If you don’t want me looking, then don’t go showing.

Once there was an artist who spent a great deal of effort creating a marvelous 3D work of art. The artist carefully selected paints and fabrics and materials, then spent hours combining it all into a masterpiece that the artist happily brought down to a busy city street.

The artist sat back on a bench to see how the work would be received. Soon someone walked by the structure and paused, squinting her eyes as if jealous. To this reaction, the artist smiled in smug satisfaction.

Others walked by completely ignoring the piece, and to that the artist harrumphed, insulted.

Still others came by and stopped, amazed. Some even got closer and said things such as, “Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you do that?”

The artist evaluated those people before deciding how to react to their admiration. Sometimes the artist explained in great detail, or even showed off a bit more of the work, or—if the artist didn’t deem the observer worth the time—would simply shrug them away and watch for more interesting observers.

Occasionally a particular person walked by, and the artist sat up taller, hoping that the work of art would capture that person’s attention. Indeed, the entire project was intended solely in hooking that someone just like that.

However, another group stopped along that busy street, and stared and gawked at the work, to which the artist shrieked and shouted, “What do you think you’re doing? Get away! Get away! Don’t look!” The group, surprised and thinking that the art was there for everyone, sneered and left, but a few glanced back with sniggers and an unwelcomed comment or two.

By now you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is wrong with that artist?” The piece of art was set out deliberately on display for everyone to see, so why did the artist respond in different ways to different people? And why, especially, the insistence that some people do NOT look?

Now, imagine the artist as a woman instead, and the piece of art she created is herself—dressed up, painted up, sexed up. She’s spent hours putting herself together, and then by walking out in public, she puts herself on display.

This is something I’ve never understood, even though I’ve been a woman for 45 years: women want to be looked at, but only by certain people?

–If other women look at the artist-woman, with envy and even a bit of hatred, the artist-woman feels special, even a bit vindicated because she’s become an object that other women wished to aspire to.

–If the artist-woman feels appreciated by those who look at her, she’ll occasionally tell where she purchased that awesome top, or give away her secrets for those lush eyelashes—but only to those she deems worthy.

–And if the right man notices her—watch out. What will occur then will be a displaying ritual that would put a peacock or a sage grouse to shame. The woman-artist will preen and strut and bend over and giggle and toss her hair—usually within seconds—all in an attempt to be “noticed.”

–However, if they’re the wrong kind of man, someone the artist-woman doesn’t find attractive (overweight, too old, too young, too ugly, too short, etc.) and he bothers to look, to comment, to even suggest dinner that night, suddenly she cries foul and even claims sexual harassment.

In any other situation, this rationale would border on psychosis—a split personality: you can stare at me, but he can’t.

The moment the artist-woman stepped out of her home, she put herself on display. And once she does that, she cannot pick and choose whose gazes she’ll welcome, and whose she won’t. It’s prejudice on the part of the woman to try to get the attention of one kind of man, but not the other, and even more duplicitous to press charges against one man for doing the same thing another did, but happened to be sexy enough to get away with it.

(Click on the photo for a link to the article. Sorry about these half-naked girls. They give me the creeps, too.)

Take, for example, the recent situation at the San Diego ComCon, where a number of women (Geeks for CONsent) were upset that people stared at them (you’re in a crazy costume!), took pictures of them (because you’re in a crazy costume!), and even groped (Ok, THAT’S crossing the line, I agree). (Click here to see some more of those costumes, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

However, if you’ve even been to one of these conventions, you’ll realize that costumes (cosplay) is a big factor of the event, and people take pictures of each other in admiration of the effort that went into the elaborate outfit, or in hope to recreate the same costume some day, or because they’re shocked that someone would go out in public dressed in Princess Leia’s Jabba the Hut gold bikini set. Again, touching is NOT ok, but really—you’re going to throw a fit because you created a piece of art that people follow around to admire and take pictures of? So why did you put that art on display in the first place?

When you put yourself on display, you can’t control who looks at you, or how, or why. You have the freedom to show off, but you don’t have the freedom to control others’ reactions to you.

That’d be me there, on the left, in the shadow where I couldn’t frighten small children.

