They Say

Let me begin this tome with a couple of what I call, “Poirot-isms.”  Hercule Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective, the brainchild of British mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

Poirot once said of himself, “he does not listen to this they.”   I take that to mean, that maybe we shouldn’t listen to what “they say,” unless “they” can be identified, to justify their point of view.  Who is “this they” anyway?

They say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  This was a medieval French phrase from c. 1190, but was made popular in Latin and English by English playwright John Heywood (1538), and included, “but they were laying bricks every hour.”  Think on that.

They say, “never meet your heroes.”  This one is interesting, and it might be applicable to the concept of fame, as well.  There is a line in Madame Bovary (published in 1856) in French of course, but translated to English: “You should never touch your idols: a little of the gold always rubs off.”  American writer, Erica Jong explains the concept of fame similarly, “fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are.”

They say, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Jerome K. Jerome (1899), said this was a mischievous untruth that silly women believed, as they lost love in the parlor while wasting time in the kitchen.

They say, “marriages are made in heaven.”  Sixteenth century English writer and playwright, John Lyly concluded this saying with, “but consummated on earth.”  Clint Eastwood, famously couldn’t help himself, repeating the beginning of the verse, but concluding with “but so is thunder and lightning.” 

They say, “love is blind.”  In 1405 Chaucer, in The Merchant’s Tale gave us this saying which has been repeated by go zillions of keenly observant every-people.  Nietzsche added, “but friendship closes its eyes.”  Ponder that one.

Back to Poirot, after his sidekick, Hastings said, “It’s a thing…,” Poirot, in his famous third-person voice said, “Do you think Poirot concerns himself with mere thingness?”  I might question Poirot on this matter, in that most folks who observe the human condition, observe one thingness after another.

The concept of, “it’s a thing,” has apparently been around since at least the fourteenth century.  We’ve just added our cultural twist on this thing and that thing, making everything seem new.

Speaking of cultural twists on language, you’ve heard it said, “this is that.”  I said it even yesterday, in a note.  When referring to something of the past, and to bring it into the present memory, we say, “this is that.”

Hastings said, “Well, that’s that.”  To which, Poirot commented, “This is by no means that.”  Admitting that something is at an end, that it’s over, finished, or done, is too finite for some.  We prefer infinite possibilities.

 “That’s about the size of it.”  When we want to validate someone’s assessment about a relatively negative situation, we affirm them with this statement.  In short, we’re saying, “yep.”  I’ve noticed in French language television, that when they’re saying yeah, like we say yeah, they shorten the formal yes (oui, pronounced, “we”) to the informal and shortened (“way”).  Just sayin.

It is said that during World War II, some Dear John letters were pages long, with explanations galore as to why she was ending her relationship with him.  Other letters, reminiscent of today’s cryptic, break-up text messages, consisted of Dear John, and that’s all she said.  The joke that went around in the forties about that latter letter, was “That’s all she wrote.”  Ha-ha.

In the immortal words of Porky Pig, “th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

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