FUN WITH SLANG: READ THE WHOLE THING TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN WIN A PRIZE!
I just got back from a trip to Greece, where I befriended a lot of Australians. The best thing about Australians, besides their good looks and superior drinking abilities, is their slang. I learned a lot of great phrases, such as I’m flat out like a lizard drinking (busy), drink some cement and harden the F up (stop being a baby), brekkie (breakfast), sunnies (sunglasses), mozzies (mosquitoes), jumper (sweater), and Fosters (beer). I am trying to integrate them into my everyday language now that I am back in The States.
So much of what we say today can be traced back to an actual person. Shakespeare was probably the best at inventing phrases that people would continue to use for years to come. He was also a wiz at Connect Four. According to the internet, B-Shakes invented the phrases a laughing stock, a sorry sight, fair play (Irish people love saying this), eaten out of house and home (sexually active people love saying this), neither here nor there, and vanish into thin air, among many others. He also invented the phrase in a pickle, after a terrible mishap at Zabar’s.
Ben Franklin is the man, so of course he invented a ton of great phrases that we still use today. However, it is important to remember that many of them are not necessarily his own opinion—they are from a character he invented, the fictional Poor Richard. (People make a similar conflation between Mark Twain and Pudd’nhead Wilson). Author and narrator are not the same thing, and people forgetting this is why Ben Franklin is often thought of us an uptight lame. We have Ben Franklin to thank for such fun ideas as God helps those who help themselves, There are no Gains without Pains (Jane Fonda loved saying “No pain, no gain” in her exercise videos.), and Have you somewhat to do To-morrow, to it To-day (to which Mark Twain responded, never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow). He also said There will be time for sleeping in the grave, which we used a lot in Greece. Whenever we questioned whether or not to go out until four because we had to be on a boat at 7am the next day or go hike a volcano, we would say “Vomit on the boat and sleep when you’re dead.” My liver and I salute you, Ben.
Many other writers have influenced our vernacular. Thoreau wrote in Walden, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Saying someone marches to the beat of his own drum has been an excuse mothers have been making for their gross hippie children for years. (Joke giveaway: it is really fun to talk about how Thoreau is thoroughly walled-in. Shout out to Wesleyan Professor Joel Pfister.)
If you’ve ever said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt,” you’re quoting Mark Twain, my other favorite person. If you’ve ever called someone a Yahoo, you’re referring to a group of people in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. If someone has ever advised you to hitch your wagon to a star, they are quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you mimed vomiting after hearing this, you were quoting me.
These days, most phrases that become popular are from TV, movies, or pop music, a lot of which suck. Make my day? That makes no sense. You want me to make you a day? How do you build a day? And how long would it take? You can’t even build Rome in a day, and that’s just a city.
So I’m asking you to build a better mousetrap (and the world will beat a path to your door—Emerson). My challenge is to either invent a phrase or bring back a foreign one (from a different place or era) into your circle of friends. I tried to do this once on my old blog with Ben Franklin’s expression “halfway to Concord,” which means drunk. It didn’t work, because nobody read that site. Also, I wrote it when I was drunk. I don’t care how you prove that you have done it, because I don’t know how you will do that or how I will know you are not lying. But if I believe you, you will win a prize from me.