So I missed last week. I’m going with the “crazy season” as my excuse. I felt run ragged, and, honestly, I just couldn’t find a cliche I liked. You’ll notice this one was way near the bottom of all the lists–starting with ‘Cu’ as it does. But I finally found it, so here we are…..
“Well, aren’t you just as cute as a bugs ear!”
Sheila smiled politely as she maneuvered the tray onto the table before adjusting the table over the old man’s bed. Cute as a bug’s ear? Was that a compliment? She pondered as she reached over to adjust the pillows so he could sit up and eat.
A compliment, Sheila decided as she looked at his frail weight resting on the pillows as he began to slurp his soup. He was just so nice, she thought. There were stories circulating the nursing home about his past, but she didn’t believe any of them.
“Is that a saying from Texas?” she asked him.
He froze, carefully placing his spoon on the tray before looking at her. “Why do you ask that?”
“Oh, I thought I heard you were from Texas,” Sheila replied carelessly as she folded new towels for him. “One of the girls out front said something.”
“Why?” she asked, turning to face him. He was suddenly more alert, sitting away from pillows and moving the table away from the bed before swinging his legs over the side.
“Oh, Mr. Smith, you should really stay in bed! Is there anything I can get you?” Sheila cried.
“No, you have helped me greatly already. I think you should go now, before…”
Even as he spoke, Sheila heard the door open. Several men entered, led by a dapper little man. Backing up in apparent fright, Sheila slowly reached behind her and pushed the button for security before clasping her hands tightly in front of her.
“I was right,” Mr Smith said, “you are acute as a bug.”
as cute as a bug’s ear: as cute as can be. Many clichés are similes, where something is like something else. But a bug’s ear being cute? Where did that come from? It is said to be from Texas in late 1800s, and even there they don’t have any particularly attractive ones. However, bugs ears can be said to be ‘acute’, in that they can hear a very high frequency, or very soft sounds. In the 1700s, ‘cute’ was a synonym for ‘acute’–
Nathan Bailey defined it in The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1731, as:
Cute: sharp, quick-witted, shrewd.*
It crossed the ocean to America and was used with that meaning by James Russell Lowell–
Aint it cute to see a Yankee Take sech everlastin’ pains?
The Biglow Papers, 1848
In the late 1800s, cute began to refer to being adorable or pretty instead of sharpness or acuity, and the phrase lost common understanding as to why a bug’s ear would be so cute….or why someone would think that would be a compliment.