My sister and brother-in-law stopped by recently on their way home from the flea market at the fairgrounds. She began to invoke the old truism: ONE MAN’S TRASH, but did not need to finish: IS ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE. All of us had already completed the idiom in our minds.
Linguistically curious as I am, it was interesting to learn the phrase probably originated from a 19th century proverb. More fascinating, however, were similar expressions from earlier proverbs: one man’s meat is another man’s poison / one man’s pleasure is another’s pain / one man’s loss is another man’s profit. Actually, these phrases pretty accurately characterize our current national disconnect which began during the presidential campaign and continues to play out.
My brain began to gurgle with other “shorthand” phrases, so commonplace as to allow instantaneous understanding after just two or three words.
Because most of my travels – as a student and with students – involved living with families in other countries, I was a strong proponent of respecting the customs of our hosts. I preached the principle of living as the Germans lived in order to understand the differences and similarities between our cultures. Briefly stated: WHEN IN ROME.
Believe me, I saw enough tourists acting the opposite of WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO. The epitome of nationalistic disrespect came from an American staying in my hotel in Munich, who scolded the lady at the reception desk for what he perceived as her poor English. It was on the tip of my tongue to do a bit of scolding myself – and to suggest he would do well to know a couple of words of German.
Saint Ambrose, an influential bishop of the early church, delivered this guidance in his sermons: WHEN YOU ARE IN ROME, LIVE IN THE ROMAN STYLE. Long or short, in any century, WHEN IN ROME is good advice.
I cannot be the only person who has replied to a friend: GREAT MINDS. Regardless of the conversation – political, professional, gossip – there is often that moment when two parties simultaneously arrive at identical conclusions, demonstrating the principle: GREAT MINDS RUN IN THE SAME CHANNEL.
Of course, there is also the possibility that one person is “praising” the other for being equally smart. Whether genuine surprise at consensus or tongue-in-cheek congratulations, GREAT MINDS sufficiently marks the occasion.
From my college days to my teaching years, I frequently joined friends and colleagues in quoting two words from a movie classic: FRANKLY, SCARLETT. Back then and always in the teaching profession there was and is no room for “coarse” language. Thus, we often used the abbreviated version of Rhett Butler’s comment to express frustrated dismissal without resorting to profanity.
The entire line, FRANKLY, MY DEAR, I DON’T GIVE A DAMN, ended the tumultuous relationship between Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. My hesitation about using his final word in this column compares with that of the censors in allowing it into the blockbuster film back in the ‘30’s. The disputed word made the final cut because producer David Selznik considered it a “vulgarism” rather than a “curse.”
Nowadays we insert Scarlett’s name to establish context; but with proper intonation, FRANKLY, SCARLETT is as close to swearing as I want to be. Realizing how hopelessly out of step I am with many people – including some of our leaders – I just wish we could clean up our private and national conversations with a few more shortened movie phrases.
There are adages we have all heard since childhood, ones whose truths deserve continued repetition. One of them begins STICKS AND STONES.
Particularly with today’s concerns about bullying and the apparent abandonment of political correctness in favor of “frank talk,” the full statement of the original children’s rhyme, STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES/BUT WORDS WILL NEVER HURT ME, has never seemed more appropriate.
My mother, referee for many sibling spats, was a believer in the STICKS AND STONES approach to ignoring taunts. These days, I find useful application of the saying for matters of courage in the face of jeers, bluster, and downright disrespect. The phrase, full or condensed, carries larger, more important significance than the child’s jingle many consider it to be.
I think we should all live our lives according to the entire line from the New Testament: DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. However, just DO UNTO OTHERS can serve quite well as a reminder of the concept often referred to as the Golden Rule.
The principal of reciprocity seems to occur in every religion and has implications in the areas of psychology, philosophy, and sociology. I just think the entire world would be a better place if every single person and every single nation lived DO UNTO OTHERS every single day.
I cannot conclude this mid-December article without mentioning YES, VIRGINIA. In answer to little Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter-to-the-editor in 1897, veteran newsman Francis Church penned his classic reply, from which I have chosen a few lines:
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Santa Claus lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Sometimes less is just enough…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.
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