Cliches

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Living here in the Texas panhandle, we get wind. And some days, the wind is coming off the feedlot. This is, to most of us, an unpleasant smell. But what happens if you comment on the unpleasantness of the smell?

Someone else will remark, “Smells like money.” Guaranteed.

If this were being said by, say, the owners of the cattle in the feedlot, it might be considered pithy or even funny. It never is, though. It’s being said by someone who has heard it said before and thinks it will be funny if they say it.

Go to Denver on a hot day (something they’ve had more of than usual this year) and comment about how hot it is. Someone will say in conciliatory response, “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.”

Beyond arguing whether a dry heat is somehow better than a moist heat, why do people always feel a need to say this? Why is it not legal to hit them over the head with the nearest pole lamp?

Why do people in Houston, when someone mentions the heat, always feel the need to say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”? It’s as if they are saying that the heat is immaterial—and probably in my imagination—because it’s actually the humidity that’s troubling me (I’m just too stupid to know the difference). No, it’s BOTH the heat and the humidity. They are both miserable.

Don’t you wish you could travel through time? I know this seems like a leap in thought from what I’ve written so far, but stay with me for a moment.

How far back in time would we have to go to make these sayings the sayers think are pithy actually BE pithy? I bet three hundred years ago some lost Tonkawa brave stumbled into the swamps that would one day be Houston, meets up with a local, and asked, “How can you people stand this heat?!?” To which the local replied, “Aargghhh!” and slew him with a tomahawk because he was an outsider.

Just kidding. The local, future-Houstonion, made Indian sign-language which indicated, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” At which point the Tonkawa clunked him on the head with a rock because that was the same thing everyone kept saying up at Port Arthur.

When Father Escalante first crossed the great American west back in the fifteen hundreds and complained about the heat, someone probably told him, “But it’s a dry heat.” Escalante would have killed the man right then, but he was a priest and that sort of thing is frowned upon in such circles.

And we could probably go all the way back to the beginning of man. Cain is over seeing his brother Abel and says something like, “Phew, Bro! How can you stand that horrible smell?!?!”

To which Abel replied, “It smells like money.” Never mind that money hadn’t yet been invented, Cain was chagrined because that’s what his brother always said. He let it boil over and fester and allowed other metaphors to mix until one day he saw Abel’s favor before God and Cain snapped and killed his brother.

But it didn’t stop the cliché, so the story’s even sadder than you knew. The moral for today? We’d all be better off, and man-to-man relations would be much better, if we’d all avoid clichés like the plague.