Idiomatically Speaking

Once upon a time…well, actually it was just the other day, I was mulling over the colorful idioms—figures of speech—we sprinkle into our everyday conversations. For instance, when I ride the Maple Lawn bus to town on shopping trips, a man in the front always says “We’re off like a herd of turtles!” as we leave the parking lot.

Then others chime in with, “we’re off to the races,” or “off like a dirty shirt.” Then on the return trip, someone always says, “Home James,” to which the driver—whose name is John—replies, “There’s no James here.”

We all chuckle good naturedly, but that led me to questions like, Where do these quaint sayings come from? Why do they endure? How do they become commonly known within a particular culture?

But I’ll leave those questions for another column. Because when I brought the subject up at Pizza Hut recently, where I hang out with my posse after church choir practice, a friend mentioned off-handedly, “wouldn’t it be interesting to write an entire column idiomatically?”

I was dumbfounded! She had thrown down the gauntlet. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, a chance to achieve greatness. I had to see this through to the bitter end. So here it is—my crowning glory or my agonizing defeat—you decide.

A re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, with alternate ending

Long ago, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a prince who was dying to get hitched to a princess; but she had to be the real McCoy, he wasn’t going to settle for just any plain Jane. He gallivanted across the globe looking under every rock and behind every tree, but he came up empty-handed every time.

The earth was crawling with princesses—you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one of them—but it was a whole other kettle of fish, to crack the code and figure out if she were the real deal or simply a gold-digger.

There was always something about them that seemed shady, not quite kosher, off the beam, a little fishy. So he would schlep back to his crib bummed out after each of his failed missions.

He felt like he was tilting at windmills and was ready to throw in the towel. All he wanted was to make the genuine article his main squeeze. But he was bound and determined to follow his quixotic quest to kingdom come or die trying.

One dark and stormy night it was raining cats and dogs and the thunder and lightning were giving a show-stopping display of nature’s fireworks. Out of the blue, came a pounding at the city gate, and the old buzzard, er, I mean, king went to open it.

Lo and behold it was a princess standing out there, bold as brass for all the world to see! But, goodness gracious, she looked like something the cat dragged in—like a drowned rat, death warmed over on a bad day—I mean she was ugly as a mud fence! Her hair looked like wet noodles, and her clothes were hanging off her, sopping wet. Still, she swore up and down, cross her heart and hope to die, that she was a real princess.

“Well, we'll see about that,” thought the old biddy, I mean, queen. She didn’t tip her hand, but she had a plan up her sleeve. She was going to set a trap for the ragamuffin claiming to have royal blood.

The queen wanted to test the theory that real princesses were delicate, but she stacked the deck against the interloper. She went into the guestroom, stripped the bed, and laid a pea on the bottom. Then she took 20 mattresses and laid them on the pea, and then 20 eider-down beds on top of the mattresses.

This is where the princess was expected to lay her head and drift off to slumber land. In the morning, the royal family eagerly asked how she had slept.

"I didn’t sleep a wink!" she exclaimed. "I tossed and turned all night. Heaven knows what was in the bed. I searched high and low, but couldn’t find hide nor hair of the bugger. I don’t know what it was, but it was hard as a rock and sharp as a tack. My body is riddled with bruises—I’m black and blue all over. It stinks!"

They were filled with shock and awe. She had passed with flying colors. Now they were 100 percent sure that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the mountain of mattresses.

So the prince took the princess for his bride and they lived happily ever after, just one big happy family….or did they?

Alternate ending

Once the prince discovered that a marriage to the princess would carry on the royal blood line, he got down on one knee and popped the question on the spot. The princess, however, was having none of that. She put her hands on her hips and said, “whoa, hold your horses, buddy.

“You hardly know me from Eve. And don’t give me that ‘love at first sight’ business, I saw your look of horror when I showed up dripping wet on your doorstep.

“You couldn’t wait to get rid of me, and your mom, here, tried to pull the wool over my eyes with that crazy contraption of a bed. None of you gave me the benefit of the doubt when I insisted I was truly of royal blood.

“Now, if you want me to be your one and only, I suggest we back up a few steps. We’ll start with courting, then you’ll meet the parents. We can take long walks and talk a blue streak, sharing our tastes in music and art, our party affiliations and our thoughts on going green.

“Then if we decide we were made for each other,” she said, holding up her left hand, “you can put a ring on it.”

The prince, who had never met such a forward woman, except perhaps, the queen mum, stood there like a deer caught in the headlights before putting his big boy boxers on. He reared up, squared his shoulders, looked her straight in the eye and said, “OK.” It sounded to him like much ado about nothing, but he thought it prudent not to open that can of worms just yet.

He was really jonesing to grab the brass ring—she was the prize, and he was going to win her hand come hell or high water. Little did he know he had just met his match, and she was going to have him wrapped around her finger before he knew what hit him.

Then they lived happily ever after, or at least stuck to each other like glue, for better or worse, through thick and thin, until the 12th of never…and that’s a long, long time.

[As published in the Woodford County Journal Oct. 7, 2010]

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