April 13, 2014

There's no saw like an old saw


---- — If I ask you for an old saw, what would you do?

Would you show me a hand saw, a cross-cut saw or some other antique cutting device? Would I be satisfied? Not in this instance. I already have lots of old saws like that.

The kind of saw I’m referring to involves sayings your mother uttered and her mother before her.

“Put on clean underwear with no holes in case you’re in an accident on the way to school and they have to take you to the hospital.” Remember that one?

Kaye and I laughed ourselves silly the other day as we tried to top each other with our own old saws.

“Stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” “Keep making that face and it will freeze that way.” “Look at that dirt behind your ears.” “Just give it some elbow grease.” “You just gave it a lick and a promise.” “Make do or do without.” “Your meat might be tough, but it’s tougher where there’s none.” “You look a little off kilter today.” “Don’t pitch a conniption fit (or a hissy fit).” “Mind your Ps and Q’s.”

By now, you’re coming up with your own. This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s meant only to “grease the squeaky wheel.” My mother’s Puritan spirit would never allow her to say it, but others might tell you to “pound salt (or sand).” That might come with a detailed explanation about where you should pound that particular substance.

Several folks have told me about their own references to the phrase “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.” I can understand the origin of some of these, but others defy my ability to trace them to anything reasonable. “I’ll put the kibosh on that” is such an example. What the heck is a kibosh?

Another one that mystifies me is “In a pig’s eye.” I’ve tracked it in literature to before the middle of the 19th century, but have never found an acceptable origin.

Others are so common we can attribute them to the Holy Bible or to Shakespeare. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” “No need to gild the lily.” Ben Franklin also had his share of wise sayings. Things like “A penny saved is a penny earned” or “Early to bed, early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” How about “A stitch in time saves nine?”

Helga Bradford gave me a good one translated from German: “Someday day you’ll eat wooden apples.” That’s a new one on me.

Kaye had a couple I like. One of them is “Least said, soonest mended.” Her all-time favorite after finishing a hearty meal is “My sufficiency has been suffonsified and my fancy is full.” Charming.

I’ll throw out a few more just to lubricate your own memory machines. “Nuts and no Christmas.” “It’s a pig in a poke.” “It’s curtains for you.” “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” “She’s all fur coat and no knickers.” “You’re as slow as molasses in January.” “Cat got your tongue?” “Knock on wood.” “Break a leg.”

My late mother was a task master (mistress) and uttered classics to chastise or encourage her errant second son. Sometimes I had no idea what she meant; but I always knew that she meant business. “Don’t ever give up” stayed with me forever and I used it in my book “Little Champy Goes to School.” I have been on the brink of cashing in my chips and folding my hand on many occasions and her words of motherly wisdom have often jerked me back from the edge.

But her best lines came when I was screwing up somehow. “If you fall out of that tree and break your neck, you’re not going to the store with me.” And the best of all: “Put a coat on or you’ll catch your death of pneumonia. You’ll get sick and die and then you’ll be sorry.”

Mothers always knew best. Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at