Believe it or not, all women are not ogled all the time. Being a frumpy, lumpy middle-aged woman, (I’d have to dress up as Jabba’s female counterpart, Gardulla, if I went to Comic Con) I don’t have this problem at all, so the argument can be made that I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

However, I have beautiful daughters, and as a writer I’m also a people watcher (actually, I’m sort of a Dr. Frankenstein: I stalk people and steal from them physical and personality traits that eventually get pieced together to make up my characters).

What I’ve noticed is this: some females believe that they are being watched—all the time. While this is generally a teenaged trait, even some grown women are still narcissistic enough to believe every man is obsessed with her. Even if a hapless male just glances in their direction, perhaps mistaking them for someone else, or trying to find the quickest route through the store, these females automatically label him a “perv,” while unconsciously still trying to get attention. I’ve observed this behavior enough to realize that 99% of the time, no male was actively looking at the female, but that’s not how the female sees it.

People look at each other all the time. Usually, it means nothing more than, “I don’t want to crash into you,” or “You’re blocking my view of the menu.”

But I’ve observed something else that goes back to my rant last week about feeling guilt: if women feel uncomfortable with others “seeing” them, then they’re likely not dressed appropriately.  At some level, they are self-conscious; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so overly sensitive to others seeing them. (Even Carrie Fisher was very uncomfortable in her Princess Leia gold bikini get-up.)

Here’s something to consider: If you feel uncomfortable in how you’re dressed, and if you think others staring at you because of how you’re dressed, maybe you shouldn’t be dressed that way.

As I wrote last week, often we think we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about things; the same thing happens here. The women’s movement from decades ago convinced us that we should be able to dress as skankily as we want and not suffer from any consequences.

Not so.

The women I know who feel uncomfortable and fear they’re being watched do so because—I suspect–deep down they feel inappropriate. Our bodies are gifts—marvelous creations of our Heavenly Father that He wants us to keep as a treasure: sacred and respected. Think about anything you truly love and admire; usually, you keep those things protected and safeguarded. You don’t go running around showing it off everywhere, because that cheapens it, sets it up to be denigrated by those who don’t appreciate it as much as you do, and also leaves it open to be stolen and abused.

The same thing should go for our bodies. No, I’m not a prude; I have nine children, and enjoy the process of getting them. But I don’t have to show off my assets to prove that I have them, nor do I expose parts of me for . . . honestly, I really don’t know why women show off their bodies to the world at large. I don’t understand why they insist on taking something so personal, so private, so potentially marvelous, and turn it into something average, like turning gold into aluminum.

Now, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not blaming women for the abuse they may suffer by men. There is no free card for allowing rape, or groping, or not accepting “No!” as an answer. Men are solely responsible for their actions. But women—we have to admit, as uncomfortable as it may make us—sometimes, we go advertising. So we can’t claim to be surprised when someone answers those ads.

No matter what your cultural/religious/ethnic upbringing, I believe there is something inborn in every female that wants to protect her body and keep it private and sacred, to be shared with only one chosen person in the right ways and at the right times.

But every time we females shove that instinct down, and instead insist that we can—and even should—flaunt that which should be kept precious, we create a conflict within us.

That conflict is the root of our anger, of our frustration, of our guilt, and of our tears. I’ll go so far as to suggest this anger, which we so often throw at others who leer and whistle and even grope inappropriately, is misplaced anger.

Our anger, really, is with ourselves, because we cheapened ourselves first, and gave the world permission to gawk.

If we don’t want people looking, we shouldn’t go showing.

     Sareen, beaming and bouncing, with her tunic still embarrassingly low, kneeled in front of Shem in obeisance.
     Then he had no choice but to look down at Sareen.
     Mahrree considered the angle and winced in empathy for Shem. Sareen had made sure she planted herself right where she could make the most of her exposed—
    “Oh honestly, Sareen!” Mahrree murmured in exasperation. “Where’s your cloak?”
     Despite the chill in the air, Sareen seemed determined to show Shem exactly what she had to offer. Not surprisingly, several soldiers had converged around Shem to share in the view.
      . . . For the moment, Sareen was happy for the attention that, someday, she’d realize she didn’t really want.   ~Book 2, Soldier at the Door

Don’t judge me=I’m already feeling guilty

Some time ago I came to the realization that whenever someone throws out the “Don’t judge me!” line, it’s because at some level they suspect that they’re in the wrong, but they’re not ready to admit it, and certainly not ready to resolve it, and would rather that everyone STOP REMINDING THEM about it.

