Thursday, April 12, 2007

Up a Cow’s…

A Celebration of Curious and Colorful Colloquialisms

My friend, Brenda, and I share what we consider to be a duty and a joy making sure certain words and phrases don’t go out of usage – at least within our own lives. We collect them, use them, and reminisce upon them. They should not pass, but if they must, they must not pass un-noticed.

Of course, language changes as generations and technologies change. Immigrants loose their idioms as they assimilate, and when grandparents pass the entire language passes. I’m trying to slow the process.

When I was a child I wouldn’t allow my mother to leave my sight without first telling me where she was going. A busy mother, as all mothers are busy, she would have to leave my sight over and over again throughout the day. Occasionally she’d get tired of the questions and we’d have the following exchange:

Me: Where are you going?

Her: (exasperated, and testy) Up a cow’s ass to get a milkshake. Wanna come along?

The first time I heard that I was shocked. As much by her testiness as its earthiness, but eventually it became a statement that sent me into gales of laughter, and I’d provoke her until she blurted it out. It became a joke between us.

“Up a cow’s ass to get a milkshake. Wanna come along?” is earthy, somewhat surreal, stunning in its visual impact, and very funny. I’ve never heard it outside my Mom’s usage, but I’ve been passing it on, through story, all my life because it deserves a long life. It’s a curious and colorful colloquialism.

I have a feeling your families have their own curious and colorful colloquialisms, perhaps not as earthy, but certainly descriptive, and worth being kept in usage.

Of course, they also exist outside families.

Sergeant-Major Walter M. Cootes, one of the heroes of my army days, a curmudgeon of epic proportions, and a soldier’s soldier used to express the importance of mission accomplishment with, “We’re gonna get this done come shit, mud, flood, or blood.” I considered that to be truly inspirational language, and have taken it as my own, though I rarely get to use it.

In India I learned the phrase, (pardon my transliterated Hindi,) “chota mohta,” and correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand it to mean, literally, “short and fat,” though it’s used in reference to someone who acts the big-shot but is really just a blowhard. I took it into my lexicon and was known to mutter it during contract negotiations. The Indian side was probably saying the same, or worse, about me.

Back to the family, my mom would have referred to a chota mohta as a, “fart in a windstorm.” The salt of the earth, my mom.

On the more euphonic side, I love the Islamic expression, “Inshallah,” meaning, “if God wills.” I love the feel of it on my tongue, the sound, and the sentiment – and it’s an expression I actually get to use.

Now, because I’ve been blest with a curious, colorful, and international collection of friends who are on this blog’s mailing list, I’d like to ask your help in collecting the curious and colorful colloquialisms from your lives and times.

The only rule is that you have to have heard the expression used. It’s not necessary that you have used it, (as you’ve read, above, there are a few expressions we wouldn’t dare use,) just that you’ve heard it.

Either reply as a comment, or by email. Please translate and if necessary transliterate any non-English offerings (as an American I only speak one language,) and give whatever added context you’d like.

In a little while I’ll compile and publish what you’ve sent, and we’ll have a community celebration of curious and colorful colloquialisms.


Blogger Busker said...

Greek has a charming salutation/toast, "Na sa zeessee" (like greasy) meaning 'May he/she live for you". You meet someone with their child who says "And this is little Menalaus, apple of my eye" and YOU say quick as a flash, "Na za zeessee" at which their eyes glow with pleasure. It is almost an automatic follow-up like 'bless you' after sneezing and almost bad karma NOT to say it. I was once at a gathering and some lumpen fellow Brit was shown a child and stood there in the pregnant silence so i leapt in with it and we all breathed relief. Also can be said of anyone that you hope will be good to the other. Me: "I'd like you to meet Laertes. He managed to sneak behind my back and capture the affections of young Anna and they're tying the knot come summer." "Na sa zeessee, my friend!" "Yeh, whatever."

10:50 PM  
Blogger Sacha said...

Cold as a well digger's butt. I heard this from a friend in college (he is from Denham Springs, Louisiana). It still makes me laugh to think of it. While I perk up and notice such colorful speech whenever I hear it, this is the saying that has stuck in my head. Perhaps it stuck just because of the time in my life when I first heard it. Anyway it stuck despite the fact that my brain is a sieve!

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Quite recently I asked someone a question and they said to me sarcastically "Does a bear poopie in the woods?" The sheer innocence and humor had me in splits.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Aaarti said...

Hey Richard

Now, this is interesting...:)

"chota mohta" [literal translation small big/fat].. is used in most cases to describe someone who does odd jobs.. he will do chota mohta work, means he is like a handyman... :)

ANother one we use a lot in India is "Daal mein kuch kaala hain"[there is something black in the lentil dish-an accompaniment for indian bread].. meaning "something fishy"... :)

3:10 AM  
Blogger rwellsrwells said...

Thanks, all. Aarti, when I first learned the term I guess I got the literal translation right, but the figurative wrong. Typical problem with translating. Thanks for clearing it up.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Maxine said...

My grandmother used to say when I was a tired child, I had 'eyes like burnt holes in a blanket' (got te bed chile, ye gat eye like burn hole in de blanket). I don't think it's a particularly West-Indian expression, but now I use it on my own son.

4:02 AM  

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