Published: Wednesday June 22, 2011 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 6, 2013 MYT 10:22:55 AM

Au contraire

Proverbs advise one thing ... and then make the switch?

HOLD fast to the words of your ancestors ... a sagacious voice booms from the past. A smart-alecky voice from the present might counter this with: Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them. Never mind, “I’ll be a fool for you” (but, no, I can’t sing that for you). I’m on the trail of opposing proverbs here, under a reprised title – “au contraire” – after an outing with “opposing” words (MOE, Sept 29, 2010).

I know. English proverbs currently fit this bill – out of sight, out of mind – since they hardly feature in the Malaysian English-language school context. And I’m not too sure their absence makes the heart grow fonder either, if to many, ignorance (of proverbs) is bliss. It helps to know that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Let’s take heart though, proverbs are not quite dead and buried so long as we of the older generation continue to breathe life into them. Take the cue from David Crystal (he of The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of English Language, 1995) who postulates that a whole generation has to pass away before a standard expression can be pronounced obsolete. Moreover, most languages continue to celebrate their particular boast of proverbs. I tried to showcase this in my article, “Fun, weird sayings” (MOE, Sept 9, 2009).

Everyone knows that there are two sides to a coin, literally and figuratively speaking. Newtonian Law – Sir Isaac’s Third, to be exact, which states that every action has an equal and an opposite reaction – is also used to explain the proverbial configuration that every proverb has an equal and an opposite proverb. Scientific justification aside, we are all familiar with how contrariety shapes, warps, or wraps up, our lot in life.

As we face our lot in life, thankfully, a majority of us wise men (women included) think alike. Never mind if some feel intimidated into branding us differently, like, fools seldom differ. Well, it’s really a case of one man’s meat is another man’s poison, isn’t it? Still, some diehards will insist that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander! Some gender bias there, I tell you. Talking about birds, I won’t beat about the bush – if you think it is foolhardy to take risks in life because a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, what then of Robert Browning’s exalted cry: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp ... and more ... or what’s a heaven for? Think about it.

I believe in lifelong learning (just so I don’t lose my marbles, yet), so I’m happy to motivate fellow seniors with: You’re never too old to learn! Yet, when it comes to technical applications, my measure of techno-phobia gets the better of me and I retort: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks! That gets my son’s goat. I am now also reminded of how confusing I must have sounded to my little boy some eons ago when “Tiger-Mom-like” I hovered and hollered: Practice makes perfect! as he plied the piano keys, none too enthusiastically. Then, in a moment of sheer abandon, with an affectionate smack on his bottom, I shooed him out of the house with: All work and no play makes ______ (his name) a dull boy! “Go and play!”

I often prefer to work alone in my kitchen. Aside from feeling hemmed in by company in my tiny kitchen, I tend to think that too many cooks spoil the soup. But I think otherwise when it comes to cleaning up after cooking. With a beaming smile, I announce within hearing of hubby and sons: Many hands make light work! It always works. Talking about my spouse – my friends are surprised that we’re hardly birds-of-a-feather-flock-together-type and yet our union has withstood the many pressures of domestic life. Perhaps there’s something to be said for opposites attract?

Look, while I’m at it, I’ll spill the beans, proverbially, how bien au contraire (quite the contrary/reverse) my husband and I can be. He believes that slow and steady wins the race; I swear time waits for no one. He often cautions: Look before you leap; I’m for carpe diem! Strike while the iron is hot, I say. Never mind if I get scorched sometimes. The kind soul is content with half a loaf is better than none, but I drive a hard bargain with my tenet of do it well or not at all! But hey, while we beg to differ more often than not, we both favour the truism that actions speak louder than words, together with its age-old contrary: The pen is mightier than the sword. That’s something.

You’ve heard: The best things in life are free. Fortunately, our lived experience prepares us for the worst: There’s no such thing as a free meal. Often, the I-owe-you note is simply implicitly understood until such time when we are obliged to return the favour. We all get wounded in life. So, it’s all right to be wary, overwhelmed, puzzled, or doubtful, along the way. Belief in self and trust in the Almighty wills us to learn from life’s lacerations and emerge stronger, because, if doubt is the beginning of wisdom, faith will move mountains!

Finally, I’m not sure if I made a good start – in proverbial-speak, that is. I know that many people believe great starts make great finishes. However, it is always good to bear in mind that it ain’t over till it’s over. It’s over.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle


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