Descriptive Language

For some reason that I can’t fathom, I thought of my dad today and about something he said once about one of his aunts.  I don’t remember which aunt it was, although I think it was the wife of one of his father’s brothers.  He described her as “like an old sow that eats chickens”.

Dad said this in a very matter of fact way, and was just being descriptive, not necessarily mean spirited.  He wanted me to understand what his aunt was like (to him, at least), and used some pretty descriptive language to do so. I asked two of my coworkers if they had ever heard this phrase, and they had, used by  older relatives of my father’s generation. It was their sense that this was descriptive language to indicate that someone was a hag.

Tell of some  memorable descriptive language you have run across lately or recall from the past. 

66 thoughts on “Descriptive Language”

  1. Your instinct was to learn whether this was a phrase passed on from person to person, and your family indicated that it was. Some colorful phrases I heard as a child also turned out to be learned rather than invented by the speaker.

    My mother rarely spoke disapprovingly of anyone . . . the old Midwestern notion that “if you can’t speak well of someone, say nothing at all.” But she once described a boy who grew up near me in Ames, Iowa, with a phrase that crackled with contempt. I used to assume it was her dismissal of this kid, Benny, who was a sniggering bully who seemed obsessed with sex. Benny was so slow he’d been “held back” a grade in school. My mother once said, “Oh, that Benny! If he had a brain he’d take it out and play with it.”

    I was shocked. After a lot of reflection, I’m sure it is a phrase she picked up somewhere, not something she invented. She wasn’t mean enough to have made up something like that.

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      1. I don’t know about sows eating chickens, but it sure made an impression on me when I was about nine years old visiting some friends on a local farm. They had a sow that was about to give birth and I recall them being pretty vigilant in keeping an eye on her. Apparently it is not unheard of for a sow to savage and even eat her own newborn piglets. Fortunately, the sow I witnessed giving birth turned out to be a good mother. I would have been traumatized for life had she not.

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  2. When I was a kid, I remember my parents and probably their acquaintances as well, referring to someone who was especially talented or clever, a wonder, as “a regular Yehudi”. That was no doubt a reference to Yehudi Menuhin, but it’s unlikely that either of my parents would have arrived at that analogy on their own. I wonder if that was a common expression for a time and, if so, how widespread?

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I think there was an instance where Menuhin was scheduled to perform on a radio broadcast but was unable at the last minute to show up. To fill airtime, the radio hosts joked that Yehudi was invisible and that turned into a meme where “Yehudi” became the man who wasn’t there.

        My parent’s use of Yehudi to signify a prodigy came from somewhere else.

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        1. But your parents’ would have known about the Yehudi Menuhin?

          When my sister and I were small, and we’d ask mom for something she thought was expensive she’d answer: “Who do you think I am? Rockefeller?” Neither Randi or I had any idea who Rockefeller was, but from the way she said it, we figured he had money.

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    1. Ben, won’t pigs eat just about anything under some circumstances? When I was a kid I heard about hogs eating the farmer who owned them. I suppose pigs would cheerfully eat hog slop or whatever you call pig food. But hungry, underfed hogs, surely are open to variety.

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      1. I haven’t had to spend much time around hogs. Dad had some but sold them when I was pretty young.

        I fully acknowledge I’m running a chicken retirement farm. But chickens are small and don’t eat much. A hog retirement farm just doesn’t seem to make as much sense in my eyes… but that may be only because I’ve never had hogs. I know people have them as pets… And some of my chickens were pets of people before they gave them to me in order to get chickens that were still laying eggs or they didn’t want to deal with them over winter. But in my experience, the friendly ones are the first ones to get eaten by a raccoon or coyote. Because they’ll stand there and look at you and not fly into the rafters or try to get away.
        Which brings me back to pigs.
        I supposed an especially nasty pig could chase a chicken into a corner and attack it…

        And then there’s this:

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  3. Sometimes the owners of the flower shop where I work go on vacation, and when they come back, the wife walks in and announces “I’m back….like a bad rash!”

    Can’t remember where I heard this one, but someone described a person as having all the decisiveness of a squirrel crossing the street in traffic.

