By Evelyn Richardson Here and There

Common sayings can be universal, regional, or original to a particular family. Most of us have an arsenal that is a mixture.

Happenings often prompted my grandmother to remark, "This world and one more, then come the iron works." I am ignorant of a source she might have been quoting, and as a child, I didn't ask for an interpretation. I assumed she meant something like, "What's the world coming to?!"

One of my father's favorite sayings was repeated whenever someone made a mess trying to do a task he or she was not prepared to handle: "A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring."

I knew this was not original with him, because my father was hardly the poetic type--more toward math and mechanics. Somewhere he had run across this truth couched in fancy words and it stuck with him.

In my college years, the quotation jumped out at me when I was ploughing through a literature assignment that included English writer Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism" about the value of common sense, written in the 1700s--a "far piece" from rural Logan County, but applied just the same.

We use lots of expressions without a full understanding of their meaning. We say, "He's as strong as an ox" without ever having seen an ox, much less having watched one pull a heavy tree trunk log up a hill all by himself. "She was as mad as an old wet hen" doesn't carry its full effect unless you've seen a mama hen trying to gather her chicks for shelter in a sudden summer downpour and they are running in every direction.

"Slow as molasses" is fully understood only if you have sat at the kitchen table for breakfast on a cold winter morning. The wood stove has gotten hot enough to bake fluffy biscuits that melt mounds of butter. However, the molasses in the pitcher is still stiff from the overnight chill. You think your biscuit will be cold before the molasses finally creeps out the spout.

Many a night I was tucked under the covers with my parents' lighthearted admonition, "Good night, sleep tight; don't let the bedbugs/boogeyman bite." I figured sleeping tight meant that my eyes would stay shut tight, no waking up from bad dreams, or the need for a drink of water.

Only recently did I read the origin of the "sleep tight" phrase. In the really olden days, ropes were stretched across a bed frame to hold the straw mattress or feather bed. The ropes were forever needing to be tightened in order to make a firmer bed for more comfortable sleeping. There's no way my comprehension can bridge the chasm between my supportive manufactured mattress and stretched ropes underneath me, be they sagging or tight. But I'm probably going to keep on repeating the saying just the same.