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Monday, July 13, 2009  

Half of One, Six Dozen of the Other

It was during our honeymoon, ironically enough, that I realized what was wrong with her.

This is something I've been putting off writing about for literally years. It's a difficult subject to tackle, not just because of its scale and scope, but because it's such an integral part of who my wife is that it seemed like an invasion of her privacy to discuss it here. But recently, she's been encouraging me to just put it out there in the open, and damn the tornadoes.

Yes, I know the expression is "damn the torpedoes," but Trash doesn't. In fact, she doesn't know any expressions at all.

But as I said, it wasn't until our honeymoon that I realized this. We've always been trendsetters, and our honeymoon in 1991 was a "staycation," before that word had even been invented. We were both off work for a week, and we spent it in and around town. I remember exactly on what stretch of 35-W we were on when she suddenly said that two potential options for something that weren't all that different were "half of one, six dozen of the other."

"What did you say?" I asked.

"Half of one, six dozen of the other," she repeated.

I don't even remember what we were discussing, but I vividly remember her highly amused reaction when I explained to her that the expression is "six of one, half-dozen of the other." And that the expression as she had used it would have implied a difference in a factor of 144, which is in fact quite significant. This is not to say that she's used the expression correctly since.

At least then, I could see what she was trying to do. Unlike later that same day, when she was commenting on the audacity of pedestrians and other drivers on the U of M campus: "They've got their balls in a sling and they're whippin' em!" she declared. I still don't know what that means.

And by this time, we were already married. It was too late.

But here's where I kind of get into the weeds. Not having recorded any of her countless epic idiomatic fails, I don't feel like I could really do the depth of her syndrome justice.

I could tell you about the time she attempted the "bird in hand" expression, and got both the meaning and the words wrong, which resulted into the two of us spiraling into a lengthy discussion in which I attempted to explain the numerous (admittedly nonsensical) premises behind the expression. She just couldn't get past one central fact: "I don't want a bird in my hand! Then I've got bird shit on my hand. No, thank you."

I could tell you about the interview she had years ago with a highly-ranked children's librarian, someone who would have been a great contact to have in her then-future career. Everything was going great until she attempted to invoke the "wolf in sheep's clothing" expression, only to land on "a wolf in grandpa's sheepskin rubber" instead. Could she have saved it if she hadn't noticed his shocked reaction and tried again, simply blurting, "Hungry like the wolf?" Possibly not. "Grandpa's Sheepskin Rubber," of course, was the name of a novelty song some friends and I wrote in junior high and later told her about. The interview ended shortly thereafter.

Or the time she was on a conference call at work, which ground to a halt when she said, "That's like cutting off your ear to spite your nose. Or cutting off your face. Keep your ears. Is there also a baby?"

Or a few classic recurring one-liners, like "Christ in a handbasket," or adding "like a banshee" as an all-purpose intensifier, as in "He's working like a banshee" or "she had to pee like a banshee," or just about anything other than screaming.

But the tragic fact is that no matter how well I told you any of these stories, I could never capture the way some of our conversations veer into the kind of territory where I'm playing the Mark-Linn Baker role in Perfect Strangers. And if I did, you'd never believe me.

But maybe you'll believe our other friends.

Other friends? Step up here. Tell the readers who don't know the magic of Trash in person what she can do to a saying. How she can put it under a barrel, and beat it like a red-headed mule. I'm too close to it. I'm counting on you.

posted by M. Giant 7:42 PM 37 comments


I have to be honest: it happens so frequently that I stopped memorizing them.

I do consider this, however, to be a close cousin of her syndrome where she can't remember what anything -- either a person or a thing -- is called, and therefore calls everything by made-up names far more complicated than their actual names.

For instance: You might think it would be easier to just remember the words "Big Brother" than it is to wave your hands in front of your face and say "the one with the people with the bad teeth." You would be wrong.

Oh, wait -- she does remember the name "Ice-T." I think that's the only one. That would be Ice-T who stars on "Law & Order: Sex Police."

And now I have to stop, because I miss Trash and it will make me cry.

By Blogger Linda, at July 13, 2009 at 7:59 PM  

Wow, a friend of mine does the same "like a banshee" thing. I have absolutely no idea why. Who knew there was another one?

By Blogger june, at July 13, 2009 at 8:37 PM  

As a child I heard the expression as "six
of one-half-dozen
of the other."

Didn't make any sense to me.

And some years later I had a boss who would say, "two of one, one of the other." That'd be in the ballpark, I guess.

By Blogger floretbroccoli, at July 13, 2009 at 9:16 PM  

You should get her "I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears..." That should give her something to chew over.

By Blogger DonJ, at July 14, 2009 at 4:21 AM  

I laughed so hard at this I almost woke the napping toddler. You might say I laughed like a banshee.

