©2014 By Bob Litton
Certain phrases and idioms over the decades have bothered me: I simply could not grasp the logic of them…at least not for a long time. One of these is “can’t have your cake and eat it, too”. Since, in my young brain, I had always seen “have” and “eat” as synonyms, the point of the idiom escaped me for years and years. It seemed to me that if you were having cake for dessert, you were at the same time eating it. Eventually, not many decades ago, I realized that the meaning of the word “have” in this context was “possess’ or “keep”. But, I thought, if it meant those equivalents, why not use them instead? The confusion is unnecessarily engendered. Thankfully, I did not hear the remark often and certainly never used it.
Then there is the appellation: “pointy-headed intellectual”. By the time I was twenty I had to “come out of the closet” and blushingly admit that I was an “intellectual”; but did that mean my head formed some sort of point? I examined myself in a mirror: No, no cone shape. Finally, one day I heard a youth counselor point me out to another young man and say, “There! See that forehead? That’s what I mean by ‘high-brow’.” Ah ha! They were referring to the space between my eyebrows and the line of my hair! What if I had been bald? Further along in years, I learned that the phrase was usually applied derogatorily to someone who read a lot of big-word books, spoke in complete sentences, and probably was a liberal politically.
Of late, because of the world’s confounded condition — and our own local situation — I have seen that another common, paradoxical idiom, “same difference”, very much applies. The Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, for instance, see their religion’s history contradictorily: one claims Mahomet’s mantle was intended to fall on this man; the other says, no, it was meant to be inherited by another man. And they quarrel over which theological texts are valid, just as the Jews and Christians have done. But their common practical approach to resolving the matter is to grab all the power and territory their group can and kill all the people who disagree with them.
Here in the United States, the phrase is just as applicable. Look at Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address (March 4, 1865), for instance, wherein he compared the North and the South this way:
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”
On a possibly lighter and yet broader note, I considered the urge within each generation to look and act radically different from their parents’ generation. I recall how the magazine articles and preachers’ sermons in the 1950’s raged against my generation for our ducktail haircuts, raucous music, and swiveling hips. Now all that seems humorously childlike compared to the tattoos; nose, lip and eyelid rings; and tattered jeans young people are sporting. And their music? Oh, my god, there is no melody and the lyrics(?) are just repetitive syllables yelled over and over again: “Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music/Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music/Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music…” and so on ad nauseam. The singers are not there to enunciate a meaningfully substantive content; they are there to provide another instrument: their voices. It makes me wonder what their children will devise to outrage them. Of course, the initial impulse is to come up with something new — some innovations in music, dress or anything else — to distinguish them from the previous generations. But the only way they seem to be able to do that is to be extreme in some form — to outrage, just as their parents did.
Well, that’s all for now. Have to go meet Ecclesiastes at the pub for few beers. And forget.
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