“Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs”. Know who said that? Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert.
The ancient Greeks believed that universal truths could only be discovered by humans through disciplined logic, and anything else was merely opinion moulded by emotion or sensorial experience. It was the likes of Plato who drew the line in the cultural sands that separated science and art, diverging humankind’s avenues of self-discovery into two lanes running opposite directions: rational and irrational. Art, it was believed, existed to express emotion, the mortal flaw that impeded pure science. For millennia philosophers posited that each of us was eternally engaged in internal civil wars between our two hemispheres, and the struggle influenced your personality, intelligence and behaviour. To act rationally or irrationally was dictated by whichever side at that moment had the upper hand in the battle for dominion over you.
Modern philosophy and psychology has refuted the simplicity of this divide, and say that it is impossible to remove emotion from our understanding of the world. All information we take in must enter through our senses and be processed by our minds. This immediately creates a new, unique version of the same ‘truth’, a version that will always be exclusive to us because of our individual cognitive bias. At this point, we don’t understand why or how or the extent to which emotion influences our every thought – but it could be that irrationality is not illogical, but a force of reasoning we don’t yet understand. The 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal explained it with typically beautiful Enlightenment-era lyricism: “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know”.
So like it or not, irrational moods will invade our thoughts at every turn, as if malevolent gremlins were short-circuiting our brain’s fuses and stirring up trouble in the dark, void of sensibility. It happens to us all, with different triggers and different consequences. The better adjusted of us tend to be able to mask our inner raging, but it doesn’t erase it – we are at the mercy of the chemical emissions of our brains.
British author A N Wilson, who has written biographies on Hitler, Tolstoy and Jesus, could probably describe irrationality with some authority. He said, “the fact that logic cannot satisfy us awakens an almost insatiable hunger for the irrational”. To me, that suggests irrationality is the only thing left standing when tempestuous surges of emotion whip up a violent storm in your mind; when conventional logic is too weak to calm the fury – but irrationality offers an alternative course of action, perhaps one more satisfying and irresistible, but forbidden under normal circumstances. Only the mightiest emotions can spark such drama. Love and hate, the inextricably linked polar extremes of emotion, constantly send waves of fear, or altruism, or anger to test the strength of our logic. Under such pressure, rationality can crumble to the ground and momentarily alter how we think, act and re-act.
Love’s enduring mystique owes its existence to irrationality. It was the inspiration that pushed Oscar Wilde’s pen to paper and Van Gogh’s brush to canvas (and later a pair of scissors to his ear), There wouldn’t be such a thing as a music industry if it weren’t for the strange powers wielded by love. Nobody sang the blues because they missed a bus… Hate and anger are different; they at least appear to follow a brusque logic of cause and effect. Every one of us has an exhaustive list of pet peeves, which we feel are justified when it’s someone else’s actions that pulls the trigger and provokes an emotional, ‘irrational’ response.
Well, not always. We don’t love and hate exclusively people. We can, illogically, get disproportionately angry at things like the weather, traffic, insects, TV ads, or jammed printers. But, even when we’re in a calmer state of mind and know this anger is wayward and futile; it doesn’t prevent the same emotional impulses from regrouping and launching another offensive to once again make the irrational seem rational. Shouting at the clouds for raining won’t stop it raining, but it feels good to it.
But, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. We aren’t robots yet, not as long as we there exists this element within us that challenges cold logic and gifts us individuality, passions, awareness and an experience we can only describe as ‘human’.
Seven Things I Love Irrationally Hating
“Please go away from me, I don’t know either of you.”
Strangers walking alongside me
It seems every time I hit the streets, say for a stroll to the park, or a brisk walk to the shops, or even a languid strut to the local malt bar and pool hall – at some point someone will suddenly appear out of nowhere and walk alongside me atprecisely the same speed, like the sidekick I never wanted. It’s a fist-clenchingly infuriating situation that only ever occurs when I’m at full stride, going where I need to go. Someone will exit a shop, step off a bus, or simply materialise next to me, and then match me step for step as we both walk along like some sort of estranged couple.
