I love the English language. Here are a few alternative definitions to common English words:
• Selfish: What the owner of a seafood store does.
• Rubberneck: What you do to relax your wife.
• Subdued: A dude who works on a submarine.
• Benign: What you be after you be eight.
• Primate: Removing your spouse from the front of the TV.
• Paralyze: Two far-fetched stories.
My Dad used phrases that confused me. “Hey son, cat got your tongue?” No, no, the cat doesn’t have my tongue. Or he’d say, “We’ll go to Disneyland when pigs fly.” Or, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” We didn’t even have chickens. Of course, I came to understand that my Dad was using a linguistic expression called an idiom.
Here are three common idioms, and their origins:
1) “Spill the beans”
This means to reveal a secret. In ancient Greece on election day, a good citizen would receive a handful of beans. Some of them were white, and some were black. One container for each candidate was set out, and the citizen would place a white bean in the container if he/she approved of the candidate and a black bean if he/she did not. At the end of the day they’d spill the beans, to tally up the votes.
2) “The cold shoulder”
This is a rude way of telling someone they aren’t welcome. In medieval England when it was time for guests to leave, the host would give them a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef, mutton, or pork. (There are better ways, I think. Sometimes my Dad would say to our guests, “Quick, everybody into the backyard.” Then he’d lock the door. Okay, I made that up.)
3) “That’s a bunch of baloney”
Baloney (or bologna) is a lunch meat that sometimes contains actual meat products. It’s made up of odds and ends and cheeses and hoofs and things you’d rather not know about. When I was a kid, it was all we could afford. Then I tasted real chicken and turkey and beef, and baloney was forever ruined for me. I couldn’t settle for a lousy substitute anymore.
We’ve all settled for some baloney in our lives, haven’t we? Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” It’s taken me far too long to figure this out, but the more I taste the real thing, the less attractive substitutes are. And the less attractive sin is.
Today, may we find ourselves saying no to temporary substitutes for the real thing, not because we don’t want pleasure, but because we want true pleasure that is only found in Christ. The joy will return, and increasingly we’ll give the cold shoulder to phony baloney.