The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Old Sayings Everyone Heard From Their Mother

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

Do you know the old sayings I'm referring too? They were the ones we heard hundreds of times. The ones we hear ourselves repeating to our children automatically. They were the catch-phrases we grew up with. Benjamin Franklin was famous for inventing phrases like, "A penny saved is a penny earned." But most of the phrases of wisdom, we learned at our mother's knee.

Probably the most well known one was, "Shut the door. You weren't raised in a barn." Sound familiar? How many times did you hear that one?

These phrases are like a stroll down memory lane. As you think of one, another will pop into your mind. When you came complaining to your mother you would hear, "Don't cry over spilled milk." Or if you came with hurt feelings, you might hear, "You look like someone licked the stripe off your candy cane."

Were you ever told you were acting, "as mad as an old wet setting hen?" Or that you had "a bee in your bonnet" or "a bur under your saddle?" Everyone has had something that "rubbed you the wrong way."

When you had a small mishap and came to Mother with a spot on your dress or a torn out hem, you might hear, "Oh well, it will never be seen on a galloping horse." If you did something wrong more than once you would hear, "If a dog bites you once it's his fault. If it bites you again, it's your fault."

When we complained at the results of something we had done, we were told, "You made your bed, now you'll have to lie in it."

If someone caused trouble, they were, "kicking up a whirlwind" or "stirring up a hornet's nest." To comfort someone who was having trouble, you told them, "It's always darkest just before the dawn."

If we couldn't keep a secret, we were, "trying to shut the barn door after the horses were already out."

If we were greedy at the dinner table, we were asked, "What happened to the last biscuit, did the cat get it?"

In my family, if my sister and I were acting too cocky, my mother said we were, "Acting as big as Bruce." I have heard of other families saying similar things, only using names other than "Bruce." I never did find out who Bruce was. I suppose I never will. But I knew what Mother meant when she said it.

Then there were the phrases referring to matters of love, and it took us a while to learn their mysterious meaning - phrases like, "Once burned, twice shy." People who "wed young, repent in leisure; wed late, repent in haste."

When teenagers were kicking up their heels, they were, "sowing wild oats" or parents referred to the teenage years as "fool's hill." Everyone was assured of being all right after they "got over fool's hill."

If something seemed to good to be true, Mother would say, "That's too much sugar for a cent."

Colleges teach classes on philosophy, but we got a large dose of it everyday in everyday words and phrases that stuck in our minds and carried on to the next generation. Some people call them "platitudes" and say they're not worth anything. We who grew up with these old phrases know different.

If I've missed some of your favorite phrases, just send them in and we'll print them at a later date.