Monthly Archives: December 2015

Having cake, eating it too

And why exactly can’t a person have his cake and eat it too? That expression bothered me for years, and I think I have the hang of it now.

As I alluded to in a column earlier this month, it’s difficult for people to agree on the meanings of terms we toss around, sometimes cavalierly.

For example, my friend and co-writer Lupita Gonzales says “having an ax to grind” refers to a person seeking a favor. That person carries a dull ax in hopes of getting it sharpened, free of charge.

As plausible as that rendition appears, a group of friends and relatives I visited during a recent occasion, insisted that the ax handler wants to settle a score and carries the tool for protection, or to inflict some damage.

The safest thing to do is to look in reference works. But guess what: The sources I checked posit both interpretations, so we’re no farther ahead. Continue reading

Jumping into the equator?

In the same way that the Dallas Cowboys are “the team America loves to hate,” my older brother, Severino instilled that feeling in me long before I’d even heard of that pro team from Texas.

I spent my pre-teens dreaming up diabolical schemes to get even.
Some quirk made me grow to the same size as my brother — older than I by three years — long before I was 10. Once, we invested a whole penny in one of those wate-and-fate machines at Newberry’s or Murphey’s, received a printed card, noted the weight and divided by two. Let’s see: 152 pounds divided by 2 equals 76 pounds.

Though we were almost identical in size and height, I was no match for his strength. When he taunted me, I’d say, “You know, I’ve never run away from a fight with you,” and he’d answer, “and you’ve never won a fight with me either.” Continue reading

The idiocy of idioms

Being the host family for a couple of Euros, my wife and I have needed to tone down our use of idioms. My dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words established by usage as having meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”

I believe a more acceptable definition would be an expression that on the surface doesn’t make sense. We refer to “carrying out the plan” when there’s no hint of hefting something out of a room. And we speak of fixing breakfast when nobody was aware of anything broken. Except maybe a fast.

Idioms tend to be accepted (although not always understood) in particular regions. Ana Granado and Phaedra Wouters, our exchange students from Spain and Belgium, respectively, will be with us until next June and thus will have plenty of opportunity to pick up a few idioms, expressions that mean something to some but generally don’t make sense even if we examine each word. And that makes most of these expressions, well, difficult to express.

Collectively, we call Ana and Phaedra our Euros, a convenient term for people who crossed the Atlantic and needed to learn idioms in a hurry. When I was chatting with a neighbor, one of the Euros asked what I’d been doing on the porch. “Oh, just shooting the breeze with my neighbor,” I said. Continue reading

Ready to spend $34,000?

Once, around this time of year, my father-in-law, the late Stanley E. Coppock, asked me — I have no doubt whatsoever he was simply trying to humor me — what I’d like for Christmas. In the manner that we often traded barbs, I responded, “How about a partridge in a pear tree?”

That would have been a perfect gift. I like birds of all types, but I hadn’t the faintest notion as to where he could buy one. There are many considerations: price, availability, the ability to survive in New Mexico, and the aggressiveness of our cats, of which we had three, namely Fluffy, Tuffy and Liberace.

Stanley didn’t disappoint. Christmas morning, a tidy, wrapped gift with my name lay under the tree at my in-laws’ house. Although I assume a partridge is a small animal that doesn’t need huge volumes of air to survive, I was still concerned over the bird’s lack of air. I discovered something like I had asked for: a cartridge in a bare tree. At least the scansion would have pleased poets like e.e.cummings.

Stanley of course blamed the misunderstanding on a hearing aid malfunction. He had found a metal, springy thingy that once held bullets. It was wired to a dry twig, and thus the cartridge in a bare tree. I took it to work, when I was teaching, placed it on my desk and asked my students to identify the gift, under threat of a lowered grade for incorrect guesses. Continue reading

Fair and Balanced?

A little teaser headline atop one of the “news” magazines that appear on people’s laptops shows an obviously contented Hillary Clinton. The text dubs that action of the presidential candidate as “laughing hysterically.”

All right. Now we have the essential elements that draw our attention, as the text goes on to explain — and try to make yet another connection: There’s implicit violence.

Here’s what happened: In a Q-and-A session, Hillary Clinton fielded a concern from a member of a small audience. The questioner, a middle-aged man, complained that after earning $1,000 for each of five jobs, he was terminated. He went on at length, lamenting his sudden unemployment and concluded with, “I feel like strangling Carly Fiorina,” a comment that generated scattered bits of nervous laughter among the 30-some members in that audience. The disgruntled member of the audience didn’t spell out his connection to Fiorina, a GOP aspirant for the U.S. Presidency and CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Continue reading