Cliche Sunday

The first day of Spring! Of course, what else could we do besides spring like cliches? Actual spring cliches being few and far between, I picked those that make me feel like the season.

break the ice: to start a conversation or project. Once upon a time, small towns on rivers were locked by the ice in the winter time.   Sturdy little ships were needed to come up the river and break the ice so larger ships could come up with supplies and business opportunities. Every townsman knew that to get goods to market and increase business, you first had to break the ice.

til the cows come home: to stay in bed late. Most people seem to think that this is a late night occurrance, and I suppose that if one stayed out until the cows actually came home, then one would be out all night and that would be a late night indeed.  But this country saying is from cows lineing up in the morning at the gate hoping to be milked. This phrase dates back to the 1600s, and if one was indeed in bed until the cows came home, one’s neighbors would be very disapproving.

to put one through a course of sprouts: to put one through a severe and  disciplined course of instruction, or a grueling test at the end of such.  Constructed in America, the actual origin and date of this cliche is not known. Being a course of instruction, “sprouts ” could refer to children. The cliche isn’t found much before 1870s.

to sow one’s wild oats: to behave foolishly at a young age, to get it out of one’s system. Wild oats (Avena fatua), growing unchecked through Europe, is a weed and very difficult to get rid of once it spreads. Thus one would be very foolish to plant it on purpose. The phrase has been around for over 400 hundred years:

    ” that wilfull and unruly age, which lacketh rypenes and discretion, and (as wee saye) hath not sowed all theyr wyeld Oates”*

sub rosa or under the rose: “strict privacy, utter confidence and absolute secrecy”* A very old cliche that comes down from the Greeks. Once they saw an image of the Egyptian god Horus, seated under a rose with his finger to his lips, they believed that he was the god of silence. Unfortunately, they completely misinterpreted the picture, as it was in reality a lotus and the infant god was merely sucking on a finger. However, this story faxcinated the Greedks and survived, leading to the cliche “under the rose.”

*A Hog on Ice & other curiouse sexpressions, Charles Earle Funk


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