By Blogger Donna, at July 14, 2009 at 7:25 AM  

"Don't eat all of the chickens in your baskets" Said at a library meeting, in reference to not expecting one group of people to do all of the work. I think she meant "don't put all of your eggs in one basket" but who knows.

By Anonymous Karen, at July 14, 2009 at 8:03 AM  

"They've got their balls in a sling and they're whippin' em!"

What does that mean? I can't thing of an saying close to it, and I have been trying all morning.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 14, 2009 at 8:11 AM  

There are sooooooo many to remember. Some favorites:

Don't count your chickens in hell.

Smokin' like a sieve. (That one might have been Coach, I can't remember now.)

For some reason I'm blanking, but they will appear like a vision shortly. Then I'll repost.

By Blogger Chao, at July 14, 2009 at 8:19 AM  

A couple more (she must like animal themes):

Like a pissin horse

Shooting big fish in a pond

Either “don’t pee in the wind” or “don’t spit uphill” (I can’t remember which one she actually said!)

And my two personal favorites of all time!!! .....drum roll.......

Don’t punch a Christmas horse

That’s like getting hay in your camel toe

By Blogger Chao, at July 14, 2009 at 8:50 AM  

"Don’t punch a Christmas horse"

I did NOT say that, except I am kind of sure I did indeed say that. What the hell did I mean? The others make total sense, but I don't understand that one.

Ah well, Shakespeare happens...

By Anonymous Trash, at July 14, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

Also, Linda is totally correct. I can't remember names at all, and I do make up titles for just about everything, and then only my friends know what the hell I am saying. Well, except Ice-T, who I could NEVER forget.

Now I miss Linda too.

By Anonymous Trash, at July 14, 2009 at 8:58 AM  

Well, I don't know Trash. But my husband has the same syndrome. I knew before we were married and decided to go ahead and marry him anyway.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 14, 2009 at 9:12 AM  

I'm guessing the Christmas horse is, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth"

By Blogger randomstuff, at July 14, 2009 at 9:44 AM  

Yeah. I definitely think "Christmas horse" means, in some mentally perverted fashion (no offense), "gift horse."

I assume the "balls in a sling" one just has to do with ostentatious displays of male stuff, but she's really putting some complicated spin on the ball (so to speak).

It's the one about hay in your camel toe that has me stumped.

By Blogger Linda, at July 14, 2009 at 2:52 PM  

The not being able to remember names and going around them thing reminds me of Bubbles from Ab Fab. It worried me the first time I realised that I did exactly the same thing and that I could usually get what she was referring to very quickly.

Then again my husband laughs at me for using "fifty of one, six of the other" which makes no sense without adding both 'percent' and 'half-dozen' in there somewhere. No idea how I picked that one up.

By Anonymous lsn, at July 14, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

Oh my lord, I am so cracking up at these. I have a friend who does the same thing with names of restaurants and movies...combining them in weird ways to make all new crazy titles. Good times.

By Blogger dancing_lemur, at July 14, 2009 at 7:24 PM  

Oh, sweet tap-dancing Jesus. This is such a Gordian Knot. Ten pounds of trouble in a five-pound bag.

All I can say is that my ex was utterly convinced Trash was doing it on purpose. I was pretty easily swayed by her greater degree of confidence in those days, but eventually I had to call a spade a spade.

I came to see that Trash's brain, either because she's too literal or too imaginative (or both?), lacks the sweet spot where figures of speech can exist, strung together by their own tightly-focused webs of internal logic but relating to the world at large.

I mean, she gets metaphor and analogy in basic ways... right? (I'm blanking on an example I've heard her use. Hmmm.)

I say she's good for at least one hour of Discovery Channel TV. There would be computer animation! fMRI pictures! Electrodes. Come on, Trash, for SCIENCE.

By Blogger Febrifuge, at July 14, 2009 at 8:28 PM  

I had a friend that would say, "that went over like a lead fart in church"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 15, 2009 at 12:40 AM  

These were fantastic. I've been laughing out loud since I read them. I keep picturing that poor Christmas hourse. And of course, that unfortunate camel toe...

- JeniMull

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 15, 2009 at 7:55 AM  

These were fabulous! As a transplant to MN, I have to say, I had never heard the "half of six, dozen of another" expression before. But everyone up here loves it so much. I try, I really do, but I have never gotten that one right. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like my blunder is half as charming as Trash's.

Thanks for sharing. Those were great!

By Blogger Renee, at July 15, 2009 at 10:41 AM  

Trash and I had a whole discussion about gift horses yesterday. Some of the exchanges these trigger are even funnier than the messed-up sayings themselves.

By Blogger M. Giant, at July 15, 2009 at 2:08 PM  

"I say she's good for at least one hour of Discovery Channel TV."

Yes. It would be called "The Woman Who Feared Idioms."

