Wednesday, September 15, 2010

For the birds

I wonder if people are actually thinking about what they
are saying when they use the phrase ‘kill two birds with
one stone.’ If they thought about it for a moment,
they’d realize what a grisly image it evokes. It’s a worn-
out old cliché handed down for several generations but
now utterly meaningless and inappropriate. Yet there it
is again in a headline in today’s Dominion Post: HOW
. Yecch. Many terms once in common use have
been dumped because, as times change, they come to
seem offensive or silly; along with other ugly phrases
like ‘room to swing a cat,’ this is one of them. With a
little imagination it could easily be supplanted by, say,
‘sew two buttons with one thread’ or ‘score two goals
with one kick.’ Whatever. But leave the birds alone.


Giovanni Tiso said...

If it's of any consolation, the Italian equivalent of the expression is prendere due piccioni con una fava, capturing two pigeons with one bean. Although I suspect the apprehended birds wouldn't necessarily fare much better after that.

Denis Welch said...

I don't doubt it. There was an eye-opening (to non-Italians anyway) article by Jonathan Franzen in a recent New Yorker about the wanton killing of small birds in countries like Italy and Malta.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Spoken like somebody who has never tasted polenta e osei, although yes, I can see where you're coming from, and I'm not against the banning of the hunting of those birds even though I'm less dismissive of than Frenzen of the traditions that he describes. Centuries of chronic hunger I think entitled those populations to the occasional delicacy.

Anonymous said...

Misinterpretations abound too- 'room to swing a cat' refers not to the feline, but the cat o'nine tails, which was a flogging whip used in penal colonies. Usually this babarity by the 'superiors' was carried out in cells that had just enough room 'to swing a cat'.

Neil Coleman said...

Denis, enjoy your sessions on Nine to Noon . Following on from that discussion a couple of weeks ago & your "For the Birds " blog what about extrapolating your sewing metaphor ( sewing two buttons ) by using "one size (doesn't) fits all " ?