It’s called GUILT, and for some reason we often think we shouldn’t have to deal with that emotion.

My most amoral character agrees:

“Man’s greatest weakness! Guilt, regret, feeling bad about behavior . . . It’s a forced condition, you know, shame about a misdeed. A behavior taught to humans that can, and must, be overcome. Ignore it long enough, it dies away as simple as that . . . Humans abuse themselves. With guilt. With regret. It holds them back, makes them feel as if they owe some duty to others, as if there should be some level of behavior all should aspire to. Well, there isn’t! 
~Chairman Nicko Mal, Soldier at the Door

Well, there is!

And my, do we hate it when someone tries to remind us that the purpose of our lives isn’t to indulge ourselves and hope there aren’t any consequences.

I first encountered this very weak logic back in high school in the 1980s, when punk music hit the US. I had a few friends embrace the culture, dyeing their hair black and using a bottle of mousse each morning to make it stand up straight, putting spikes on every inch of clothing, then scowling when people stared at them.

“Don’t judge me!” I never understood that; they purposely put themselves on display, then didn’t expect people to look?

As a senior in high school I became grunge before Kurt Cobain made a name for himself. I wore holey jeans, didn’t bother with make-up, spent only 5 minutes on my hair (and yes, a few boys commented that I needed to “do something with it”—which pronouncement meant they weren’t boys I’d ever be interested in) and I did so for a purpose. I wanted to prove that I didn’t care about my appearance, but wanted to focus only on trying to get a scholarship (since I hadn’t been the best student for the first 11 years of schooling). Yes, people looked at me–this was the height of preppiness; watch “The Cosby Show” to see how I should have been dressing–and I rather enjoyed it. It was also a good test for my vanity; am I still worthy, even though I don’t “look worthy.” I was trying to make a point, and I made it. Judge me! Go ahead!

Social media has given us even more ways to stand up and be judged, or to scream, “Stop judging me!” Today I read Matt Walsh’s blog on why Christian women should hate Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll state right now that I think the novel is women’s porn, so I agreed completely with his position.

However, the real lesson is in the comments, as it always is; scattered among the remarks of “Thanks for stating what I always suspected about that horrible book,” were phrases such as, “Hey, nothing wrong with reading about a little sex,” or “So what if I like a little excitement in my books?” and, most common among the dissenters: “Don’t judge me based on what I read! How can you be a Christian and be so judgmental?”

Ah-ha . . . someone’s conscious has been pricked, yet again. If they didn’t feel any guilt, they wouldn’t be justifying themselves, and in the huge social media presence of Matt Walsh, no less. There, for thousands of readers to see, they declare their stance yet demand that no one judge them. How very odd.

Weird Al, Mandatory Fun, Word Crimes, Grammarly

I have no doubt a few grammar Nazis wished they could find a similar uniform.

I see pricks of guilt and judgment everywhere on the Internet, and it always tells much more about the responder than what they respond to. For example, Weird Al Yankovic just came out with a brilliant parody about common grammatical errors, and Grammarly interviewed him about it. Again, the great lesson was in the responses to the interview, because poor Al accidentally used the pronoun “that” instead of “who.”

Oh, there’s no group more self-righteous and unforgiving than Grammar Nazis. (I’ve ranted about them here. Grammar snobs put the Pharisees of Christ’s time to shame.) These responders, instead of appreciating the incredible work of Weird Al, which he shares freely on YouTube so that all of us English teachers can kill another five minutes of class time; instead of being grateful that someone with a greater sense of humor has taken up the grammar cause; no, instead of applauding him, Grammar Nazis vilified him:

“People that know me … people that still haven’t figured out” 😦 And he thinks he’s a grammar nerd. <shaking my head>
[As of this is some kind of special club, and he just violated its most sacred rule.]

