When your partner’s first language is not English, you can expect some interesting verbal feet (just to give you a taste of things to come). When I was young and cute and being wooed by Triple-A, he gave me the time-honored “forgeev me, I am only just lorning your language” line. Which was a load. His grasp of English is perfectly fluent. It’s as good as that of most Americans born here and better than at least 50% of Congress. What he meant was that he hadn’t yet memorized all the words in Webster’s Unabridged (a paper-based dictionary app for you young-uns).
Be that as it may, there is one area in which Al’s perfect command of the language dissolves into lavender-tinted flights of fancy, and that is in the area of quotations and folksy expressions. Believe me, I know something about folksy expressions, having been born into a family that says things like “useless as tits on a bull moose” and “doesn’t have the good sense God gave a frog”. But this was something new. So new, that I started collecting the gems I now call “Al-isms”*.
Al-isms fall into a few broad categories. First up, The Bard.
Like most of us, Al harbors an affinity for Shakespeare (in Spanish, he’s called CHESS-per by the way.) You never know when Al will launch into a pithy quote lifted from the pages of Hamlet or Julius Cesar, or maybe a bit of both together.
- I smell a fish
- Something is rotten in Finland.
- It’s like, speak to yourself, Brutus.
- There are stranger things on earth and in the skies than in your imagination, Brutus.
As lyrical as these are, they are somewhat rare. Far more common are what I call Phamiliar Phrases.
Phamiliar Phrases are those everyday, workhorse expressions that we all use. Al likes them too. When he uses them, though, sometimes things are a little off.
- Last night, I went out like a rock.
- You really have to treat her with kids’ gloves.
- Never look at the horse’s teeth.
- That’s like adding fuel to the fodder.
- That’s like the pot calling up the kettle.
- He would cut up his face in spite of his nose.
- I’ve never been one to blow up my own horn…
- I have the memory of a hawk.
- I don’t want to belittle the point.
- I’ll be waiting on baited hooks.
- It’s like being behind a rock on a hard place.
- This country is going to hell in a waste basket.
- A hand in the bird is worth two in the bushes.
- I think I’ll let him stew in his own prunes.
- He made his bed, now he has to go take a nap.
- That’s just part of the course.
- You have to keep an upper chin about things like this.
- She’s got to stop and look at the coffee grounds.
- You can’t toss him as far as you can throw him.
- When I saw that, my eyes lit up like watermelons.
- I really fell flat on my feet that time.
- That’s the best thing since sliced wheel.
- Maybe he will rise to the equation.
- He was flying by the seat of his tail.
- She’s sharp as a whistle.
- Everyone knows that guy is just the escaped goat.
This last category sneaks up on you. Al will be speaking eloquently, and then whammo! One of these babies gets deployed when you least expect it. The element of surprise, combined with the near-perfect syntax and a surprising combination of words makes these my very favorite of all. See if you can figure out what Al was trying to say!
- You can get more blood from a stone with honey than with water.
- There’s more than one way to skin a better mouse trap.
- Don’t worry, I’m just running your leg.
- Come on — get off your high-faluting porch!
- They were your typical upper-middle-aged couple.
- It was one of those small apartments where the bathroom is in the toilet.
- He’s a prince among frogs.
- I think he just rode the wicked weasel west.
- The problem with the English is they’re too formal. They really need to let their pants down.
- Now they’re chomping their licks.
- OK, I’ll be sure to keep my eyes crossed for them.
- Football players have the shortest longevity of anyone.
- You can always heat it up later in the fridge.
- Watch out — you’re threading thin water.
- What are you waiting for…the second coming of Methusela?
- We finally found a cottage in the woods — just like the one owned by Snow White and the three bears.
- That guy’s not playing with all his screws loose.
- You’re making an ant hill out of a mole hill.
- He couldn’t see the forest for his eyes.
*Note: Yes, I know Yogi Berra was the founder of this type of thing, so don’t bother telling me. You can read his gems here. If you like those, a related family of expression is Spoonerisms. You can enjoy them here.