Words to live by


In an online collection of adages and proverbs I wistfully found the wooden nickels, the watched pots, the mountains and molehills, the unhatched and uncounted chickens of my youth and subsequent adulthood. Those words of wisdom, those general rules of conduct were long ago woven into the fabric of our language – and our upbringing. We heard them often and eventually repeated them just as often. The benefits of not putting carts before horses, not judging books by covers, early bedtimes and timely stitches and pennies saved reduced to pithy pronouncements precluded further need for long lectures about how life was – and still is.

Alas, the universality of many of those time-tested sayings is waning as we speak. What seems so self-explanatory to seasoned Boomers and beyond is experiencing less and less transference to the generations behind us.

Case in point: Shortly before Y2K2, I created a topnotch lesson to introduce German expressions of comparison. My students translated common American similes back into English – “as cool as a cucumber,” “as good as gold,” and the like.

The climax of the lesson, “as snug as a bug in a rug,” sadly produced blank stares and rolling eyes. Those baby Millennials had never heard this lyrical description of insects tucked contentedly away in floor covering. Such a loss…

Truth be told, in the 60s we Boomers confused and confounded our own parents and grandparents with our groovy vernacular. The flower children among us urged everyone to “make love, not war.” Others subscribed to a “turn on, tune in, drop out” philosophy. We wanted to be “with it,” we found ideas and events “far out,” we exclaimed “Right on!”

We finally came to our senses, only to realize our grandchildren have no patience for seemingly cryptic messages that originated centuries ago. They don’t want to hear about baskets of eggs or spilt milk or sleeping dogs. They know intrinsically that “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast” but cannot relate to the outmoded vocabulary. Their dearth of life experience prevents them from appreciating “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” or “Haste makes waste.” And they really could care less that “A new broom sweeps clean.”

What to do? Should we simply allow the loss of centuries of wisdom? Should we modernize outdated, off-putting language – although how can “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” be improved upon?

In his article in the Canton Repository, “Bringing Words of Wisdom into the 21st Century,” Gary Brown made some suggestions – shared here loosely: “There is no such thing as a free lunch, but they do have a value menu.” / “Beauty is only skin cream deep.” / “A bird in the hand is probably endangered.” / “An ounce of prevention might not be covered by your company’s medical plan.”

As enjoyable as I find these updated expressions and their social commentary on contemporary life, I am not sure passing quips with a slightly jaded perspective along to future generations is particularly helpful. For a while now, I have randomly discovered and collected a few modern sayings I really like. They are to the point, reflective of current life, applicable to future situations.

DANCE WHILE YOU CAN: A distant relative of “Strike while the iron is hot,” the dance version encompasses a much wider audience. Members of the tiny Alpha generation are already dancing as is their nature. But the X-Y-Z-Millennial crowd should dance on, Boomers too. Dance your hearts out – it’s good for the soul!

IT WILL NEVER BE TODAY AGAIN: Scarlett O’Hara’s belief that tomorrow is another day notwithstanding, we should never throw a day away, making a point to live each one to the fullest. “Fullest” is a relative term, yes. But that each day unfolds before us filled with possibilities as yet unpresented and never to be repeated is a call to give and do and learn all we can as each unique day dawns.

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT: I find the concept of acting your way to a goal quite encouraging. I wanted to be a good teacher, but my four years of college preparation seemed woefully inadequate as I met my first classes in 1970. I pretended to know what I was doing and developed the habits of a good teacher: preparation, classroom management, concern for my students. Eventually I came around, becoming at least an experienced teacher – and the best I could be. I behaved my way to the person I had always dreamed of being.

IF YOU CAN’T FIX IT, FEATURE IT: One of my vast and varied shortcomings deals with technology. A computer foisted upon me for use in front of students with far more experience, knowledge, and savvy, I placed my weakness front and center. I taught them German, they taught me computer. It was important for them to see an old teacher learn new tricks. And I will be forever grateful that we all pitched in together.

FAIL BETTER EVERY TIME: This more realistic version of “Practice makes perfect” includes the F-word: failure. But the only way a failure becomes worthy of shame is not to face it, not to analyze it, not to build on it. Well-handled failures create stronger successes.

We all need words to live by – culled from whatever era, applied to whatever situation. However expressed, they are part and parcel of the individuals we become.

Boomer Blog

Shirley Scott

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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