It imposes a very unwanted dilemma: do the unthinkable and break my (SONG) stride to slow down and find some personal space; or accelerate my already-lightning quick walking pace and charge ahead. Obviously my pride vetos option one, so I end up power-walking too quickly for comfort, trying pathetically to make my awkward getaway look completely natural.
Even slow-moving walkers, nuisances they are, can at least be navigated with my superior agility and skilful eye for emerging foot-traffic patterns. It’s actually fun sometimes. But I absolute hate when I’m made to engage in some weird, unspoken walking footrace with some stranger – and it’s usually someone intrinsically weird, like a rambling hobo. It’s so infuriating sometimes that I have to breathe deeply to rein in my urge to shoulder-barge my unwanted walking companion into oncoming traffic.
‘Locking for something…?’
Keys are like cellular organisms, you begin with one, which becomes two, and then three, four and more and more. Try as you might, you cannot prevent the gradual evolution of your keychain into a huge, jangly cluster of stainless steel. Nor can you prevent the inevitable frustration that comes with each attempt to find the one key you need in amongst the ball-o-plenty.
On principle, I dislike the concept of keys. Think about it, if the world was full of good people, we wouldn’t need to lock up our belongings and install bank-vault security systems in our homes and cars. But no, people are disrespectful, pilfering, selfish jerks and because of them I need to carry and guard a collection of jaggedy metal things to access my own belongings. Fine, but as time ticks away when I stand in the dark outside my door, rifling through 27,000 identical jaggedy metal things to find the correct jaggedy metal thing to open the fucking thing, crankiness rises exponentially. I’m there, I’m home… yet, I’m not. Because my house, my home – the domicile I pay for and dwell in – doesn’t believe it’s really me until I produce the one magical jaggedy metal thing, which looks and feels like all the other jaggedy metal things. It’s next-level frustration. The digital revolution is coming way too slowly here; where are the robot doormen already!? Unacceptable.
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Crappy sandwich ‘artists’
Ah yes, the esteemed Royal College of Sandwich Artistry, the famous RCSA, where pupils learn the intricate artful skills associated with stuffing ingredients between two slices of bread, and occasionally toasting it. Unfortunately, the RSCA’s quality learning standards have slipped lately, because there are too many Subway ‘sandwich artists’ who simply can’t (or won’t) do what I want. They never tessellate cheese for maximum coverage; and they interpret my order of ‘extra’ chipotle sauce to be equivalent to the annual rainfall of the Atacama Desert .This is undeniably annoying for anyone, but to me, this is a blood sin. If I pay $12 for a sandwich, I damned well better get a sandwich with a geometrically-efficient covering of cheese and so much chipotle sauce that I’ll need scuba gear to eat it. Anything less and the ‘sandwich artist’ responsible deserves to be personally wedged between two unevenly sliced pieces of bread, covered with one miserly piece of cheese and put into an oven for too long.
“Ok, let’s begin our first monthly meeting of the Racially Diverse Stock Photo Model’s Union.”
Whenever I find myself slumped in a seat, surrounded by work colleagues for one of those unique rituals of modern torture known as ‘meetings’, the only feeling that overpowers the urge to doze off, is pure dread. Dread for the inevitable cringe that I can’t escape. A moment I know is nigh when John Jones*, Junior Vice Assistant Regional Accounts Manager, draws a breath and raises a finger. When that happens, I literally** feel my internal organs wincing as if to brace for a thumping body blow, because I know that very soon I’ll be subjected to the verbal sewage that I absolutely cannot bear; the language they call ‘Managementspeak’.
I get so incensed by words like ‘synergy’ and ‘actionable’ and ‘liaise’, that whenever I hear them I want to stand up and fling myself out the nearest window to freedom. But seeing as careers and employment are kind of an important things, I instead sink, defeated, into my chair and twist my rage silently inward. So, now my strategy to cope in meetings is to fantasise about the productive synergy that is actioned when John Jones’ face liaises with a heavy sticky-tape dispenser.
