By all accounts, English is one of the most complex languages on the planet. It’s a tongue peppered with proverbs and idioms that native users hurl around without giving a second thought to the deeper meaning. But often, if you look deeper at the linguistic goings-on of our most common sayings, you’ll be surprised to find some insidiously horrific messages.
Before you tell someone not to count their chickens before they roost, or not to put all their eggs in one basket, or not to cry over spilt milk, make sure you’re well-acquainted with the proverbs of our time—and why many of them are actually terrible, terrible advice. And for more ways to elevate your own vocabulary, brush up on these 50 Things No Woman Should Ever Say After 50.
“Love is blind.”
Sure, you may gloss over a few of your new partner’s flaws when you get together, but real love isn’t blind—and it shouldn’t be. Just because you can see the flaws in another person doesn’t mean you’re not actually in love, and being a good partner doesn’t mean constantly overlooking real problems in your relationship. But, if you want to make certain that things are two-heart-eyes amazing, check out the 15 Signs Your Partner Is Marriage Material.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
This commonly-used phrase is generally understood to mean that what you currently have is always worth more than what you could get but have no guarantees about securing. However, it’s also a great way of justifying complacency.
While this proverb is certainly applicable in some situations—no, it’s probably not wise to leave your wife because a Victoria’s Secret model just broke off her engagement—it also seems to say that having a decent thing (perhaps a steady but ultimately unfulfilling job) is better than going after something you truly want and potentially failing. And for more expressions to remove from your personal lexicon, start with these 40 Slang Terms No One Over 40 Should Ever Use.
“You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
In a strict sense, this is true—omelets are literally dependent on the cracking of eggs to be made. However, this phrase, which is used to mean, “You can’t create something good without some negative effects occurring,” is far from true.
While bad things do happen, they don’t always happen—and in many cases, if you can’t create a positive outcome without encountering a negative one along the way, the problem isn’t the event. It’s you. And when you’re ready to make your speech sound less dated, it’s time to ditch these 40 Things Only Older People Say.
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
This phrase means simply that you shouldn’t count on a positive outcome before you have evidence of it happening. It’s also dreadfully pessimistic. Are we really still telling people that optimism is a bad thing?
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Can a weekend away from your significant other sometimes make you more appreciative of them when you return? Absolutely. However, this isn’t always true. Considering how often long-distance relationships fail, it’s pretty clear that there are some limitations to this rule. Think that’s bad advice? Just wait until you see these 40 Relationship Tips That Are Actually Terrible.
“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
This phrase, which generally advises men against marrying women who will sleep with them first, is about as sexist as they come. Considering that research suggests that approximately 95 percent of people have premarital sex, it hardly seems like an applicable saying these days. Oh, and if you ever want to get a date again—or if you just want to be a not-horrible person—never compare women to livestock.
“No pain, no gain.”
While this reasonably self-explanatory piece of wisdom is most commonly spouted by the musclebound these days, there are more general contexts in which it’s applied, as well. And in general, it’s simply not true—while hard work often yields positive results, suffering doesn’t have to be part of the package. And if you want the bulk without this inane saying, try out these 40 Great Exercises for Adding Muscle Over 40.
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
Meaning that being overly inquisitive can get you in trouble, this phrase is often dropped when people seem to be asking too many questions. However, if you’re in the habit of telling people that curiosity is somehow a negative trait, you’re definitely in the wrong.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
“Don’t cry over spilt milk” simply means that there’s no use fretting about a bad thing if there’s no way to fix it. However, it’s also a pushy way of telling people that their feelings aren’t worthwhile, and a particularly unsympathetic way of suggesting that people move on from traumatic experiences.
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”
While “every cloud has a silver lining” may be a nice way of looking at bad situations with some optimism, it’s also just not accurate. Sometimes bad things happen, and you only have worse things to look forward to.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”
Though it may seem to make sense that a team would only be as strong as its weakest member, this is pretty much only true if your strongest member isn’t doing their job. You may have a coworker who’s not up to snuff, but if you have a good leader in charge, they shouldn’t bring the whole team down.
“It is what it is.”
“It is what it is” might just be the ultimate conversation stopper. It’s also one of the more nihilistic ways of looking at the world: If you think that the way things are is the way that they will be indefinitely, what’s the use of trying, anyway?
“Better late than never.”
