Scattered thoughts about Words

Words move me. Poetry, Quotes, Lyrics, Stories, Anecdotes, Fairytales, Sayings, Idioms, funnies on postcards,

Idioms from both parents were part and parcel of my discipline. Wise old sayings which I still live by. Phrases that made me behave even if I still to this day do not understand what they mean.

Words can convey truth, provide warmth, have hidden or double meanings, transport you to a different place, evoke feelings or memories, impart wisdom or a way of discovering new concepts.

If a child was crying they were encouraged not to with this simple phrase “do you want me to give you something to cry about?”. Erm…

In the case of Karma visiting a person or in the event of Schadenfreude, my Aunt G would say “You see, he who laugh last laughs first”.

If my Dad was dispensing advice with the prefix “My country man said…” then it was very important.

If you are not used to Australian words, phrase or sayings, here are a few
(including some you would never say in other English speaking countries)… A friend described a party as “going off like a frog in a sock”. A situation was “as useless as tits on a bull”. Someone was “as mad as a cut snake”. The car was “cactus”. You go outside to “drink with the flies” if you are outside drinking alone. A person doesn’t go “walkabout”, an object goes “walkabout” meaning it is lost. You can confidently describe someone as a “spunk” and they walk away feeling complimented as a good person. On the other hand describing someone as a “dill” is not so good. “Thongs” are casual footwear (for me, thongs are and will always be undergarments). A “piker” is an unreliable friend who stands you up especially when they get a better offer. Finally, An ocker Aussie is a true blue, fair dinkum Australian.

Nigerian sayings were called Proverbs. Some took me ages to comprehend and I still need them to be explained and re-explained. Some do not translate well to English and others have lost their impact because we are living in different times where blacksmiths, deities and new moon festivals, for example, do not play the important roles they used to . “It is condition that made crayfish bend”. “Cut your coat according to the size of your cloth. “Make hay while the sun shines” (my dad said this countless times). “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. “A drunken fowl has not met a mad fox”. Some of my favourite times would be when NEPA “took light” (if you know about NEPA, you know what I am referring to but if you don’t know, you are lucky-ish) and my dad would regale us with stories of his countryman. As a family, we would sit together with strategically placed mosquito coils burning. The only light coming from a kerosene lamp and a few candles. They were stories with a moral dilemma and a life lesson attached. The story would always end with “My country man said …”. Fun times! I am disappointed that I can’t remember any at all. Not even the bare bones of one of them.

One of my favourite sayings, I learnt from my mother and translated from Patois to English is “if you know a person during the day, there is no need to take a torch at night and shine the beam in their face to see if it really is the person”. Others are “Memba seh walls ave ears”. “Cow nebba know de use of I’m tail til it did chap off”. “Wen yuh go ah donkey yard, nuh chat bout long ears”. “Puss and dawg nah ave de same luck”. “Wen cackroach go party, im nah ask fowl”. “Habbi habbi don’t wanti, Wanti wanti cyan geti”. The dreaded phrase no Jamaican child wants their parents to utter “If you cyan ear yuh wi feel”. Usually, you would have had some warnings that your behaviour was less than desirable – “the look”. The look that conveyed you needed to stop whatever you were doing and sit quietly or the look that conveyed that you are quite lucky you are not at home. At times, “If you cyan ear yuh wi feel” was delivered moments before “chile, yuh getting on my las nerve”. If my mother’s generation resorted to Patois instead of English, that was also a clue that the child was on a path that would not end well for them. I drive my friends mad with not allowing them to put their handbags (purse, if you are American) on the floor because “if you put your handbag on the floor, you will always be poor”.

A lot of the British sayings I grew up hearing were of a superstitious nature. “Don’t open an umbrella indoors or you will have bad luck”. “Don’t put new shoes on the table or you will never get married”. “Don’t walk under a ladder”.”Don’t spill salt” and “Don’t break a mirror”.

Reading was more than a hobby growing up. If I was engrossed in a book, I was in that world for hours and no-one could get any sense out of me until I was ready. Enid Blyton had a huge impact on my sense of community and morals. The fierce loyalty she depicted in the friendship groups in these series :- Famous Five, Secret Seven club and The Magic Faraway Tree has made me who I am today. No matter how grumpy Moonface was, he always came through for his friends. George could be rude and independent but her cousins were always willing to get her out of a scrape. What a rude awakening to discover that my boarding school was nothing like Mallory Towers. While I mention friendships, one of my favourite universal sayings is “The road to a friend’s house is never long”.

I finish my ramblings with the most famous of all Irish blessings

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. BLC says:

    Beautifully expressed! The Patois expression had me giggling at first, then it progressed into laughter. Very hilarious, yet, instructive. Sometimes, I imagine the frame of mind of those who coined these Naija proverbs: “monkey no fine but him mama like am,” “trouble dey sleep, ‘yanga go wake am up” etc. No matter how funny they sound, it does not take away their desired goal.
    Across the length and breadth of Africa, proverbs are indispensable. For example, the Igbos, as Chinua Achebe once said, “the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” Igbo proverbs don’t instantly give you that “Eureka” moment; it flexes one’s frontal lobe. Gratification is in the unraveling of its meaning. The speaker measures the listener’s level of wisdom when he/she comprehends the veiled message.

    1. JamENaijOz says:

      “Flexes one’s frontal lobe” – truth!
      Thank you for adding a few proverbs of your own. I guess the closest translation to “monkey… mama” is “he has a face only his mother could love”. There’s something comical about that expression.
      I would like to use more proverbs/sayings/flowery language in my everyday discourse. It makes conversation that bit richer and the next generation would benefit greatly from hearing it.

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