As I was telling someone the other day about my daughter’s refusal to try different kinds of food, but that she did try an egg roll the other day in a Chinese restaurant. I finished my story by saying, knock on wood. Which prompted me to begin thinking of such phrases that I’ve heard growing up that my mother used.
Knock on Wood, is something that is used in every culture. It is held that in ancient times, it was believed that spirits either lived in trees, or guarded them. Because tree worship dated back for thousands of years, it is thought that knocking on wood was a request for the favors of the spirits who lived in trees. As well, Irish folklore has it that Touching wood, is a way to thank the leprechauns for a bit of luck. In Christian times, touching the wooden cross, on which Jesus was crucified presumably received the protection of Jesus’ spirit.
In ancient Syria it was said that, If you have the spices, it is easy to spice your food. The saying was, and is, used when someone who is wealthy build a fabulous mansion. Thus, if you have the means, you can do anything you want.
A good story teller is someone who is known to spice his stories, that is, we don’t take some one’s stories seriously.
Not everything white is cheese, nor is everything dark a date, is a saying that directs one to be sure to check things out before you believe them. In more modern times, Groucho Marx was heard to have said, are you going to believe me, or your eyes?
The eyes eat before the mouth, is a phrase that we all know to be true. If you make your meal very presentable, you will inspire hunger in your guests.
Feed the mouth, close the eyes. This phrase is meant to explain that if you have a good friend, he or she won’t see your faults. There is also an old explanation of why people close their eyes when they kiss. Presumably the kissers won’t see the faults of the kisses, thereby enjoying the kiss more.
If you interfere between the onion and its skin, only a bad smell will result. Meaning, we suppose, stay out of other people’s business. Don’t interfere in other people’s arguments to avoid being stung. We have always heard stories about a third party stepping between a husband and wife during a violent argument. Most usually, the third party ends up being attacked by the combined anger of the two former opposing spouses.
Eat lunch and take a nap. Eat dinner and take a walk, is advice we could all use. Because we generally sleep not long after dinner, the calories will stay with us longer, so a walk, according to this phrase, will help keep us slender.
Nobody describes his own olive oil as tasting badly. We rarely are able to see our own faults, no matter which culture in which we live. Thus, the allusion to olive oil presumably began in the Middle East where olive oil is a staple both of agriculture and of life.
A pot has found its lid, meaning that somehow, people will somehow find their own match. Not always meant to be a compliment, this phrase is usually meant to be critical of two people with the same faults who find each other. When we see recently married people, we sometimes marvel at how much alike they are. And when we see couples who have been married for decades, we also marvel at how much they begin to look alike.
Obviously there are hundreds of phrases that apply to food, such as, cool as a cucumber, going cold turkey, he knows on which side his bread is buttered, and chewing the fat. It would be a fascinating study, except for the space limitations. But suffice it to say that most cultures have these old trite sayings that are handed down through the ages, some of them quite interesting.