* fictional name. This in no way represents any actual John Joneses of the world. Except the ones who are jerks. In that case – screw you Joneses. You jerks.
“Need… more… sugar!”
People sucking lollies
I’ve seen a lot of things on public transport. I’ve seen fistfights break out between cadaverously thin junkies in bizarre love triangles; I’ve seen a grown man picking his toes and flicking the crusty yellow nails willy-nilly; I’ve seen human shit smeared over seats like a po-mo art exhibition that is way-too-po-mo. I’ve even seen a bare-breasted elderly woman attempt to get on the train against the wishes of the rather embarrassed station staff. But nothing, and I honestly mean NOTHING puts me right off public transport more than being stuck sitting in front of someone and be subjected to the disconcerting, disgusting sounds of their saliva, sucking and slurping away on a lolly of some sort.
Trains are nothing more than prison cells on wheels. Comfort is an afterthought to cramming the maximum amount of sweaty bodies inside a metal tube, and shooting it along rails from point to point while the sardine-people inside stand impassive with blank stares etched on the faces, surrounded by the breath of strangers circulating like a stifling, ghostly presence. I can juuuuust cope with that.
Ironically, my worst experiences arise on the less-crowded occasions, where I have a seat to myself, the journey is silent, and I optimistically believe I might actually have an enjoyable trip reading my book or doing my crossword. Of course I’m never so lucky. Before long, some horrible, knuckle-dragging simpleton will appear, and, when presented with a carriage full of empty seats, plonk themselves in the one directly behind mine. It’s as if they can’t be confortable unless they have my seat to wedge their knees into or my neck to breathe on. That’s bad enough, but then out comes a lolly and the torture begins. Like a starving piglet on a Starburst teat, they destroy my serenity with the unnerving sound of suckling and slurping and squeaking spittle. By all rights, I can’t be mad at them for choosing that seat or eating a lolly… but then again, sometimes I wish they’d choke. Just a little bit.
“… … …”
Anyone entering the bathroom while I’m poopin’
Unless you’re a 90s British pop icon with two first names, public toilets are not usually a place you want to spend much time in. When nature calls and it’s your bowel on the line, a public toilet is the last begrudging resort. With luck, you’ll walk right in and find the place magnificently deserted; naught but a dripping tap and a broken hand-drier. In the solace of soulless silence, you can complete your mission and make your escape without anyone knowing. The good old-fashioned ninja poo. Such fortune is unfortunately rare and most likely you’ll hear the disheartening sound of a door opening, followed by someone else trudging in.
You can’t see them, but my god with every twitching fibre in the organic assembly of living cells you call a body, you bloody well loathe them. At home you have full privacy and can poop with stress-free abandon, but here, from your flimsy little stall you become acutely conscious of someone else’s presence. It’s an uncomfortable experience exacerbated by the knowledge that they themselves are acutely conscious of you, too. For that reason you hate them. It’s obviously quite unfair and hypocritical to hate someone for walking into a public bathroom, but when your pants are around your ankles and you’re engaged in the most vulnerable of human acts (no, not that one, jitterbug), rationality such as this does not factor into the equation.
And so you play… the waiting game…
“This is the most practical scarf I ever had.”
This is probably more about the symptoms of my early onset grumpy-old-manism than being irrational, but I have a special contempt for attention-seekers – particularly those people who believe their identity is all about the look. I don’t mean being fashion-conscious, or having offbeat taste; I’m talking exclusively about motive here. As in, why would a 22-year-old man carry a Dora the Explorer backpack around? Or why would anyone wear a cape anywhere outside of a comic book or a Phantom of the Opera production? It’s those who deliberately invent some superficial affectation to try and stand out from the crowd – not because they are bold individuals, but because they want people to think that they are. They completely miss the point that quirks and eccentricities are only charming or interesting when they are the by-product of personality, not some eye-catching centrepiece. And it’s never ironic, it’s always gauche.
