My daughter loves a metaphor. It’s a shame that they’re so dear to her heart because she’s really quite useless with them. In fact she’s so bad, that as an English teacher in a past career incarnation, it hurts me. “But I’m good at English… I did Advanced and Extension and stuff”, she interjects. I know, I nod sadly. “And I’m good at it.” Uh huh. Her latest offering was “He gets right up in my goat!” Thank you Kath Day-Knight.
“Grill”, I say.
“He gets all up in your grill.” I expand.
She gives me her doe-eyes as I step around her to put the milk back in the fridge. “He gets ‘all up in your grill’ or ‘on your goat’ or ‘up your nose’.” The fridge door closes with a weary sigh and we stare at each other for a minute before she breaks into a grin and starts to giggle. If there’s one thing about Princess 1, it’s that she can laugh at herself. She may have inherited my father’s complete lack of I-get-a-joke gene, but she can laugh at her own ditzy-ness. “Even by your standards, mixing three metaphors at the same time is a sterling effort”, I chuckle, and we try to remember some of her better ones. It’s pointless. There are so many.
That people mix metaphors so brilliantly is a paradox of joy and irritation for me. A great metaphor is one of life’s wonders. It can sum up a volume of thought in a gem-like nugget, encapsulating moods of entire nations or blips on the historical timeline.
Metaphors are a thinking person’s phraseology and Australians are particularly gifted at the art of metaphor, I believe. I think it goes hand in hand with a laconic way of life and using minimal words to say the most, or to say it in the quirkiest way. Why say someone is incredibly unlucky when you could say “you don’t have to be stiff to be dead”? Why say you could really do with a drink when you could say you were “drier than a nun’s nasty”?
When I think about the gems Princess 1 could mess with, it becomes frightening and somewhat of a relief that she isn’t aware of great Australian classics such as “they could eat a watermelon through a wire fence”, “all over it like a seagull on a potato chip” or “disappearing faster than a fart in a fan factory”. Actually, it’d take her a while to decode those three so I think we’re right for a while.
Metaphorical speech is so much a part of Australian language that it’s long caused conversational issues between us and other English spruikers, especially our American friends. Even more so when we shorten our metaphors because we all know what we mean. “He’s a few roos loose, mate.” I beg your pardon? “You know, a few chips short.” Chips? Who’s short? “No mate. He’s not the full quid.” The full what? At this point the frustration levels on both sides are usually starting to peak.
Perhaps Princess 1’s mixed metaphor recently of “Pfft… he’s not the full basket of eggs”, might make far more sense to our less metaphorically and culturally astute northern associates. I nearly died laughing.
“Please don’t use metaphors”, I gasped through the tears.
“Well I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t think of the right one and it just came out that way!”
“Stick to song writing. You traded in any talent for metaphor delivery for a genius with lyrics”, I said still laughing.
“I understand metaphors completely!” she tells me when I reminisce about this recent misdemeanour. “No Mum. I really do. I knew that it was about not being smart.” There’s a moment silence as we settle back into watching the movie. “What’s that one”, she asks “about wire?”
“Oh. No wait. That’s ‘screws’… ”