I, too, was shocked to see that he used that instead of who. 
[Yes, she actually wrote “shocked.”]

Fortunately there was some reason among the rabble:

Alright, everybody caught the “that/who” error. He’s still a satirical genius. Disagreement with that proposition is dissent up with which I shall not put.

Judgment is everywhere on the Internet, and just as we’re quick to not have people point out our faults, we’re even quicker to point them out in others. I think that’s because when we’re feeling guilty, the fastest way to assuage that guilt is to point out how someone is guiltier than us.

For example, I read an article about a woman who recycles clothing from a thrift store, updates it, then donates it back. I was amazed and humbled to realize she’d done over 700 pieces. I can sew (sort of), but it never occurred to me to use that minimal talent in such a generous and creative way.

Again, the lesson was in the comments. There were plenty of judgments which, I suspect, arose out of guilt.

“Look at the photos—she’s just shortening the hems and sleeves. That’s nothing too special.”
[And yet, still likely more than you did.]

“She’s only taking fat clothes and turning them skinny.”
[And what have you done?]

“As a plus-size woman, I take offense that she’s reducing the amount of clothing that would fit me, making it for skinnier girls. They already have plenty of clothes . . .”
[Seriously, she wrote, “I take offense.”]

And on, and on.

What I don’t think people realize is how transparent they are, how they give the world a telling image of themselves through their comments. Invariably, the more defensive people become, the guiltier they demonstrate themselves to be. I find myself cringing at their responses, pitying them that they’d expose themselves so freely and easily, showing the world their self-centeredness and pettiness.

Oh, he’s not getting out. Trust me.

It’s the old crabs in a bucket. If any tries to climb out, the rest drag it down, until eventually the crabs have torn each other into pieces. We envy others who dare to climb higher, feel guilty that we’re not doing likewise, don’t want them looking down at us from above in judgment, so we drag them back down and tear them apart with our criticism.

Now, I realize that what I’m doing here is also criticizing, on the Internet, and demonstrating my own transparency. I’m judging and doing all of the same things I’m nagging about here. I’m not going to rationalize away my post, but I will draw a distinction: our society is very loath to declare something “moral” or “immoral.” You want to see declarations of “Don’t judge me!” fly? Then make a declaration of what’s right or what’s wrong. Oh, they’ll be coming out of the woodwork like termites exposed to sunshine to come after you.

Yet, this is what we must do:  make evaluations—of products, of ideas, of media, of people—in order to recognize the strengths and weaknesses, the logic and fallacies, the truth and errors, and publicly declare what we have recognized.

And then, this is very important, then do NOT be offended at what comes back at us. If we’re going to be brave enough to take a stand, we have to remain brave enough to let people see us standing there.

As a practicing Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in the Judeo-Christian beliefs of accountability to a higher Being, in following the 10 Commandments, in realizing that life isn’t about getting what I want and when I want it, but in serving others first. It’s crucial for me to recognize what elements in society detract me from pursuing my chosen lifestyle, therefore I not only read about but also comment on those elements.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—we must also be honest with ourselves as to WHY we are making these public evaluations, these statements of “this is bad, and this is good.”

  • Are we doing so because we are truly concerned about the direction of our society, and we want to point out the slippery slopes to help our friends and family avoid them?
  • Or are we critical online because it gives us a sense of superiority?
  • Because we displace our guilt when we shame others?
  • Because we’re merely crabs in a bucket, unwilling to let anyone else rise higher?

And when we decide–and it is a decision–that we are “offended,” we also need to be honest as to why.

  • Has someone pricked our conscience?
  • Demonstrated where we’ve strayed from our personal yardstick of acceptable behavior?
  • Were we looking for a reason to hate “X” or shun “Y” and so we’ve chosen to be offended?

Sometimes we swing that word around proudly, as if being “offended” is some kind of virtue.

Personally, I think it’s a weakness. Years ago I heard someone state this philosophy, and I’ve taken it as my own: “You cannot offend me, for I simply refuse to take your criticism, to see your opinion as overriding my own, to give your hurtful words any room in my mind. If I am right with God, then I needn’t worry about where you think I am wrong.”