The same goes for getting tattooed for fashion, or to look tough and menacing – the motive is so self-serving that even if there was some thoughtful meaning behind the ink, it’s spoiled by the owner’s vanity. As the most good-looking and consummately super-excellent person on the planet, I deplore ego and vanity. It’s disappointing to see that the river which swallowed Narcissus is now choked with soggy tiger onesies, lensless glasses, fake British accents and casual bow ties. It surely isn’t too hard to just be who you are and let the rest take care of itself. That isn’t irrational. Wishing a flaming meteor would plummet to earth and flatten the dude who wears a cape, though, might be a little.
Who doesn’t love settling in on a cold, rainy day to watch a movie? Or to spend a lazy Sunday glued to the TV for back-to-back episodes of that must-see show about the biker gang zombies who cook meth and sell it to dragons? I know I do. The problem for me though, is that I have an annoyingly hyperactive brain guarding the path to true immersion in whatever escapist fiction flickers on-screen. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, or perhaps it’s because I once trained myself to be resistant to hypnosis so as to prevent becoming a sleeper agent assassin for the KGB. In any case, it means I have an exhaustive list of Hollywood habits and clichés that will immediately snap my suspension of disbelief – which is already as brittle as Michael Bay’s New Year’s resolution to take it easy on the explosions.
Here are just some celluloid neuroses of mine:
1. People order drinks and food then never eat it – usually sticking someone with the bill
This is number one, because it’s most certainly the most irritating. If I were a café or bar owner in the film-world, I would lose my mind over the endless customers who saunter in, casually ask for something and then saunter back out again as soon as their order hits the grill-plate. Sometimes they might hang around until a drink arrives, but will exit immediately after they’ve indolently picked it up and waved it about a few times in conversation. Just think of the ruinous expenses of all that wastage and unpaid bills!
2. No-one looks at at anyone when they’re dropping some real heavy news
I get that sometimes dramatic things happen in life and breaking the news of some heavy shit can be pretty damned hard. But, whether you’re telling the President the zombie mutation virus has broken out of containment; or confessing to an extra-marital affair with your spouse’s bikram yoga instructor; or finally revealing to other soldiers in your platoon what really went down during Operation: Blue Typhoon and why you can never eat a banana again; at least have the common decency to look them in the eye! At the very least point your face at their face. None of this back-turning, mumbling rudeness!
3. Everyone has appalling phone manners
Have we really become such a socially abbreviated culture that we can’t even manage a mannerly goodbye at the end of a phone conversation? Characters just sit there on the line and wait until the crucial bit of info is revealed and then hang up. It’s just rude. No ‘thanks for calling’, no ‘see you later’, no ‘have a nice afternoon’, no ‘say hi to Frank for me’… just an abrupt end to the conve-
4. Dating in a big city a breeze
Even, no, especially in films about romance, it seems like a love life comes complimentary with your latte from the trendy city coffee shop as if cupid’s arrow tips were made of biscotti. Not only do you just happen to regularly bump into random acquaintances for witty banter over whatever semi-embarrassing situation you’re caught in (locked out of apartment, spilled coffee on self, dog running amok… etc), you then can simply peg a date with a simple: “Dinner Friday?”, “Sure”, “I’ll pick you up at eight.”… Done! It matters not where this stranger plans to take you, or how they know where you live. Pfft details – it’s date time!
5. The best player in the team will only show up at half-time
What does it say about team commitment when the best players are NEVER around for that dramatically crucial match against the really slick, sinister-looking team who have heaps of money, a bully coach and shiny black uniforms. It’s not until your team is one full cheek into a clinical and comprehensive arse-kicking when who should show up in the dressing room? Only the most vital member of your otherwise shithouse (yet totally lovable) team! Now get out there and win in the last few seconds in the most uncanny, slow-motion, tears-for-the-underdogs way possible!
