Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Texas Tuesday: Old Sayings

from THE HERALD BANNER, Greenville, Texas

Gaining insight from old sayings
By James Conrad


Old-timers in Hunt County had a unique way of condensing an aphorism or truism into a short, pithy saying.

Today historians and folklorists study these sayings for the insight that they provide for understanding values and folk traditions.

For some unexplained reasons many of these antique expressions exhibited hostility to man’s best friend, the dog. A case in point is this saying: “There ‘s always other ways of killing a dog than chocking him with butter.” Part of the secret of these sayings is interpreting their meaning into contemporary wording. In this case, the saying probably conveys the thought that there are always less expensive and more efficient ways of doing something. A modern day version of this is “There are many ways of skinning a cat.”

Another saying that was popular that used dogs were: “Enough is enough and too much is dog bait (scraps)” Here the meaning is that too much of anything has little value. To describe a low down, low life individual, an old-timer would say: “He is worse than an eye sucking dog.” This saying had currency when farm families used chickens to lay eggs for family table and for sale. Snakes might get into the hen house eggs, but only a misfit dog would suck eggs in the hen house.

The saying that “two moves are as good as fire,” comes from the time that the sharecropper often moved from one farm to another. Every move of a tenant farmer meant that something got left behind either by accident or lack of room in the wagon to carry to the new farmstead. December or January tended to be the time of the year after the crops had been harvested and sold, that tenants would leave if they were going to leave a place. For some this was an annual event, so much that that it was said that as the family started loading up the furniture and clothes onto the family wagon that the “chicken crossed their legs and the cows began to head up.” In those days, a farmer wife tied the legs of chicken to carry them in the wagon.

“All wool and a yard wide,” was a way of saying something nice about a person or an object. Roamey Williams, from Wolfe City, vividly explained the expression: “My father agreed to buy an unseen cow and calf from Tom Denney. I told him that was a good way to get cheated. But my father said that no man would get cheated from buying from Denney. When we bought the cow from him, she proved highly satisfactory and that is when I learned that some people are “all wool and a yard wide.” This saying, I am sure, derives from the high value placed on pure wool in the days before machine operated textile mills.

Another expression that is still used is “the latch string is always out.” In the pioneer days of log cabins, the doors had latches and latch string instead of locks and bolts. The latch string hung outside the front door and was attached to the latch inside the house. By pulling the string you could unlatch the door. If the homeowner did not want unwelcome visitors, he simply pulled the string inside the front door and pulled the curtains across the windows.

Sayings might be lengthier than a short phrase in the explanation of the difference between britches and pants and between fiddle and a violin. “If britches cost more than a dollar and half, they were pants. If a fiddle cost more than $3 it became a violin.”

Conrad is archivist and oral historian at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

1 comment:

Loving Annie said...

Good Tuesday morning Nomas,
"all wool and a yard wide" would be a lovely epitah...
Old sayings are interesting to learn about !
How is Bunny doing today ? Will you post a picture soon ?