Ever hear an idiom out of context and have no idea what it means or meant? That happened to me tonight.
“So’s your old man”. I learned that this is a mild rejoinder to an insult. It means literally, “So’s your father”, but it is just an all-purpose mild insult along the lines of, “Yo Mama”, but less hostile. As an example, A- “You’re an idiot”. B- “So’s your old man”.
This seems to be an out of style idiom. It’s never heard except in old movies.
Some idioms within a language are peculiar to a geographic region. Years ago I watched an Australian movie, “Lantana”. In most of the U.S. lantana is a seasonal plant. We had it in our yard as a woody stemmed shrub that died back to the ground in winter and then came back in the spring as new growth. It didn’t come back the year after the polar vortex spun off the polar region and we had temperatures down near 0 degrees, Fahrenheit. I understand that in South Florida it doesn’t die back.
The plant doesn’t die back in the north of Australia and grows in dense interlacing thickets that are difficult to get through. A really knotty problem or insoluble problem is described as a “real lantana.” It’s the mess that Robert Burns alluded to in the line, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Some wonderful idioms in one language don’t translate well. Have you ever been unexpectedly verbally abused and were so shocked that you could think of no rejoinder until later? In French that thought is referred to as l’esprit de l'escaller. Literally it means the inspiration or wit on the staircase; the staircase being where it occurred to you at the end of the evening as you were going to your room.
I have a friend who went through a long patch of poverty who shopped in thrift stores for her wardrobe. She came to some afternoon affair at a mutual friend's home with a nice top, a fox stole, and a frayed hem denim skirt and boots that matched nothing.. A mutual friend who has no tact blurted out, “you look great from the waist up. You look like hell from the waist down. My friend was dumbstruck. She is still waiting for l’esprit de l’escalier.
Where is all of this going? Nowhere except to say that idioms are tricky. They can sum up in a few words a meaning that would otherwise require a conversation to convey.
The current impasse between Congress and the President that has resulted in a partial shutdown of government has been described as “a Mexican standoff”. As I understand that idiom it is a standoff in which neither side can afford to give ground in any way because by doing so they may be destroyed. Without arguing the merits of the arguments, that seems a little extreme in this case.
Thinking about all of this I somehow imagined a post-Trump country with El Presidente putting together his Presidential Library. I imagined it containing only one book; the only one he has ever read: "The Dictator's Handbook, why bad behavior is almost always good politics."