6. People just kind of waltz into a room and pick up the conversation as if they’d been there all along…
Seriously!? Do important people hide around corners in government buildings just waiting for the opportune moment?
“It’s almost as if the alien mothership has some kind of-”
“-electron-pulse plasma forcefield, yes general, I took the liberty of entering the room and finishing your sentence so now everyone knows I’m the smart one around here.” Unfortunately it never works for me, though hopefully the next time I blurt: ‘ham sandwich!’ as I enter a room, it WILL make sense. I probably should increase my odds and walk into more delicatessens.
7. Gangs of ruffians never co-ordinate their attacks very well
I don’t condone wanton violence, nor gang affiliation… but nor do I condone a lack of respect for teamwork and role-based coordination tactics. So many attempted beat downs are thwarted because a lack of tactical cohesion completely nullifies the numerical advantage. Instead of gathering around in a circle and going in one at a time for a routine cycle of butt-kicking – why not pool your resources and attack with purpose? Guy in sleeveless leather jacket can feign a frontal attack to draw the target’s attention, opening up for a simultaneous pincer strike on the flanks from guy with shaved head and guy with bandana. While they close in, guy with metal pole can sweep low and take the legs out from under the target where they will be vulnerable to a good’n’proper stompin’. See street toughs of Hollywood? It’s not so hard.
8. Police think a car door is a bulletproof shield
Why? Why do cops do that?! Do they realise the baddies are firing lumps of lead at a really high velocity?! Unless you’re patrolling the streets in a Sherman tank, a car door isn’t actually going to stop a volley of bullets. You might as well hide behind a tissue.
9. People hold torches funny
A torch (or, ‘flashlight’) doesn’t seem like the kind of object that requires any technique to use. You just kind of, point it and… not drop it… but the folks of Hollywood seem loathe to hold it any other way than next to the temple, with elbows pointed down. I suppose you could consider it the coolest way to point a torch – but you don’t always have to look cool, especially if all you’re doing is trudging knee deep in human refuse as you investigate the town’s sewers at night for whatever ominous reasons.
10. All doors can be opened by shooting them
Fair enough, I were packing heat, ‘shoot it’ would also rank high on my list of troubleshooting solutions to overcome various problems, like say a jammed printer, a tight jar lid, a loud neighbour or even a locked door. But, would it actually work? Locks can be pretty hardcore these days, I’d be more worried about the slug ricocheting back into my groin from the 30cm distance at which I shot the stupid thing. Yeah, not a smart idea, better call a locksmith.
11. Looking at a photograph will change a character’s mind
They say a picture is a thousand words, to which every screenwriter in the business replies, ‘thank fuck for that’. In Hollwoodland, photographs are extra-super-mega persuasive and prolonged staring at an old photo of the family you once had will definitely thrust you into the third act guns blazing – figuratively and most probably literally.
12. Cops don’t take suspensions very seriously
I’m beginning to think that ‘You’re off the case’ is some sort of police code for: ‘Please continue the investigation, and make sure lots of things explode along the way’.
13. Dudes in suits are really awesome at fighting
This one I know a bit about, because I am both really, really good at fighting and also look really, really good in a suit. But, for reasons of restricted mobility and a little thing called Saville Row stitching, I refuse to combine the two – even if shit goes down at the charity ball. Disappoint the babes I may, but It’s simply impossible to execute an exemplary roundhouse kick in tapered trousers, and a bespoke Hugo Boss might look killer, but doesn’t make you killer. It’s also really hard to run at top speed in Italian loafers, so I don’t know who these try-hard suave Hollywood action men think they’re kidding.
14. The Wilhelm scream is really annoying
What was once a long-running inside joke in the film business has become a real pain in the aural receptors. The famous Wilhelm Scream appears in just about every mainstream Hollywood movie produced ever. I can barely sit through a blockbuster movie these days without the uncomfortable expectation of hearing that distinctive warbled cry clawing away in the back of my head. They could have at least recorded a semi-realistic scream; ‘Wilhelm’ sounds more like someone who fell in the toilet than a man who just received a bullet to the chest.
