Recently A.N. Devers and I were discussing Texan idiom — she likes “good night alive!” — and I remembered a compilation of my granny’s (pictured) sayings appeared online in 2003 on a site that’s since gone to internet heaven.
I managed to dig up the list at the Internet Archive, so here are the “Favorite Expressions of My Deceased (and Beloved) Texan Grandmother, with Explanations”:
1. He looked at me like a calf at a new gate.
Translation: “Even though I said something patently obvious, and explained it three or four times, he just blinked and looked at me blankly.” Evidently a calf is unable to recognize a new gate in its pen until it is led in and out a few times.
2. She’s really shittin’ and flyin’ now.
Translation: “She’s nouveau riche and ridiculous and has just bought or done something that proves it.” To the best of my understanding, shitting while flying, as a pigeon would, is glamorous to anyone who would wear a mink coat and drive a Corvette to go grocery shopping.
3. Shit in one hand, want in the other.
Translation: Sometimes desires are the equivalent of excrement — i.e., you can’t always get what you want
4. Get down from there or you’ll fall and bust your head open.
Translation: “Get down from there or you’ll fall and bust your head open.” Actually, this is self-explanatory, although it can be adapted to nearly any activity, regardless of the actual risk of head-busting, e.g., “Don’t dive into the pool or you’ll fall and bust your head open.”
5. He cleans up real nice.
Translation: “He has shown that he can be a respectable boy when the need presents itself.” Used liberally to describe any boy of my acquaintance, regardless of attire or grooming habits, who called my grandmother “ma’am” and laughed at her jokes.
6. Ain’t neither one of them got a lick a sense.
“Lick” apparently translates to “bit” or “iota”, though I’m uncertain of that etymology. Usually used in reference to my parents.
7. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.
Translation: “He is a worthless human being undeserving of the slightest mercy.” Reserved exclusively for my father.
8. He’s meaner than a junkyard dog.
9. He’s rich enough to burn a wet dog.
Actually, now that I think about it, almost all of her expressions involving dogs seemed to be used in service of describing my father. I guess a person would need to buy some sort of expensive lighter fluid or special torch to ignite wet dog hair. Does that seem far-fetched?
10. He’s more skittish than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.
To translate this one, you need to know that “rockers” are “rocking chairs”. If you were a long-tailed cat, you’d understand this perfectly.