Say what you mean

For almost a week now, my kids and I have dashed to the window each morning to see if it has snowed. 

I know it causes havoc every year, but I don’t care; I love snow.  Here in grey old London it has been infuriatingly elusive, with the slightest smattering, followed by days of big fat soggy sleet.  Then finally, on Friday morning, the snow began.  My sister still had none at all in her part of the world, but she was philosophical: “Anyhow” she said, “it’s much too cold to snow here”. 

It got me thinking.  I’ve heard that phrase often, and always nod my agreement, but I have no idea what it means.  Nature demonstrates the absurdity of this claim very clearly.  North Pole? Cold and snowy.  South Pole? Cold and snowy.  Top of a frozen mountain? Well.  You get the picture.

I’m not sure if it’s my age or my natural tendency to pedantry but meaningless sayings seem to have followed me through my life.

When I was a child, we would often drive up to London to visit my Great Aunt Gertrude.  If we were ever overtaken at speed by a reckless driver, my grandmother would pinch her lips together, utter a little “Hmph!” and then chide: “He won’t get there any faster!” Immediately the voice in my little seven year old head would protest: “But he will! He’s going at double the speed, so he’ll get there in half the time!”  Fear of a good old fashioned clip round the ear for being cheeky prevented me from saying this out loud, but still.  I was not wrong.

Americans do this too, although I suspect the vexing: “I could care less” when they mean: “I couldn’t care less” is nothing more than lazy.  We Brits have an altogether more opaque lot of nonsense that we like to trot out.  Thus I am equally baffled and irked by:

“Cheap at half the price!” (My granny used to say this when she found a bargain.  It would make sense if she had actually paid half the price, but she never had).

“I slept like a baby.” (This is not an accurate description unless you woke up every two hours demanding your mother’s milk).

“Near miss.” (Most often said by people who were attempting to hit something, so that what they actually mean is “near hit”).

“Head over heels.” (Please note, if you fall, then the correct description is heels over head. Unless you walk on your hands.  Or are mid cartwheel).

I point these phrases out frequently to my long suffering husband, who tends to sigh, and remind me that people rarely use language literally.  Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps I should get over it. Move on and stop obsessing about the English language.  Expand my horizons.

(Except of course that it’s all the stuff leading up to the horizon that expands, not the horizon itself…….)