15. “I’m getting too old for this shit”
“Let’s get out of here”; “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”; “Get me the President”; “The monster is headed downtown”; “No, it’s too dangerous”; “Hold it right there”; “I’m hit! Go on without me”… So much lazy, lazy dialogue just won’t go away. I can honestly promise that I’ve never actually said any of these phrases in real life… well, except for in moments of extreme passion, and then it’s pretty much word-for-word in that order…
16. Profane old ladies are hilarious
No they are not. They just aren’t. A sweet old lady flipping the bird, swearing or laying down some ebonic trash-talk for ‘shock humour’ is not funny. Not even remotely. So, stop it. Now… Adam Sandler. Bad Adam Sandler!
17. If you own a fruit stall – a car WILL crash through it
It’s just a matter of time.
18. Electronic devices are noisy
Generally, if something electronic starts making noises, it’s most likely faulty and will probably electrocute someone. Unless of course it was programmed to make glitchy beeps and boops and crackles every time it is used. Though, why every high-tech piece of covert espionage equipment would be programmed to make more of a clamour than a startled R2-D2 is just too far a stretch for my logic.
19. There are commentators at children’s sports games
Despite the head injuries, I still remember my junior sporting days and NOT ONCE was there a card table and microphone set up for some play-by-play commentary of my team’s most nail-biting of encounters, 1998 under-12s grand final penalty shootout epic included. Though, if Hollywood were to believe every junior sports game features fully-fledged referees, grandstands and professional commentary. We were lucky if one of the mums remembered it was her turn to bring the oranges.
20. Batman can’t turn his head properly
This gets to me every time. Every stinking time! Get a more flexible suit already, you silly billionaire orphan!
A glance at the words of Geoffrey Chaucer and you’d be well-forgiven for thinking the English spoken a few centuries ago has as much in common with today as Ancient Etruscan. Though, it’s sometimes surprising how often we’ll blurt something out and not even realise that our pantaloon-wearing, lute-playing ancestors were saying the exact same things. SeePart I and Part II
Pay through the nose
“Grab my wallet, I’m going to sneeze!’
Today’s meaning: To pay an unreasonably high price for something
A pub-stool guru would boast how this phrase goes right back to ninth-century Ireland, whereupon the conquering Danish armies had issued a rather creative form of oppressive taxation dubbed the ‘nose tax’. The story is, that if a plucky native refused to cough up to Olaf, he’d have his Guinness-soaked nose introduced to the business end of a Danish blade. Unfortunately(well, not for the Irish) there’s bugger-all evidence of that ever happening. Instead, this phrase may have arrived by way of more natural etymological evolution. In the 17th century, the word ‘rhino’ was popular slang for money, much like ‘clam’ or ‘quid’ is today. Similarly at the time, ‘to bleed’ was lose or extort a lot of money, a term still used today. Those acquainted with plastic surgery probably also know that rhino is Greek for nose. And those acquainted with blunt force blows to the face know that noses are inclined to bleed. Put these elements together and to lose a lot of money through regrettable circumstances is to ‘pay through the nose’.
Make no bones about it
Might just stick to the bread tonight…
Today’s meaning: To make something straightforward and problem-free
For many a goode olde Englishemane, a warm hearty broth in the public house was a welcome respite to the end of a hard day spent shovelling horse shit off the crowded London streets. The simplicity of stews, broths and others meaty soup concoctions made them a ubiquitous meal for common folk of the middle-ages. Though, the lack of culinary finesse sometimes meant the broths were swimming with chunks of bone and cartilage and other inedible animal bits. Not that it’d completely deter a famished Englishman – it just made it quite difficult to eat. So, when there were no bones in the soup, it was a good, easy, satisfying meal. And so, ‘no bones’ came to mean ‘no problems’, as in: ‘Well, you’re lucky that today he had no bones about it… but it might be a different story to-marrow!’ (sorry, I really had to put that pun in, by whatever means necessary. I regret nothing!).
