Mudcat Café message #2338743 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #110040   Message #2338743
Posted By: CupOfTea
12-May-08 - 06:20 PM
Thread Name: Origins: 'Skin the Cat' and other family sayings
Subject: RE: Origins: 'Skin the Cat' and other family sayings
I was raised on poetry and platitudes, and a wealth of family sayings. Most came from my aunt's side & some Pennsylvania Deutch from my uncle's ("Cooking lasts, kissin' don't" - courting advice), with some Irishisms thrown in for good measure. Most of it was common usage in the eastern midwest: Ohio.

"Skinning the cat" was a monkey bars dismount- never heard it for peeling off an article of clothing. The inquiry "cat got your tongue?" was for a child who didn't have a thing to say - particularly when being asked to explain a misdeed. Some Victorian hangovers I heard often "Children should be seen and not heard" and, to caution another adult that there was a child in earshot: "Little pitchers have big ears" I never did get where that one came from, or what the pitchers were that had ears, but it was understandable in context, unlike "Handsome is as handsome does" which remains inexplicable even now. "Not someone you could take home on a dry Sunday" meant your family woudln't approve & implied your relatives had to be inebriated to appreciate that person's charms. I don't know if that goes back to the Prohibition era, or just the blue laws. (no booze sold on Sundays)

"Like taking coals to Newcastle" - for providing a redundant object or doing an unnecessary task. "(Going, doing, using) the whole nine yards" - for doing something completely. In art school I came to understand this originated from a whole bolt of cloth being 9 yards for a goodly number of years. Using it all up was a good thing, as opposed to "Going whole-hog" which had some negative connotations of overdoing something. Then if you were going to do a silly thing anyhow, you "Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb." An encouragement for "stick-to-it-iveness" was "It's dogged as does it," a phrase I used as a screen saver for years.

The euphemisms for crazy were endless, creative and common:"one brick shy of a load" "doesn't have both oars in the water" "elevator doesn't go to the top floor" or even for not too smart "not the brightest bulb in the marquee" "Wouldn't know a dog if it bit her"

We had a number of catchphrases we used around the house that evolved from specific events. "Couldn't see to get the blood off the wall" was the last line of a long droning story an elderly neighbor told - and none of us had been paying attention to the windup to this astonishing comment. Ever after it was used as a prompt to make sure someone was paying attention to what you were saying.