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  4. When I was a kid meal time was fairly formal, something my mother had learned from hers. If there was ketchup on the table it was in a bowl. If there was relish on the table it was in a bowl. That kind of thing. So whenever we had a very informal meal and just put containers on the table instead of transferring their contents to bowls, we always call it “eating pinkert style”. It wasn’t until I was in college that I found out that the Pinkert family had lived next door to my mother growing up and my grandmother had coined the term derisively to suggest everything was just thrown on the table willy-nilly. I still think of bottles and jars on the table as Pinkert style, but not with contempt!

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  5. My father used to point out a man in Luverne who was chronically unemployed and who spent most of his day walking up and down main street, and tell me “that’s the man who planned the Brink’s robbery”. I believed him for quite a while until I read a book on the Brink’s robbery and realized he was joking.

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  6. Chuck Halling, a fine potter, but an extremely quiet and reticent man was visiting friends in Kino, Mexico. This was Chuck’s first and only visit, and he’d been somewhat reluctant to take Mike and Anne up on their invitation to visit them. Mike and Anne’s small house is in Kino Nuevo, or new Kino, tucked in among the mansions of Gringos and other mostly non-locals along the shore of the Sea of Cortez. To get there you go through Kino Viejo, old Kino, where most dwellings are extremely primitive, the local roads mostly unpaved, and most of the inhabitants Mexican. Chuck, who did not speak Spanish, had gotten turned around somehow and had spent an uncomfortable amount of time in old Kino trying to navigate through the dust and stray dogs. When he finally arrived at Mike and Anne’s house he announced with a certain amount of relief: “I’m happy to have found you. I felt like and alligator in a purse factory.”

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  7. I usually try and wear clothes that she will enjoy – throw on a matching scarf and she’ll be sure to notice. So when I just come in “house dress” (old sweat pants, etc.), I may say “Look what the cat dragged in!” and she always laughs. Not sure where I picked up that phrase.

    I love the variations on “Oh dang!” (Oh crap!, Oh shoot!…) – had a kindergartener once who said “Oh rats!” a lot.

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  8. Just looked up some, and a few that I have used:
    – God willin’ and the creek don’t rise
    – … till the cows come home
    – as ___ as all get-out (I remember this from high school)
    Ironically, the collection was labeled as phrases that only Southerners use.

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  9. One of the reasons I used to enjoy spending time with rural folks was that each region has its own phrases. My Montana rancher friend referred to the gas gauge on his ancient Ford, noting that it was reading low. But he didn’t trust it, saying he wasn’t sure its low reading meant his gas was low or “the gauge is cryin’ for sympathy.”

    Most of us know the phrase “all hat and no cattle,” but nobody in the Midwest would actually say that, I think. That’s a phrase used in Texas, mostly.

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        1. While I’m pretty sure that expression originated in Texas, I’m pretty sure it’s pretty widely used in other areas where there are ranches. I know I have heard that expression in Wyoming and South Dakota, as well.

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      1. I’ve never heard “all hat no cattle”, but I like it. It reminds me of a description I heard once about a man who had great ideas but no follow-through. His daughter in his eulogy said “all wings, no lift”.

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  10. Folks from Texas are know to be fond of hyperbole, in contrast to Mainers who prefer understatement. When I grew up, most Danes thought of Americans as one pretty exotic group of people as represented by Hollywood and huge cars with big tail fins. Just as regional humor often targets what is perceived as peculiarities of neighboring states or other ethnic groups, we had jokes about Americans.

    One that the “all hat, no cattle” brought to mind is this one: An old Danish farmer is showing off his farm to a distant relative who is visiting from Texas. The Danish farm is lovely, but doesn’t impress the Texan who is used to grander spreads of land. At the end of the tour the Texan says: “My ranch is so big that it takes two days to drive around the circumference of it.” To this the Dane replies: “Yeah, I know. I used to have a car like that.”

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  11. I love words and the study of them. One Danish word that makes me smile is “mundheld.” Literally translated it means mouthluck, and is used to describe expressions like the ones quoted above.

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  12. In the ‘Older than dirt’ category, my dad would say ‘When Tieg was a pup’.

    I told Amelia if she moved any slower she was going to end up in yesterday.

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