Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Things People Say

People say some really stupid things sometimes. To often it gets passed off as "cool" or, worse, "wisdom." "I've got a mind like a steel trap," someone might say. What does that mean? It's rusty and illegal in 37 states? There are famous quotes from famous people, like when Queen Elizabeth II asked the Beatles, "So, what do you do?" Or when the Foreign Minister of Vietnam said, "We are not without accomplishment. We have managed to distribute poverty equally." I particularly liked Samuel Goldwyn's classic, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." Or the wise guru who said sagely, "It's like the sound of one hand clapping."

There are the classics that everyone has heard. "It's always in the last place you look." Of course it is. Why would you keep looking if you found it? "There are more fish in the sea." So ... what's the connection with "fish" and the person you just broke up with? The opposite sex is all wet? Slimy? Easily hooked? What does that mean? How about this one? "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times." What is that ... a proverb for the math challenged? And a phrase I've never understood: "I couldn't help it." I know it means, "I couldn't stop myself from doing that", so what does "help" have to do with it? It's like, "I could care less" used to mean "I couldn't care less." It doesn't make sense.

Then there are the contradictory ideas peddled as wisdom. Take, for instance, "Many hands make light work." Okay ... but we also know that "Too many cooks spoil the broth." So, which is it? We have all heard, "Look before you leap," but we've also heard, "He who hesitates is lost." So, which is it?

When I was a junior student, I remember telling my PE reacher, "I can't do that." I don't remember what "that" was, but I do remember his response. "'Can't'," he told me loudly, "means 'didn't try'." Even at my young age I understood that that made no sense at all. "I want you to fly up to the top of that pole and catch that bird." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" Um, no, "can't" means "I lack the ability." "Go rob that bank." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" No, again. "Can't" in this application means, "I am not allowed to do what you're telling me to do." Of course, explaining the various definitions of "cannot" and their ramifications to your junior high gym teacher who is three times your size and screaming at you at a distance of 2 inches isn't likely the right choice. So I proceeded to demonstrate to my coach that, in this case, "can't" meant "I lack the skills to do what you ask." While I get the intent of "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!", I question the wisdom.

One you've all seen, I'm sure, is the bumper sticker that settles everything. "God said it! I believe it! That settles it!" This one hurts me as much as it tickles me. You see, in this structure, there are two factors that determine if a thing is settled -- 1) God said it, and 2) I believe it. I picture God making a statement and then waiting, with bated breath. "Sure," He thinks, "I've met the first criterion ... but will he believe it? Oh, I hope, I hope ..." You see, it's sheer arrogance. The sticker would make sense if it said, "God said it! That settles it!" You could tack on "I believe it" at the end if you wished, but it would have no bearing on what determines a thing is settled. God saying it is all that is required.

I'm sure we all have things we hear and, more to the point, things we say that, if we thought about them, just wouldn't make any sense. I suppose our hope is that no one is listening, eh? No, that can't be right ...
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The Things People Say

People say some really stupid things sometimes. To often it gets passed off as "cool" or, worse, "wisdom." "I've got a mind like a steel trap," someone might say. What does that mean? It's rusty and illegal in 37 states? There are famous quotes from famous people, like when Queen Elizabeth II asked the Beatles, "So, what do you do?" Or when the Foreign Minister of Vietnam said, "We are not without accomplishment. We have managed to distribute poverty equally." I particularly liked Samuel Goldwyn's classic, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." Or the wise guru who said sagely, "It's like the sound of one hand clapping."

There are the classics that everyone has heard. "It's always in the last place you look." Of course it is. Why would you keep looking if you found it? "There are more fish in the sea." So ... what's the connection with "fish" and the person you just broke up with? The opposite sex is all wet? Slimy? Easily hooked? What does that mean? How about this one? "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times." What is that ... a proverb for the math challenged? And a phrase I've never understood: "I couldn't help it." I know it means, "I couldn't stop myself from doing that", so what does "help" have to do with it? It's like, "I could care less" used to mean "I couldn't care less." It doesn't make sense.

Then there are the contradictory ideas peddled as wisdom. Take, for instance, "Many hands make light work." Okay ... but we also know that "Too many cooks spoil the broth." So, which is it? We have all heard, "Look before you leap," but we've also heard, "He who hesitates is lost." So, which is it?

When I was a junior student, I remember telling my PE reacher, "I can't do that." I don't remember what "that" was, but I do remember his response. "'Can't'," he told me loudly, "means 'didn't try'." Even at my young age I understood that that made no sense at all. "I want you to fly up to the top of that pole and catch that bird." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" Um, no, "can't" means "I lack the ability." "Go rob that bank." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" No, again. "Can't" in this application means, "I am not allowed to do what you're telling me to do." Of course, explaining the various definitions of "cannot" and their ramifications to your junior high gym teacher who is three times your size and screaming at you at a distance of 2 inches isn't likely the right choice. So I proceeded to demonstrate to my coach that, in this case, "can't" meant "I lack the skills to do what you ask." While I get the intent of "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!", I question the wisdom.

One you've all seen, I'm sure, is the bumper sticker that settles everything. "God said it! I believe it! That settles it!" This one hurts me as much as it tickles me. You see, in this structure, there are two factors that determine if a thing is settled -- 1) God said it, and 2) I believe it. I picture God making a statement and then waiting, with bated breath. "Sure," He thinks, "I've met the first criterion ... but will he believe it? Oh, I hope, I hope ..." You see, it's sheer arrogance. The sticker would make sense if it said, "God said it! That settles it!" You could tack on "I believe it" at the end if you wished, but it would have no bearing on what determines a thing is settled. God saying it is all that is required.

I'm sure we all have things we hear and, more to the point, things we say that, if we thought about them, just wouldn't make any sense. I suppose our hope is that no one is listening, eh? No, that can't be right ...
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