COLUMN: Strange artifacts linger in the lexicon

While chatting with someone the other day, I used the expression, “The world is your oyster.”

While chatting with someone the other day, I used the expression, “The world is your oyster.”

I stopped and thought: What the heck does that mean?

For that matter, why would anyone compare a shellfish to being in control of one’s destiny?

Why not a turnip, or a can of sliced peaches?

I mean, is “The world is your Dungeness crab” any less ridiculous than oysters?

Who comes up with this stuff? Maybe an oyster farmer?

Is he the same guy who coined “happy as a clam?” How could he tell?

Buried in wet sand your entire existence… what’s happy about that?

As you can tell, it got me to thinking about other silly phrases that have made their way into the English language.

Some of them have faded away, but I still hear “once in a blue moon.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a blue moon. Not ever. In fact, I don’t think that’s even possible. So how can there be a “once” if there’s no such thing?

Wouldn’t that be “never in a blue moon?”

No less confusing is “over the moon.” Now, I understand being delighted, or ecstatic, but how that relates to a voyage into space just beats me. And actually, that should be around the moon, as any astronaut who has done so can tell you.

More nonsensical though is “pie in the sky,” which is used to describe unrealistic thinking. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to anyone that the expression itself is pretty out there…

“Burning the midnight oil” is another ancient saying that still crops up in conversation.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the invention of the electric light bulb and electrical power grids pretty much replaced oil lamps about oh, a century ago, give or take a few decades.

But there’s that old expression, still being used to express working late.

Same with “fighting hammer and tongs.”

Violent confrontation is still pretty much in vogue these days, but with hammer and tongs? Aren’t those blacksmithing tools? Who do you know who even has a pair of tongs, other than perhaps the stainless steel kitchen version?

Back off, Jack, or you’ll feel the bite of my rubberized vegetable servers!

Oooh, there’s a threat!

“Raining cats and dogs” is still oft heard, and it’s just plain weird.

Somehow, somewhere, someone decided to equate falling droplets of water with plummeting pets.

Clearly, this person was drunk as a skunk.

And where skunks get liquor, I can’t imagine. Wouldn’t they be asked for ID?

You’d think someone else would have immediately challenged the cat/dog precipitation comparison.

“Dude, you’re out of your mind. Shut up. It’s just raining really hard, OK?”

But no, apparently no one thought to question the insanity of this remark. We just continued to parrot it to this day.

And speaking of days, the more contemporary expression “at the end of the day,” makes me crazy.

What does that actually mean?

Nothing, really, but it’s absolutely ubiquitous.

Corporate policies, projects, objectives and all sorts of miscellaneous proclamations and observations are based upon this vague point in the Earth’s rotational cycle.

At the end of the day, some day soon, I’d like to see this phrase go away. All day, every day.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep on keeping on.

If you know what I mean.