(Yeah, it’s a lot like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” but a bit more eloquent.)

I’m not saying I live this philosophy perfectly—I took a beating from trolls not too long ago that really tested my resolve—but I’ve found that when someone says something that threatens to offend me, it’s usually because they’ve knocked something inside of me that I’ve tried to hide, like C.S. Lewis’s proverbial rats in the attic that we’re shocked to discover, but were always there, hiding despite our attempts to ignore them.

Over the years I’ve learned to not blast those “stupid people!” in online forums, but I instead I retreat to my closet, get on my knees, and ask where I should be doing better.

And I’ve also realized that God’s criticism is much gentler, more instructive, and more uplifting than any arguments I engage in on the Internet.

In the meantime, I appreciate those who state boldly their opinions on issues that concern me. Even if they declare, “There’s really nothing wrong with a little bit of porn,” I’m grateful, because then I know who I need to distance myself from in the future.

Who decides what your children are taught?

Question: Who should be in charge of your child’s education—the school board, or the federal government?

While you chew on that, allow me to introduce you to a concept from classical rhetoric, called the “logical fallacy.” There are dozens of ways in which information is presented to an audience that screws up the logic—either accidentally or purposefully, in order to manipulate—leaving no one the better informed.

The question I posed at the beginning? We call that a “false dilemma.” There are only two options provided, so it’s a trick question.

The answer should be, NEITHER.

school board visit

When was the last time you heard of a school board visiting an actual classroom?

Who’s responsible for being in charge of your child’s education? It should be YOU!
Years ago, it was. Ever read the “Little House on the Prairie” series? Remember how the school boards came to be?

They were parents of the students, usually over a very limited region, such as a neighborhood or small town, and that board selected the teachers. Not only that, they told the teachers what they wanted their children to learn. If the parents didn’t approve of what the teacher was doing for their children, the teacher was booted out, leaving the parents and the school board to choose someone else more apt to meeting the individual needs of their unique children.

Tragically, we lost that system less than 150 years ago.

Why is that tragic? Because what’s replaced it is so massive and bloated that it cares nothing about your individual child’s needs, but is focused entirely on achieving goals to ensure that this country is producing workers to keep it competitive. Yes, that sounds dismal and even callous, but it’s the truth. No longer are we worried about developing the thought and knowledge of individuals, but in getting those individuals to conform to a group that we can more easily place in order to improve our economic standing. It’s all about money now, not about developing people. (I’ve ranted previously about that here and here.)

And it’s no coincidence that Common Core Curriculum, funded a great deal by Bill Gates, relies the old tried-and-failed assembly line system of education. (We’ve known for over a hundred years that all children can’t be successfully “produced” like a tool, but someone failed to let Gates—the creator of Windows 8—know that.)

Just getting the teenagers to pass the Final Administrative Competency Test—which over the years had been so simplified and leading in its questions that Mahrree often thought a sheep had a fair shot at passing it if only it could hold a quill to mark the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ boxes—was the purpose of education now.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

I bring all of this up because, once again, Common Core is in the news. As I write this (July 2014) a few states have abandoned it, reclaiming the right to educate their students according to the children’s needs (although state and even local school boards are still too big to be effectual). However, I live in a state notorious for spending very little per child (as if funding=educational excellence, another fallacy no one wants to address) and lately there’s been a spate of letters to the editors, and newspaper articles trying to defend it.

Just today I read one from a new school teacher eager for her first year of teaching, and enthralled with the idea of Common Core. She insisted all children surely can achieve at the same rates and levels, and I shook my head in sympathy. All of her naïve and optimistic enthusiasm would be drained by, I’m guessing, October.

However, I couldn’t help but notice, based on her letter, that she’d been very well indoctrinated by the educational department of her university, and I suspected that a variety of logical fallacies were likely employed to do so.

Mahrree realized some time ago that she was now the only teacher not enamored with the government’s control of education, likely because all of the teachers around her had gone through the Department of Instruction’s very thorough instruction, and were wholly converted to the notion that government knows best.
~Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

Does this come across as harsh?

