Of Wet Hens And Boiling Pots



"Heavens to Betsy!"

Of the more than 400 colorful and familiar expressions explained in the book "Heavens to Betsy & Other Curious Sayings" (HarperPerennial $12), that's the one author Charles Earle Funk couldn't track down. Behind all of the rest, however, are some interesting stories, and some, wouldn't you know it, are especially interesting to those of us who live in the Rim country.

"What the Sam Hill," is an example. Funk says Sam Hill is either "a euphemism for hell" or refers to a Colonel Sam Hill of Guilford, Conn.

Rim country history aficionados would take exception. According to "Rim Country History Illustrated," Sam Hill is one of us. Born in Ohio in 1846, he came to Arizona in 1869 "to engage in prospecting."

Hill's real talent, however, was packing freight wagons and mules, and he enjoyed a long stint in the Army doing just that. He eventually returned to his claims on the west side of Ox Bow Hill, building a cabin on what is now known as Sam Hill draw.

Hill, who is buried in Payson Pioneer Cemetery, died of "indigestion."

How do we reconcile this discrepancy between their Sam Hill and our Sam Hill? And how do you die of "indigestion"? All we can say is, "What the Sam Hill is going on?"

Moving along, we come to the first of several expressions that have no meaning in the Rim country -- "to throw cold water." This act, Funk informs us, is one that gives "the naked body quite a shock."

He also points out that 150 years ago "the deliberate throwing of cold water was taken to be an unfriendly act."

While it's hard to argue with the naked body part, we in the Rim country wouldn't know much about this act because we happen to live under the toughest water conservation ordinance in the West, and it strictly forbids the "deliberate throwing of cold water."

Our next expression, "Come hell or high water," is also not applicable to an area ravaged by drought. "I'd translate the ‘high water' of this saying as referring specifically to flash floods of water that roll down a canyon after a heavy storm. ..." Funk writes.

Not here. Not in our lifetimes anyway.

It's also impossible to be "in hot water," when the town's new water conservation ordinance forbids bathing. And we venture that in the midst of a drought you'll have more than a little trouble finding a "wet hen" to be "as mad as."

Meanwhile, it is also illegal under the water conservation ordinance "to keep the pot boiling," and "skating on thin ice" is difficult when the ordinance bans ice.

That, of course, would also rule out "breaking the ice," even at parties or social gatherings.

And just in case you might be thinking about "going off the deep end," you can just forget it. "Deep ends" are no longer permitted within town limits.

But there is an upside.

Surely you've found yourself "up a creek without a paddle." It's not a fun place to be, and by golly it can never happen in Payson since our creeks no longer hold water.

Another area in which the water conservation ordinance is actually a blessing is when someone asks you "to walk the plank." An economical way for pirates to dispose of unwanted captives, it has come to mean "to force out of office or position," according to Funk.

Well guess what? If you got no water, you got no boat, you got no plank.

Another unfortunate place to be is "between the devil and the deep blue sea." According to Funk, it means you're caught between two equally unattractive alternatives.

But a quick perusal of the town's water conservation ordinance reveals that while the devil is still free to roam the Rim country, deep blue seas are strictly forbidden.

When you are surrounded, as we are, by a national forest, and when one of your parks is world renowned as a party place for waterfowl, you can also expect an occasional encounter with a wild animal. But our new water conservation ordinance has taken care of at least one scenario: you'll never have to worry about a "snake in the grass" again because grass is forbidden.

Finally, the town's coddling of ducks and geese has led to a ban on "duck soup."

And here in Payson, a "lame duck" is quickly whisked off to a vet to be cared for.

That just leaves the expression "a gone goose," which, as far as I can tell, is not that different from "having your goose cooked."

Only in Parks Director Bill Schwind's wildest dreams.

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