In some cases, it is better to do something late than to never do it at all. However, this expression is often used to justify adults making poor choices. Sure, if someone repays a loan late, that’s better than never getting your money at all, but it’s still pretty inconsiderate. Never be late again; master the 15 Easy Hacks That Will Make You On Time—All The Time.
“The early bird catches the worm.”
Though it may be true that some people who act early have better luck in the long run, that’s far from an a priori maxim. In fact, being too eager to get something accomplished might just mean you’re overlooking important details along the way.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
While it stands to reason that you don’t need to fix something until it breaks, this expression is a great excuse for some serious laziness. For instance, while flip phones may have been a fine way of communicating, if nobody had “fixed” things, we’d never have smartphone technology. In fact, trying to make existing inventions better—whether they’re already broken or not—is how progress is made.
“Only God can judge me.”
Depending on your particular religious beliefs, you may think this is ultimately true. That said, between you and the big man, there are teachers, bosses, police officers, juries, and, you know, actual judges who have every right to make some judgments about you, too.
“Laughter is the best medicine.”
This is literally only true for those who’ve never heard of penicillin. And in many cases, people going through a traumatic situation don’t actually want to be cracked up; they want to sit with their current feelings.
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
While this phrase, which advises against risking everything on a single opportunity, may make sense if you’re considering spending your nest egg on lottery tickets, it’s hardly sage advice in general. In many cases, without taking a big risk, you’ll never reap big rewards. Just ask virtually any successful entrepreneur.
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Just because you can’t change someone else’s opinion or behavior doesn’t mean you should change your own. You probably had a good reason for disagreeing with them in the first place, and it’s never a good look to back down from your convictions so easily.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” generally means that, if you hear a rumor, there’s at least a grain of truth to it. The only problem? That’s not always the case. Just look at any “leaks” from Marvel movie sets.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Though you may want to keep an eye on people who seem intent upon doing you harm, there’s no real reason for this saying to dictate you into planning your life around paranoia. In fact, unless you’re a spy or a particularly scandal-prone politician, most people simply aren’t spending that much time thinking about how to outwit you.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
This phrase posits that the most noticeable problems—or the ones most commonly complained about—are the ones most likely to get fixed. However, many also take this to mean that if there’s not a glaring error, then everything is fine. Unfortunately, that also means that those who subscribe to this theory are at risk of overlooking smaller issues, and assume that problems will be more obvious if they’re worth fixing.
“Beggars can’t be choosers.”
In a literal sense, if you’re begging for something to eat and then suddenly upgrade your request to filet mignon and Veuve Clicquot, you’re probably overplaying your hand. However, if you think that anybody who asks for a favor has to accept the bare minimum, you’re probably not as generous as you think.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
It’s nice to imagine that the worst moments in our life are followed up by better ones. That said, not only does the darkest part of the night not directly precede the dawn—it’s already getting lighter before dawn, technically—in many cases, bad things happen, and then more bad things happen. And then more bad things happen.
“A leopard cannot change its spots.”
This phrase, which means a person can’t change their nature, is a pretty depressing way to look at life. People make huge changes for the better all the time, and just because you’ve seen someone’s bad side doesn’t mean that’s all there is to them.
“Be true to yourself.”
In theory, this is a nice sentiment: Stand by your convictions. In practice, however, it’s not such good advice. What if your true self is horrible? Also, it poses a more philosophical question: should you be true to the self you present to the world, or the one you aspire to be?
“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
While too many cooks in an actual kitchen may make for some difficult meal prep, this phrase also negates the value of diversity. In many cases, having too many ideas to choose from is far better than having too few.
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
Being a self-starter is great, as is being capable of working independently. If you actually think that nobody can do a job as well as you, though, you’re making it pretty clear you’re not a team player.
“Money is the root of all evil.”
Money can certainly complicate situations. However, claiming that money is the root cause of all of the problems in the world conveniently ignores the countless issues that can’t be solved with cash alone. And worse yet, this so-called wisdom is only ever spouted by those who have enough money to get by.
“Good things come to those who wait.”
Does patience sometimes pay off? Certainly. Does being patient guarantee that good things will happen? Absolutely not. Many people keep putzing around until their luck rolls in only to realize that they’ve been waiting in vain. And for some wisdom that’s actually worth following, check out these 100 Life-Changing Quotes to Inspire Your Days.
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