Not any harsher than what I overheard a few weeks ago. I signed up my grade school children for some afternoon summer camps at the local elementary, and while waiting for them to finish their projects, I overheard one new teacher talking to another, slightly more seasoned. The new teacher said something like this:

“I’m really struggling to get some of these kids into the rubrics. I feel like I’m not representing them correctly. For example, last year I had a handful of kids easily complete tasks, earning them a score of ‘1.’ But then I had others that I had to cajole, bring back on task, then have them correct their work over and over until they finally got it right. [sigh of exasperation from the teacher] Yet on the matrices, they also earned a ‘1.’ But that’s just not fair, in my eyes. They shouldn’t receive that score because of how much work went behind it. [And in my mind I’m thinking, ‘Hey, sounds like they earned that grade more than those who achieved it easily.’ But wait—here comes the kicker:] So how do I force these kids into the right places on the district rubrics?”

Yes, that’s right; where do I shove them on the form? It was clear by his tone and gesturing that he really didn’t want to have to deal with children that didn’t easily complete the tasks, because they were skewing his rubrics, matrices, or whatevers.

But worse than that, his worry was not on meeting the needs of the students, but on meeting the needs of the school district administrators.

Stunned by the rather formulaic and cold manner in which the teachers proceeded to discuss the categorization of children, I didn’t say a word and pretended I didn’t overhear their conversation. (Besides, I’ve learned the hard way when to shut my mouth.) But that discussion hasn’t left my mind.

Why wasn’t the new teacher asking about why some of the kids struggled?
Why wasn’t he worried that many had to be cajoled, and brought back to task over and over?
Doesn’t that signal levels of boredom? Frustration? Is no one worried about that?
And since when did achieving something easily become the benchmark we embrace? There’s a great deal more learned in the struggle, in the revision, in overcoming an obstacle to finally get it right. We’re not celebrating that anymore? Apparently there’s no space on the form for, “Breakthrough Achievement: mastered the 3 times tables, after two long, difficult months. Celebrating all around.”
Oh, but there should be!

Over the years I’ve met several teachers who, having started their careers back in the early 1980s, have abandoned teaching before retirement age because, they told me, “It wasn’t fun anymore.” By that they meant, the joy was gone; they couldn’t read to their students (I remember listening to my teachers reading us novels up to an hour a day; yes, Little House on the Prairie), or develop crafty projects to reinforce lessons, or do messy but interesting science experiments. Greater demands from those furthest away from the actual children have siphoned off the elements of happiness—and learning CAN be a happy thing!—leaving these teachers depressed and worried for their students.

Most of these bright-eyed and optimistic teachers felt certain every student could be coerced into learning, but in a few years they, too, would slump into the same dreariness Mahrree witnessed in older teachers who knew the system didn’t work, but whose only power against it was to leave it. Maybe they, too, at some point remembered the time when parents directed learning, when students asked the questions, and when ideas were discussed, not forced.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

The worst part is, even after years and years of reforms, our educational system has NOT improved, and we are outpaced by dozens of countries. There are far too many studies to prove it. Google them, and join in the depression.

Then again, that was a generation ago now, and the only class Mahrree knew of that broke all of the lecture-regurgitation rules was her own group full of “special cases:” the students no one wanted because no one could handle them.

Occasionally Mahrree speculated that if she had additional “difficult” students to educate in her own way, that she just might have enough to foment a full rebellion.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

More and more I’m thinking, that’s not such a bad idea . . . In fact, it may eventually become the only option. And I’m making sure my kids are ready for it.

Idioms for idiots

Because hats don’t weave themselves. ~Sergeant Beneff (Book 3 “The Mansions of Idumea”)

In books 3 and 4 I have a character named Beneff who has an idiomatic problem with idioms. I wrote him, in part, as an homage to my father, who was intensely frustrated by American idioms: those phrases that everyone understands, even though they frequently make no sense.

Here’s a typical conversation my father would have with anyone who’d listen:
“Why do Americans say ‘Back and forth’? How can one go back without first going forth? It should be, ‘Forth and back’.”

Dad, a German immigrant, would sincerely ask this of everyone, looking for a logical answer, while I, as a child, would look for a convenient exit.

