Musing #5: 10 Old Sayings that Need to Go Away

Most people, but especially southerners, appreciate a good colloquialism. Often, even if they don’t make perfect sense, they’re just funny. Sayings like, madder than a wet hen, or so buck-toothed she could eat corn through a picket fence – are just terrific. Simple, funny, graphic, fresh.


On the other hand there are some sayings, more general in nature, that need to be retired because they’re ineffectual, inaccurate in a small but important way, or just plain wrong. Here are 10 popular sayings – with accompanied analysis as to why they don’t make sense and why they should be discarded. Finally, we’ve included a temporary harsh, literal, replacement.


10 sayings that need to be finished:


1. “A watched pot never boils” – This is not true. A watched pot, provided the liquid reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit, will boil. If the person effectuating the boil keeps his / her attention singularly focused on the pot, it will seem as if it is taking longer because most humans are not comfortable focusing their attention or consciousness in one area for an extended amount of time. The literal falseness of this statement significantly undermines its effectiveness.


Replacement saying recommendation: Lose the superstition and join the rest of us in reality.


2. “There are Other Fish in the Sea” – This is often said to someone experiencing emotional pain as the result of a failed personal, often sexual, relationship. Not only is it not helpful, the implication utilizes a metaphor that is subtly violent and unworkable in the context of establishing a romantic partnership.  What the speaker is effectively saying is: “Hey look, I realize this recent failed attempt to coerce someone into liking you has left you to confront your fundamental inability to maintain lasting, meaningful connections with other human beings, but don’t worry about it because there are other people out there for you to entice, trap, suffocate, skin, cook and eat.” Makes zero sense. Doesn’t help.


Replacement saying recommendation: Maybe you should take a look at why all your relationships fail.


3. “There are no stupid questions”  – Yes, there are. Of course there are. One of the most well known stupid questions is asking a woman how pregnant she is. That’s dumb. Reporters ask stupid questions all the time. A reporter famously asked Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda what his opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance was, after Kingman had hit 3 home runs in the game against Lasorda’s Dodgers. Dumb question.


Replacement saying recommendation: Try not to ask a stupid question.


4. “The pen is mightier than the sword” – I don’t think this is necessarily true. Take for example Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. They probably don’t think pens are mightier than swords. Of course we can’t ask them because they were stabbed to death. Also, this popular saying is in direct contradiction with another very popular saying…(see next)


Replacement saying recommendation:  While it may be possible to achieve some lasting impact through the written or spoken word, sharp objects clearly have the power to destroy life.


5. “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – As already alluded to, this might as well be “The sword is mightier than the pen” — so clearly we have cognitive dissonance here.  At the end of the day I’m willing to argue that both these sayings are shit. I do, however, respect the point the author of this saying is trying to make.  He / she is basically saying to someone, I don’t really GAF what you have to say.


Replacement saying recommendation: I don’t really GAF what you have to say.


6. “Easy Come, Easy Go” – True only in a very limited context. Take, for example, Herpes. Herpes is much easier to contract than to get rid of. In fact, it is technically impossible for Herpes to “go” because one can be a host even without an active outbreak. With Herpes, it’s more accurate to say, “easy come, never go.”  Other examples of things that are easier to acquire than to get rid of: spouses, termites, mental illness, crack addiction, criminal charges, children, Ebola.


Replacement saying recommendation: Be careful.


7. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” – Not even close to accurate, and reflective of a perfectionistic, self righteous individual. I have never (a) changed my own oil, (b) built a truss bridge, or (c) inserted a catheter into a urinary tract. I wouldn’t want to do any of that shit myself. I do, or would definitely, consult experts for those things.


Replacement saying recommendation: Hey chief, why not let someone who knows what they’re doing give that a shot?


8. “The shit is about to hit the fan”  – Why would shit ever hit a fan?  Do people throw shit at fans?  Is someone shitting directly into a fan?  What exactly is going on here? Am I missing something? Where did this even come from?  While it is true that shit hitting a fan would be incredibly messy, and the simplicity of the statement is elegant, there’s just no basis in reality for the saying. Only because it has become so popular, its randomness is somewhat disturbing.

Replacement saying recommendation: Your situation is about to be terrible.


9. “There is no such thing as bad publicity” – This is so untrue it’s crazy. How could this ever have been true? For example, I think most people would agree it was bad publicity recently when Bill Cosby was accused by a series of women of committing multiple date-rapes over several years in his adult life. His shows were cancelled and he lost a lot of money. Not good publicity. Malaysia Airlines appears to have suffered some bad publicity after flight 370 disappeared.  Sure, maybe it’s not their fault, but business is still down.


Replacement saying recommendation: There is such a thing as bad publicity.


10. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” – Literally untrue, of course, but the metaphor breaks down as well. Literally, you most certainly can judge a book by its cover and thereby save yourself a lot of time.  What is the alternative, to read every book?  That’s insane. There is a great deal of information on the cover of a book:  the author’s name, the title, sometimes a summary on the back, a picture – more than enough to decide whether or not the book is worth exploring further.  For example, I can safely assume that a book entitled, “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela,” by Nelson Mandela is going to contain some version of the life story of Nelson Mandela from his own perspective. If I have no interest in Nelson Mandela or am specifically looking for a book on transgender fiction, then I’m going to be able to pass some quick judgment. Metaphorically, I typically judge the ripeness of bananas (books) by the coloration of their peel (covers).  So the usefulness of this saying is more limited than its usage would indicate.

Replacement saying recommendation: Don’t judge people too quickly, but go ahead and be reasonable about other shit.