Don’t clean my clock let the cat out of the bag
Steamboat Springs — I’m sure all of you know what I mean when I use the expression “yard sale.”
As in, “We were riding Storm Peak on Saturday and this guy below us was getting lots of freshies until he had a yard sale.”
The statement is made about a day of skiing. Storm Peak is a chairlift, and freshies are turns carved through fresh powder.
The term “yard sale” is one of the best examples I’ve been able to find of a modern Steamboat colloquialism a pithy expression that livens up our daily use of the language until somebody decides it’s trite, and it is doomed to become a clich
Yard sale, as it applies to skiing, refers to a spectacular fall during which both of the victim’s skis release, he lets go of his poles, and even his hat and goggles are scattered across the snow. It’s a really big yard sale if his boots come off.
The impression left on the snow is that the skier has displayed his worldly goods in the front yard to advertise them for sale. Thus, the quaint expression, “Dude! Did you see that wicked yard sale?”
When you stop to think about it, our daily conversations are sprinkled with clichthat have been repeated so often we don’t really know what we are saying.
Take this one for example: “If I am late for work one more time, I know for certain, I will be dead as a door nail.”
I know you have uttered this expression, or one like it. But have you ever stopped to wonder, of all the similes you could have used to convey that you believe your future is bleak, why a door nail?
Here’s why. There was a time when all nails were painstakingly handcrafted.
Any time a structure was torn down, the valuable nails were saved to be used again. However, when carpenters built doors, they typically pounded the nail through, then hammered the point over to keep it from working loose during repeated openings and closings. That meant door nails were “dead” and could not be reused.
Here’s another one. If I were to approach you on the street and utter the phrase: “I’m going to clean your clock,” you might well feel threatened.
Yet, if one took the words literally, one might just as well reply: “Thanks ever so much, but I’ve just had the dust bunnies removed from my grandfather clock within the fortnight. You may clean my clock some other time.”
Has anyone ever whispered a secret in your ear followed closely by the admonishment, “Don’t let the cat out of the bag?” What I want to know is, what was the cat doing in the bag to begin with?
Recently, a member of my staff (you didn’t think I came up with all the material for these columns on my own did you?) was able to track down some western colloquialisms in a book published by Sasquatch Press, “A Dictionary of the American West.”
Editor Win Blevins has produced a list of expressions meant to describe the gyrations a bareback bronc goes through in an effort to unseat a cowboy.
They include: blowing the plug, crawfishing, hauling hell out of his shuck, pump handling, taking you to church (got religion?), and my favorite, chinning the moon.
Another great expression I had not previously connected with frontier days in the West is “hell on wheels.” We all know a teen-ager who is hell on wheels. But the term originated with the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, which finally linked the East and West coasts of America. As the work progressed, a tent city capable of housing 3,000 workers was moved along the tracks on freight cars, unpacked and set up at varying intervals.
Much carousing took place in this tent city, thus its name: Hell on Wheels.
Finally, allow me to share with you some colorful expressions Mr. Blevins has collected to describe the work of men and women who toil in hayfields.
Hay hands are also known throughout the West as pitchfork gladiators, fodder forkers, hay slayers and alfalfa desperados.
I publish this last list of colloquialisms with strong faith that the hay hands of Routt County will take them in good humor and with the certain knowledge that they are meant as terms of affection. At least I hope that’s the case.
Otherwise I’m dead as a door nail.
Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.
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