People would give my dad an uncomfortable smile that said, Have you taken an unusual medications today? before they’d shrug and say, “I . . . never thought of that before.”

After all, cows know how to smell the sunset. ~Beneff

However, almost always these innocent bystanders in our neighborhood/church/grocery store would later find my dad and say, “You know, you’re right! I’ve been thinking about it for days/weeks/months, and we say that wrong.”

But it’s still “back and forth” despite my dad’s aggressive reeducation programs.

dad confused

My dear father, making the face he usually did when confused by something, usually English.

And it’s still “Head over heels in love,” too, despite my father’s protests to the contrary. “Your head is ALWAYS over your heels! It should be, ‘Heels over head in love.’ Who came up with these things?”

Because if the boot leaks, check with the bakers. ~Beneff

That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Where idioms come from? I found it quite easy to generate a number of Beneff-idioms that almost make sense, all in one afternoon during a particularly dull church service. And sometimes I wonder if that isn’t where some of our stranger phrases came from: the mind of someone slightly overheated, trapped on a bench, wrestling with a bored toddler. But there’s no definitive answer as to why we’re stuck with phrases that, even if you think you understand the context, still are illogical.
(Fathom out “whole nine yards”; I dare you.)

Over the years I’ve realized my father—now in his 80s and suffering from Alzheimer’s—was right. He became quite fluent in English, so much so that it’s still his remembered language, and not German. Once when I was a child he pointed out a butterfly and said, “Someone in English got that wrong, too; it should be a ‘flutterby’.”

(However, considering that German word for butterfly is “Schmetterling,” which sounds like something you need to whack repeatedly with a baseball bat to keep it down, I don’t think German is all that superior to English.)

After all, when the birds fly, it’s time to count the bushes. ~Beneff


(My mom certainly didn’t think he looked “bad.”)

Dad’s frustration with English began when he first came to America in 1953 as an eager 22-year-old, hoping for a new life after WWII. He’d been practicing his English, and when he went through immigration in New York, he was relieved all of his papers were in order. The agent inspecting them handed them back to my dad, who promptly and properly thanked him, to which the man responded, “You bad!”

My dad was stunned to be labeled so quickly, and that the man was smiling at him when he declared my father bad. For days my dad was shaken by this, and even heard other Americans declaring “You bad.” Finally, he realized that it wasn’t “You bad,” but “You bet!”

And that confused him even more.

Soon Dad connected with a relative, and mentioned this strange phrase to him. His relative explained that “You bet” was a weird American way of saying “You’re welcome.”

“But I don’t understand; they want me to bet? Bet what? I’m not a betting man!”

My father’s first few weeks in America were a bit stressful, as you can imagine.

As the wind blows, so squirrels are to trees. ~Beneff

All kinds of phrases flummoxed him:

“Why is dropping a hat making you do something faster?”

“But cutting mustard is easy!”

“Rule of thumb . . . well, my thumb is exactly one inch wide.”

“Hold your horses . . . hey, I understand that.” (And he used it a lot.)

But he always blushed whenever he said, “I’m pooped!” because he was never quite too sure about that one.

Anyone learning a second language is appropriately bewildered by idioms, and as a college student trying to learn German, I went to my dad for help with some of his native tongue’s idioms. But we both gave up.

“Look, we say ‘bite the sour apple’ and you say ‘bite the bullet’,” my dad tried to explain. “How is that more logical?”

“But I don’t think they mean the same thing,” I countered.

“Sure they do! They both mean, ‘Later, you’ll have to go to the doctor.’”

Twenty-five years later I’m still wondering about that.

And then there’s my German mother who, for years, thought the phrase “You’re crazy,” was “You’re grazy.” One day she confided to me, “I don’t even know what the word ‘grazy’ means, and I can’t find it in the dictionary.”


After 50 years of marriage, my mom was more than happy give her business to local bakeries, or her children.

She’s also the woman who, frustrated after failing yet again to master a pie crust, yelled, “Who came up with that phrase, ‘Easy as pie’? That’s a stupid idiom, and an even stupider dessert . . . get me some chocolate!”

Because that’s not a pig clucking. ~Beneff