By Blogger Linda, at July 15, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

This was hilarious. My husband does something similar - he's not good with names, so he tends to remember new people as Steve or Sue. (Except for the people who are really named Steve and Sue who get given other names.)

By Anonymous sunny@suncoach.com, at July 15, 2009 at 10:30 PM  

Trash must be related to my now-retired assistant who used to say "feast or phantom."

By Anonymous Bo, at July 16, 2009 at 6:14 AM  

First off, I think the use of the word "trigger" related to gift horses is brilliant (not sure if anyone else caught that Roy Rogers reference from M. Giant.

And I'm 99% sure the hay/camel reference is some bizarre combination of "the straw that broke the camel's back" and some iteration of "don't get your panties in a bunch" or something else as equally unpleasant as getting sand in your vag. This is purely speculation though.

By Blogger Chao, at July 16, 2009 at 6:28 AM  

An example from this week: homeless phone.

By Blogger Mayo to Pass, at July 16, 2009 at 7:51 AM  

So she can't remember names, nouns, or sayings? Has anyone called House yet? These aren't sudden changes, are they?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 16, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

I'm laughing to tears at this. Too hilarious!

I too have a story relating to "six and half a dozen."
My mother grew up in Texas, and her family is still down there. My sister and I grew up in the Midwest. For much of our childhood, we'd dismiss odd phrases my mom used as "Oh, that must be a Southern thing." Around high school we started noticing that my mom actually just made things up.
My absolute favorite was that my sister didn't find out until college that the phrase wasn't actually "six and six."

By Blogger chellebird, at July 16, 2009 at 9:57 AM  

I had a boss who did this same exact thing all the time, but unfortunatley the only one I can remember right now is her always being "behind the egg ball", which pisses me off because that means now I am forgetting stuff, crap!

By Blogger herbette, at July 16, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

Yeah, I get that from my In-Laws. They don't "nip things in the bud", they like to "nip things in the butt".

Also pitch is just an amplifier for colour NOT a descriptor for black ONLY, so pitch-red, pitch-blue whatever.

To them, it's not a "spitting image" but a "splitting image".

And "sight for sore eyes" is something that is SO UGLY it actually HURTS your eyes.

I guess if you love the idiom-impaired, it could be charming. For me, I'm not feeling the love.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 16, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

I do the banshee thing, too! Banshees do everything to the extreme, which is why they are such useful analogues for excess.

By Blogger Katie L., at July 16, 2009 at 4:58 PM  

I'm reading these to my husband and have tears streaming down my face from trying to read these and contain the laughter at the same time.

By Blogger Theryn, at July 16, 2009 at 7:54 PM  

I always thought the saying was "Six IS one half dozen to the other."

Meaning that one person might say, "Six," and one person might say, "Half dozen." I learned something new today!

By Anonymous Kris, at July 17, 2009 at 5:43 PM  

My husband says, "Six or one half-dozen of another." I can't imagine what he thinks it means, but he's too old to learn it the right way now. I'm going to keep him anyway.

By Anonymous Average Jane, at July 18, 2009 at 7:53 PM  

I had the pleasure of working with a well-known D.C.-based lobbying firm about a year ago, and the gentlemen I met with once a week had a knack for mixing--or just totally wrecking--idioms. I took notes. Some of my favorites:
"He's definitely the biggest horse in this fight."
"Let's keep that at the top of our radar screen."
And later, just as strangely, "We have to make sure we fly under the radar screen."
"This is where the sausage comes out."
"It's the 64,000-pound gorilla in the room." (That's THREE!)
"I just want to keep the balls moving, here."
I was so sad when the project ended.

By Blogger Jenn, at July 31, 2009 at 2:43 PM  

Trash JUST said another one to me. "It's like two birds in a stone bath."

When she saw me reach for the pad of paper I keep on hand just for these reasons, she tried to fix it. "Is it because the birds are dirty at the same time?" As I wrote this down, I encouraged her to continue this line of thought, but then I got hit.

By Blogger Chao, at July 31, 2009 at 5:58 PM  

I found this thread when searching for something an ex-girlfriend once said to me: "Half of one, six dozen of the other." I wanted to see if anyone else had mangled the old saying in just the same way. Sure enough, there it was in this thread. I'm posting now not only to commiserate with others who've lived with CIMs (Chronic Idiom-Manglers), but also to offer a data point of evidence that this disorder may be hereditary. That same girlfriend's mother was known to exhibit a similar pattern. In a fit of rage, shortly after marrying my ex's father, she reportedly once threatened him with this: "I'm going to stab you with a gun and shoot you with a knife!"

I suppose I have plenty of company in being CIM-weary... Y'all remember George W. Bush, right?

"I know how hard it is to put food on your family." -GWB

"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." -GWB

By Blogger Joel, at October 23, 2009 at 2:47 PM  

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