2 Apr 2016
As an amateur wordsmith, I am fascinated with words and phrases. I love my cell phone because I have a dictionary and thesaurus all ready for my personal touch and I can research any word or phrase I hear.
You can tell a lot about a person by the words and phrases they use. Of course, most use words and phrases they have no idea what they mean. Perhaps they heard somebody else say these words or phrases and so they incorporated them into their vocabulary, which, says more about them than anything else.
I grew up in a very strict Amish/Mennonite community where speech was a very guarded activity. Although not Amish or Mennonite, I still had to be careful what I said and how I said it. Curse words were completely off limit. No circumstance ever existed, according to these people, warranting any curse word.
My maternal grandfather was like this. He never had much to say and did not say that very often. I remember one time sitting on the front porch with my grandfather and his brother and we spent the whole afternoon together and probably did not say five words between the three of us. My grandfather certainly was not outspoken in anything.
Whenever he got angry with my grandmother, he simply would leave the house, walk down to the barn and who knows what he did venting his anger at the time.
Venting anger is quite an occupation these days. Whether a religious venue, a political venue or just some educational venue, people are filled with anger and are trying to vent it somehow and from what I see much of it is not working.
An old saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Yet, names do really hurt us.
One phrase my grandfather used a lot was, “holy cow.” He was a farmer so I instinctively thought he was talking about his cows. Why his cows were holy and others were not was something I could never comprehend. But, he was my grandfather.
I still remember the first time I heard him say that phrase; “Holy cow, it’s hot outside today.”
When he said it, I was rather confused. What does a cow have to do with it being hot outside and are cows really holy? It just did not make any sense to me.
Another favorite phrase was, “Holy cow, I’m tired.”
Again, what does a cow have to do with him being tired? Maybe he worked a lot with the cows. I know he had about a half a dozen dairy cows and he milked them all by hand. Maybe that is what he was talking about.
But the thing that really got me was what in the world does “holy” have to do with a cow?
As I got older, I began to realize that “holy” and “cow” had nothing to do with each other. It was just a phrase my grandfather used, and, to put it mildly, it really meant nothing at all.
As I get older the more I realize that people say things they really do not mean. In fact, most people do not really think about what they are saying let alone know what they are saying.
As an amateur wordsmith myself, I like to parse my words very carefully. I want to know what I am saying and say what I am thinking. Of course, according to the Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage, thinking is not at the top of my list of activities. I cannot disagree with her on that one.
Yes, words do matter. I need to be careful what I am saying, the more important it is, the more I need to be careful to understand what the other person is hearing. One of the things I have learned as a husband is that what I am saying to my wife may not be what my wife is hearing.
Yes, sticks and stones can break my bones, but that is nothing to what harm words can do.
At a real desperate point in my life, I responded to an incident involving my wife and almost automatically, the phrase, “Holy Cow,” came tumbling out of my mouth. Needless to say, it was the last time anything like that ever happened.
My wife looked at me with one of “those looks,” and said, “Holy what?”
How can you explain something you do not understand yourself? She looked at me, I look back at her with one of those blank stares I am famous for, and had no idea what she was talking about.
She had no idea what I was talking about and so I thought at least we were even. But not so.
I had to promise her “and cross my heart and hope to die,” never to use such a phrase again. “That phrase,” she said most defiantly, “is not permitted in this house.” She said it in such a way that I have, to this very day, never questioned her on it and have never used that phrase again.
James warned about this when he wrote, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5).
I do not know if cows are holy or not, but I will never put those two words together in a phrase whatsoever as long as the sun shines.