Figures of Speech on the Farm

Country clichés conceal nuggets of truth.

| January/February 2010

Can we make it through the day without figures of speech? This morning, you woke up with the chickens and, since you ate like a bird last night, you were hungry as a horse. After hogging all the food at breakfast, you worked like a mule ’til the cows came home, and at the end of the day, you were dog-tired. Why do you do it? You’re not saying … but later, you’ll let the cat out of the bag.

There’s no doubt about it: no farm – and no farmer’s vocabulary – is complete without a flock of animals. Do these old sayings bear any relationship to reality? Let’s see.

Chickens: True! Chickens usually head for bed at dusk and are up with the sun, as are most birds. Besides, anyone who’s been within an acre of a rooster knows he’ll make sure we’re up at least as early as the chickens.

Birds: False! Compared to what we put on our plates, a bird’s supper is insignificant, but the reality is that birds must eat constantly, sometimes the equivalent of their weight or more. Depending on the species, a bird can eat half to all of its own body weight each day. That means a 200-pound man, if he were to eat like a bird, would eat from 100 pounds to 200 pounds each day – either option is probably not a good idea.

Horses: False! Most horses, if left to themselves, will browse a little bit here and there instead of eating one or two big meals. So “hungry as a horse” means you’re ready for a light snack instead of a full plate. If you’re famished, you’d be better off saying you’re hungry as a …

Hog: True! Ask anyone who raises a pig or two, and he’ll tell you that Porky will eat almost anything. The leftovers from your salad, odd greens from your garden, mash from beer-making, potato peelings, moldy donuts, even small reptiles and mammals. And they’re not polite, either. Pigs are happy to stand in the middle of the meal. That makes it easier to, um, hog their dinner.

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