An Unknown Expression Can Be Very Confusing

Your Turn


Ever find yourself wondering what someone is trying to say? I have. Just recently I found myself scratching my head over an article I was reading because it used the term “grief therapist” in a rather odd way. Then it dawned on me that the person writing the article wanted to say “undertaker,” but for some reason or other thought it better to say “grief therapist.”

I’ll tell you what, I’d be mad as hell if my doctor told me he was sending me to see a grief therapist and it turned out to be an undertaker. I don’t mind a hint now and then that I’m getting old, but that would be a bit much.

A few times in life I’ve run into some expression that genuinely confused me. One day I was invited to a teen birthday party by a girl I liked, but I really didn’t want to go because her family had money and it was a jacket-and-tie affair, which was not my kind of thing. However, she was nice, and I didn’t want to disappoint her so I soon found myself sitting in a circle with other overdressed kids, each of us balancing a dessert plate on a knee.

The girl’s mother — dressed to kill — came into the room, looked around, and smiled one of those faint, “I’m smiling, but I’m not sure I really mean it,” smiles. But as I watched, the smile suddenly morphed to a look of shock. She quietly sidled over to the birthday girl’s older sister, who was sitting next to me, and said something I happened to overhear.

“Dear! Dear! Charlene! It is snowing down south!”

You should have seen that girl put down her plate and scurry off! Wow!

“Snowing down south?” I asked myself. “What does that mean?”

It was the end of July, “down south” meant below the Mason-Dickson line to me, and the chances of snow falling there were few and none. To add to the mystery, a few minutes later the older sister came back into the room and I saw a very meaningful look pass between girl and mother.

“What are these people,” I asked myself. “Weather addicts?” 

Then I wasted a whole week asking people what that comment was supposed to mean until I realized that I was asking the wrong kind of people — males. So I asked a non-male. You know what it meant? “Your slip is showing.”

No wonder it was out of my area of expertise.

That’s nothing compared to the time someone sidled up to me and said something on a day when I was suffering from just about the worst cold I ever had. In truth, it was probably flu. I was really sick, sitting in study hall in our high school auditorium during the last period of the day, thinking I had died back around third period. I kept coughing, hacking, and blowing my nose every 10 seconds, hoping to survive long enough to die outside in the fresh air.

I was sitting at the end of a row, and it happened that our school Latin teacher, a VERY reserved old lady, was in charge of study hall that day. She slipped up beside me and said. “Thomas, there’s a bat in the cave.”

Ten minutes later, armed with that critical slice of information as the bell rang, I started for home — and a weekend in bed with chills, fever, and a hacking cough. I’m not kidding; the only thing that kept me alive that weekend was my determination to find out what the hey that crazy Latin teacher had been trying to tell me.

Well, I survived and Monday morning, looking like death warmed over, I made it back to school. And there, of course, I asked everyone I knew what it meant if someone whispered to you that there’s a bat in the cave.

No luck, Johnny. None at all. Nobody knew, and I was hanged if I was going to ask that Latin teacher. That old woman hated me because I didn’t take her class.

You know how long it took for me to find out what she meant?

Twenty-one years!

I told that story to people many times, but only when I happened to tell it to one of the men in my outfit on Okinawa in 1966 did I finally learn that it meant there was a little something in a nostril. Know what I mean?

“A bat in the cave.” Where the hey do they come from?

Not the bats, Johnny. I know where they come from — those with wings, and those without.

I just wonder who thinks up all those crazy expressions?


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