Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

How black are jets?

Jerry Stratton, March 29, 2016

The cows aren’t coming home: These cows aren’t coming home.; memes; clichés; cows

Writers are like headless chickens. They hang onto clichés until the cows come home.

Writers use a ton of clichés. We like to think of them as… idioms. They’re, like, a train of words that inflate sentences and paragraphs, and we have a superficial sense that they deliver meaning without knowing what they mean.

Used well, a clichéd phrase can condense an entire culture down to a few words. Clichés pack so much history that their meanings often transcend their origins. How many people nowadays have seen pitch, or even coal, to know how black it is and how uncomfortably it coats everything it touches?

Only a few farmers today know what time the cows come home, or what chickens do when you cut their heads off. I’ve seen it, and the reality is far stranger than the cliché. You don’t know crazy until you’ve seen a headless chicken chase your brother around the yard, keeping on his tail until it finally kicks the bucket a minute later.

A chicken with its head cut off is, dare I say it, a very single-minded creature. You might even say its mind was racing a mile a minute, but a mile a minute is only sixty miles an hour. At one mile a minute, you’re falling behind on the highway of life! Most likely it’s because you really don’t know shit from Shinola, nor even why that’d be the mother of all snafus.

On the other hand, I wonder how many people bake enough nowadays to know how slow molasses is, or, with modern heating, have ever seen it slow to a crawl in January. It’s a special occasion today to put a cork into something to stop it up, and few people, even among those still addicted to the demon weed, keep a pipe handy to put things in and smoke them.

When I lived in California, I went to church occasionally, but if that was their Sunday best I’d hate to see what they wear at Walmart. Here in Texas, mind you, their Sunday best is a real E ticket.

Sleeping tight probably wasn’t even a metaphor when it was first coined, but while the language has moved on the phrase has not. Now it has all the earmarks of a metaphor—it’s a meta-metaphor, not to put too fine a point on it. However, bedbugs are making a comeback, so it remains a good idea not to let them bite—as if the bedbugs ever bother to keep you in the loop on the matter.

I fear I have crossed a Rubicon with this post. I’d like to keep it going the whole nine yards, but nobody remembers what the nine yards were, or why we’re sometimes goldbrickers who only go six yards. See you on the flip side, and don’t take any wooden nickels.

  1. <- Basic Economics
  2. Rowling’s racism? ->