Sunday, November 18, 2007

Don't hedgehog your bets, and other helpful advice

At work the other day, somebody was saying, "A. has been badgering B. all week, so B called A back...". Although they probably meant that B was being persistently annoyed by A all week, I immediately had an image of A hurling live badgers at B until they got a response. And let's face it, throwing badgers at someone would be annoying. (Not just for the badgers - for the people, too)

I then got thinking about other phrases like this. If you or I are described as being 'dogged by rumours', it could either mean that

a) we are annoyed by stubborn rumours,

or b) that those rumours have actually turned us into a dog.

Although, in the case of b), to be entirely accurate, you would have to say that you or I have been "Beagled by persistent rumours", or "Poodled by persistent rumours," or "Chihuahuaed by persistent rumours," or even "Braque du Bourbonnaised by persistent rumours."

When we 'beaver away' at something, this is commonly understood as applying ourselves to a task with thoroughness and hard work. Though it could mean that we are simply giving birth to beavers while supposedly applying ourselves to the task. "How is the photocopying going, Fred?" someone would ask. "Oh, I'm beavering away," Fred would say as another beaver wriggles out of his shirt. Or, as was recently pointed out to me, you can 'squirrel something away' as well: meaning that you either store it away or put it in charge of an official at the local Squirrel Bank.

And so it goes. People who sell things in the street are sometimes described as 'hawking their wares' (turning them into hawks?) Cowardly people are 'chickens', though I'm not sure how many develop feathers and lay eggs. People who gloat are 'crowing', so it's good to encourage others not to crow too much: otherwise they might turn into one.

And who knows? Maybe there was a time in the development of the English language when burghers in various villages and hamlets and homesteads would throw badgers at one another, or go about beagling or chihuahuaing their friends, or spontaneously give birth to beavers. It's undoubtedly something for the etymologists out there to look into.

Though I wouldn't hedge, or even hedgehog, my bets on it - the currency would have an annoying habit of crawling away (or possibly sprouting foliage.)


colonel eggroll said...

That official from the squirrel bank looks very trustworthy. It must be his fedora.

Ampersand Duck said...

so, when are you going to write your first children's book? This is just the sort of stuff kids need to be thinking about as they learn our very odd language.

Shelley said...

I am so glad that someone else thinks that you ought to be writing children's books!

This is clearly because Ducky is both awesome and very, very sensible.

TimT said...

True, Colonel. A Fedora makes even the shiftiest squirrel look trustworthy.

AD and N, I agree thoroughly.

Shelley said...

Don't agree, do.

Then I'll consider having/abducting a child so that I can read them to someone.

TimT said...

Well, I could always do up a copy of 'Spot Gets Neutered' and send it through...

Shelley said...

I'm pretty sure that's an adult kidesque book. Sadly, I know two shops that would probably sell it. Maybe three.

M L Jassy said...

Ampersand Duck, I was just going to crow with delight at timt and tell him this is going straight up onto the wall of my classroom under the heading "Anthropomorphism"...

Email: timhtrain - at -

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