Every now and then, when I want to amuse myself, I speak to my kids in a foreign language. “I think you’re counting your chickens before they’re hatched,” I’ll say. Or, “Don’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Or, “You’ll be fighting those dandelions until the cows come home.”
Members of younger generations understand these words, but not the meaning. In that sense, references like those are a foreign language to them. The death of the family farm and the revolutionary changes in agricultural technology over the past century are conspiring to make farm-related figures of speech obsolete.
The old expressions have clear and deep meaning – to those of us who have a connection to traditional farm life and rural America. We all know, for instance, that you can’t beat a dead horse. Each of us know somebody who’s as stubborn as a mule or somebody who’s living high on the hog.
We nod gravely when we hear that someone is being sent like a lamb to the slaughter. We roll our eyes when a young person is described as “sowing wild oats.” We understand that when someone says, “The chickens have come home to roost,” he’s actually saying something along the lines of, “Well, what did you expect would happen?”
Buy the farm. Get your goat. Put out to pasture. Pig in a poke. A tough row to hoe. Bring home the bacon. Tall cotton. Interestingly, some young people seem to have a sort of rough comprehension of some of these phrases. They have, for instance, a general notion that “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” refers to a state of panic or agitation. Having never observed such a scene, though, they fail to grasp the nuance. The rest of us know that a headless chicken can carry on like a whirling dervish, but it will be a short-lived performance.
In the pages of Farm Collector, we routinely run into the concept of “separating the wheat from the chaff.” It always reminds me of my father’s similar description of an event that he predicted would “separate the men from the boys,” a phrase that would be met with disapproval in many circles today.
Time marches on, and I am determined to march with it. I expect to become fluent in today’s figures of speech. Just as soon as pigs fly. FC
Leslie C. McManus LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com