Words of wisdom have interesting stories behind them


Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

Recently, my son, Dan, and I talked about his plans for deer hunting. Dan lives in Neenah, and he hunts in Wescott’s mooseyard. When his grandpa, Clarence Marquardt, was living, he routinely hunted with him in the Wittenberg area.

While in his 80s, Grandpa still enjoyed sitting in the hunting shack with Dan. It was their time, a special time for both of them. Dan enjoyed listening to grandpa’s stories and sayings. He still laughs when he thinks about some of them. I guess “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

On the way out to the woods, Grandpa would say, “Daniel, it’s still darker than a black bear’s butt this morning.” When they went into the hunting shack, he’d grumble, “It’s colder than an Eskimo’s outhouse in here.”

Once, Dan commented he would have brought a rope “if” he had thought of it. Grandpa replied, “And if the dog hadn’t stopped to raise his leg, he would have caught the rabbit.”

After sitting there awhile, he’d often say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat the ## out of a dead skunk.”

Grandpa seemed to have a saying for just about everything.

Many of the “milder” old sayings actually came from the Bible. “The blind leading the blind” is from Matthew 15:14. Jesus criticized the Pharisees, the religious authorities of his day, saying “they are blind leaders of the blind.”

Eat, drink and be merry is an old saying taken from Ecclesiastes 8:15: “A man has no better thing under the sun than to eat and to drink and be merry.”

The phrase “escaped by the skin of your teeth” comes from Job 19:20.

Some of the sayings we have heard our grandparents and parents say have been passed down for generations. The saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” means one should hang on to valuable things when getting rid of unnecessary things. The saying goes back to the 1500s when most people bathed once a year. The entire family used the same water. The man of the house bathed first. By the time it got to the baby’s bath, the water was so dark and cloudy, mothers had to be careful to remove the little ones before emptying the tub.

The saying “To eat humble pie” means to make an apology and suffer humiliation along with it.

During the Middle Ages, the lord of the manor would hold a feast after the hunt. Wealthy guests would get the finest cuts, but those of lower standing were served a pie filled with entrails and innards known as umbles. Therefore, receiving umble pie was humiliating because it showed the guest’s lower status.

In the past, people believed that bees flew in a straight line to their hive. The saying “making a bee line” means you went straight for it.

The saying “He’s a big wig” came from the 18th century when many men wore wigs; the most important men wore the biggest wig. Today important people are sometimes called big wigs.

“Bite the bullet” means to grin and bear a painful situation. It comes from the days before anesthetics. A soldier about to undergo an operation was given a bullet to bite to distract him from what was happening.

I asked Facebook friends if their parents or grandparents said any old sayings. Here are just a few of the many responses:

Sue McConley Moede said, “If brains were dynamite, you wouldn’t have enough to blow your nose.” She also said, “Well, aren’t you all that and a bag of chips.”

Robyn Shingler: “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

Barb Heidke said her dad’s favorite was “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Pat Tyloch-Hackbarth said she always liked “You’re as nervous as a cat with a long tail in a room full of rocking chairs.”

Gail Roggenbuck Phillips: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Mary Syndergaard Bowle’s grandmother would say “Holy Tinhorn, Annie!” She would also say, “Well, isn’t that just the cat’s pajamas.”

Jeff Heffernon: “Keep your socks up and your powder dry.”

Judi Roloff Bartels: “She flies around like a fart in a mitten.”

Judy Judd: “Happy as a clam” and “Pleased as punch.”

My daughter, Amy, remembers Grandma often saying, “Cute as a bug’s ear” and “Oh, for pity sakes.”

When Mary Brokiewicz would ask “What’s for supper?” she was told, “Wind soup and rabbit tracks.” I’m sure many of you recall favorite sayings of your parents and grandparents. Although young family members laugh about them now, rest assured, someday they will be repeating them. “You can take that to the bank.”

Trivia question: Who was the Shawano County sheriff in 1974?

Clothesline Conversation trivia answer: Robert A. (Sandy) Montour

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.