Originally published Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 05:59a.m.
This is the first of two columns that explore the importance of platitudes and quotes. Come on, someone had to write them.
Once in a great while, we are blessed with an opportunity so rare that it certainly will never be repeated. Going out with Shirley Attavan in the 7th grade was one of those rare opportunities. It must have been – because it never happened again. I received the standard sympathetic comment from Mom, “There are plenty of other fish in the sea.” I literally wanted to ask what kind of bait would work best, but I didn’t because at that age I was beginning to understand that adults frequently said one thing when they were really saying something else. I was being introduced to the world of platitudes, epigrams, old saws and bromides. I’ve spent my life wishing I were clever enough to come up with some of those that were mine and mine alone. I’d love to possess my own line of maxims, adages and old chestnuts that I could fling with abandon into the occasional conversation.
Initiating some research, which is rare for this column, I actually just looked up the definition of a platitude. It’s nothing like a platypus, by the way, which lives pretty far away from here. A platitude is “a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” I should be able to concoct some snappy platitudes – I can repeat myself “too often to be interesting or thoughtful” with the best of them. Even someone named Stanley Baldwin came up with a pretty good definition of a platitude: “A
platitude is simply a truth repeated until people get tired of hearing it.” After having written over 220 columns for this newspaper, a couple more and I may become my own walking platitude.
One platitude I could do without is, “Good things come to those who wait.” This hackneyed saying is actually counterfactual. If you wait at the intersection of 3rd Street and Main, you may be rear ended by a 1953 Chevy whose Centric parts wheel cylinder finally failed. If you wait before casting your line, that big mouth bass may get away. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. I’ve waited around for months and I still haven’t won the lottery jackpot or the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, so what’s the good of waiting?
Another example of foolish flummery is, “Time heals all wounds.” Listen, if the Arizona Cardinals lose three games in a row, by this time next year they still will have lost three games in a row this year. Time doesn’t change history or erase excruciating football memories.
There are some platitudes or cliches that make sense once you know where they come from. Something which “costs an arm and a leg” harkens back a couple of hundred years when portraits could only be accomplished by brush on canvas and or in sculpture. Drawing or sculpting hands, arms and legs cost more because they added to the difficulty of the art, so they cost more to do and another platitude was born.
I could also live without the inanity, “It could have been a lot worse.” The next person who mouths that banality to me may find out what things feel like when they get worse. I’m not an aggressive person, but sometimes a man has to raise himself up to his maximum possible height, puff out his chest and say, “No more, doggone it, no more!
I don’t care how many carp carcasses are in the sea!
To comment on this column, email email@example.com.