Somebody Let the Cows Out
My title for this post is a euphemism, as defined by Wikipedia: Euphemism is a substitution for an expression that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the receiver, using instead an agreeable or less offensive expression to make it less troublesome for the speaker. To Wikipedia’s definition, I would add that it also makes it less troublesome for the one to whom the euphemism is directed—big time!
The word euphemism comes from the Greek word eupheme meaning words of good omen, and etymologically is the opposite of blaspheme, or evil speaking—the Greeks felt that one should speak well or not speak at all. An admonition oft delivered to me by my sainted mother was If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything. In my early years as a young boy, a small decorative plaque placed prominently on the wall of our combination living room/bedroom/game room/courting room bore a special poem—the poem and related information, all tremendously interesting and beautifully written, even if I do say so myself, can be found here and on my About Me page. The poem is as follows:
There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.
I have carried the image of that plaque and the words of that poem in my memories for almost eight decades. I sincerely wish that I could say that I’ve followed its recommendation over those decades but I cannot—so I will not. I will, however, share this claim with any viewer that happens to stray this way—at this time, admittedly a late date, I am striving mightily to follow the creed expressed on that small plaque in the hope that my failures will be overlooked and credit will be given, both in this realm and in the realm to come, for subsequent attention paid to that sage advice.
Our English language is rich in euphemisms, some created in English and many converted to English from other languages, resulting in a wealth of ways to express something that at first glance is unrelated to the subject, a pot of gold that is constantly spilling over as new euphemisms are created.
And now on to the crux of this posting:
The most recent example, at least the most recent euphemism that applied to me, was when I recently took a neighboring couple to the airport to catch a flight. After we retrieved their luggage from the car trunk the lady favored me with a goodbye hug. Her husband normally shakes hands, but this time he put his arm around my shoulders, pulled me close and whispered in my ear.
I was expecting him to say something similar to See you in a few days, or perhaps Don’t be late picking us up, but what he said was Somebody let the cows out. I was perplexed for at least two nano-seconds and then I realized that my jeans were not zipped, hence the reference to the cows being turned loose, implying that someone had left the barn door open. His courteous and euphemistic whisper in my ear was my neighbor’s way of telling me that my fly was open.
I was lucky—my neighbor could have asked me whether I was anticipating, advertising or absent minded, with the emphasis on absent minded. I suppose that such a question, whether voiced openly—so to speak—or communicated to me in a whisper, could in its self be considered a euphemism—I prefer the one dealing with the wayward cows.
I immediately made a 180-degree turn and tossed the rest of my words—over my shoulder. The ambient air temperature at the baggage drop-off point had risen so swiftly that my first thought was of Al Gore, that he was right about global warming and that it had finally arrived in central south Texas, but then I realized that the increase in temperature was caused by my blushing. Speaking quite frankly, had I been asked I would have said that I did not have a good blush left in me, but I was wrong—I did.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.