has a few versions, all of them colorful and apt.

  2. In Ireland, we wouldn’t be short of the odd ridiculous saying or two. On hearing the sound of awful music such as that of Bon Jovi, we might say “Aw, that’s the tune the old cow died of”.

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