Fits to a T
“Here I come to save the day… again!”
Today’s meaning: Something that suits a particular style or model perfectly, in fine detail
This phrase comes all the way from the 1600s, which pre-dates the common belief that it refers to the T-square (a geometry drawing tool). It’s most likely that ‘fitting to a ‘t’’ was shorthand for ‘fitting to a tittle’, a line used in a play, which surprisingly had nothing to do with comfortable brassieres, but rather the little dot that hovers above a lower case ‘i’ – known to the few feckless souls who would care about knowing such a thing, as the tittle. Figuratively, it was used to emphasise a meticulous level of detail; thoroughness all the way down to the tiniest dot, a fine point. Eventually the phrase became used more to describe a perfect fit, rather than just a comprehensive analysis.
Put up your dukes
“You’re in for a jolly good hurting, sir.”
Today’s meaning: raising your fists in preparation for a fight
If someone told you to ‘put up your dukes’, you’d first-of-all realise you’re about to do pugilism; and second-of-all wonder how you teleported through time to a tavern-side alley in 1940s America. The term, though, dates way back to Georgian era cockney rhyming slang. When two geezers were about to throw down, the’d taunt: ‘put up your forks (fingers)’ ,which became ‘put up your Dukes of Yorks’ and later simply ‘dukes’. Fisticuffs has always been a tradition ripe with slang, as seen in Samuel E. Chamberlain’s 1859 memoir My Confession, where he eloquently describes beating the snot out of someone: “I landed a stinger (punch) on his potatoe trap (mouth) with my left duke (fist), drawing the claret (blood) and sending him to grass.(floor)”. Even today, many refer to their fists as ‘dukes’, in preparation to ‘duke it out’, though I may have been a bit literal naming mine ‘Arthur Wessesley’ and ‘Rolf the Ganger Ragnvaldsson’. Just don’t mess with Arty and Rolf.
Keen as mustard
Rarely will you see a more appetising sandwich. Browns and yellows in delicious harmony.
Today’s meaning: to be especially eager
Many would have you believe this common simile developed from the famous Keen’s Mustard brand that was founded in 1742, however, the saying existed even earlier than that. Much like today, Ye Olde England was a drizzle-soaked isle obsessed with roast beef, mustard and despising the French. There is much evidence of this in the many contemporary cultural references, such as Richard Leveridge’s brilliant 1735 song ‘Roast beef of old England’ – “When mighty Roast Beef Was the Englishman’s food / It ennobled our brains/ And enriched our blood…” And roast beef wasn’t roast beef back then without the accompanying mustard – the real, nostril-burningly, yellowy spreadable-death stuff. The zestiness of the hugely popular condiment soon became a handy metaphor for a person who was particularly intense or eager, and remains so to this day.
Skeleton in the closet
“The charcoal grey or the burgundy today, sir?”
Today’s meaning: A hidden secret of someone’s past, generally something unseemly
Those who have skeletons in their closets are either keepers of a macabre secret, or really, really bad at the ‘seek’ part of hide-and-go-seek. The presumed origin of this phrase is your standard 17th century visceral ghastliness, when a burgeoning fascination in anatomical study and dissection swept through Europe’s enlightened academe. The doctors and surgeons of the time didn’t have access to the textbooks and cadavers that today’s medical students do, and so, unburied human corpses were quite the prize. If a doctor was lucky enough to come across a free dead body (entirely feasible back then), they’d then go to great lengths to conceal it for personal study, rather than share or give over to superiors. It became assumed that around that time, quite a few doctors had a secret skeleton stuffed away in a cupboard. Another (more believable) theory traces the phrase to Gothic novels, where the ‘skeleton in the closet’ was no more than a clever and creative plot allusion to a character’s past misdeeds, specifically murder. But the doctors cramming dead bodies in their cupboards explanation is way more amusing.