Common phrases got me thinking…


By David Lindeman

Contributing columnist

My wife said something to me the other day about someone “eating like a bird.” I was looking out a window at the time, watching a couple birds peck around for something to eat in the yard.

It’s things like this that are a problem for me. I can’t help but wonder, “how much do birds really eat?”

So I looked it up and it turns out birds can eat up to half their body weight each day. Of course, birds don’t weigh much but still, that’s a lot of eating. If a 200-pound person had to eat half his body weight each day, he would be eating 100 pounds of food.

This gives “eating like a bird” a whole new meaning. It also made me start to think of other common phrases we often hear but maybe don’t really understand. Here are a few:

• Sweat like a dog. Or sweat like a pig. Here’s the thing: dogs actually do have sweat glands but they don’t work all that well. That’s why dogs pant all the time in hot weather. Pigs apparently don’t sweat at all, although it’s kind of hard to tell because they’re always rolling around in mud. At any rate, sweating like a dog or a pig would seem to mean you don’t really sweat much, which is opposite of what we think the phrase means.

Footnote: “Sweating like a pig” doesn’t really come from looking at hogs. It started from an iron smelting process that involved pouring hot iron onto sand. However, none of us smelt iron anymore so naturally we think about Miss Piggy or Peppa.

• Sleep like a baby. Ha! Anyone who has ever had a child certainly can tell you this simile must have been invented with a sense of irony. Sure, when a baby is sleeping they look pretty cute and peaceful, but babies hardly ever sleep when you want them to! They’re always waking up at the slightest sound. Then they make a lot of noise to make sure you know they’re awake. If I really slept like a baby, I would be tired all the time.

• Here’s another baby one: as easy as taking candy from a baby. Have you ever tried to take candy from a small child? It’s like trying to pull something from a particularly tight vice — and then if you finally can wrest it away from them, there’s sure to be a commotion your neighbors three blocks away can hear.

• Drink like a fish. This is a tricky one. As I understand it, salt water fish actually do drink water. Fresh water fish do not. All fish take water in through their gills, but ocean-going fish also imbibe from time to time. It has something to do with salt levels in their bodies. So if someone says you drink like a fish, ask them if they mean a salt water fish or a fresh water fish — it makes a difference. If you’re a mackerel, you’d better slow down with the drinks. If you’re a catfish, you’re a regular teetotaler, although I can’t vouch for some of that stuff you’re probably eating.

• Working like a dog. This fits if you happen to be a husky living in Alaska or a junkyard bulldog or maybe a sheepdog working out in the field. But most dogs today don’t do much work. In fact, most of them don’t do any work at all and generally have a better life than the people who “own” them. It seems to me that dogs (and cats) generally are the ones calling the shots in most houses and humans do all the work. Maybe when cats and dogs talk to each other they say something like, “Fido, you’re working like a human!”

• Crazy as a loon. Sure, loons make some pretty strange sounds but I would guess to another loon it all seems pretty normal. There’s no evidence that loons are actually mentally unstable. In fact, loons — and most birds — seem to be more sane than many humans I know.

You get the idea. A person could become as mad as a hatter thinking about this, so I’m just going to stop — until my wife walks by and says something like, “Cat got your tongue?” Now, where do you suppose that came from …

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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