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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Gogerly

YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN What's in a saying? Why do we reach for the same old words again and again?

A good saying can get you through all eventualities of life - from the cradle to the grave (life is
full of cliches too - there is a difference!) there are words we come back to simply because they
help us strive to be our best, bring us inspiration or act as comfort blankets soothing our
troubles. Often we don’t know the source of the words; “Hearts are made to be broken,” was
first penned in Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis but for me it is something my mother repeated when
I had boyfriend problems. Likewise, when a friend said; “Be the heroine of your life, not the
victim”, I was impressed with her wisdom until I chanced upon the source in Nora Ephron’s I
Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.

Some expressions are not attributable to anyone yet they are powerful tools. Many of my
favourites I’ve inherited from my grandmother Dolly Delaney, a woman of Irish descent with a
massive heart and anthology of anecdotes. “Better late, than early in heaven,” she screeched if anyone drove too fast when she was in the passenger seat. I’ve repeated it to many speedy drivers and not only have they slowed down but we’ve had a good laugh about it - it’s a great saying which needs to live on.
“One’s just nice, two’s too many and three’s not enough,” was another of my grandmother’s
fabulous sayings - she used it about gin but it helps counter my love of biscuits and cakes. To
this day, I can still picture her proclaiming “It’s nice to be nice” and I’ve tried to live by this one,
even when someone doesn’t deserve it, because it gets results - what goes around really does
come around!

Shakespeare must have the largest collection of mantras about love and relationships but my
grandfather Solly was good on matters of the heart too. Solly and Dolly shared a lifetime of ups and downs, however, they still made it to their golden wedding anniversary. As a ‘woke’
teenager, I had issues with his expression: “she makes me her king and I make her my queen”
but now I understand the simple logic. Strip away those regal pretensions or my feminist
principles and the message is clear: treat someone with respect and they’ll do likewise. It’s
another idiom from the ‘what goes around, comes around’ school of thought but it’s effective
because it’s true.

Nothing comes around like a good saying and many of these were gifted to me by my parents.
When I was a girl my mum bought me books of Chinese proverbs and regularly quoted them at
me. However, wise words like “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single footstep,” was
way above my head. It was my dad’s snappier “little and often gets the job done” which jogged
me into action, albeit begrudgingly, and got me to hit the school books or practise the piano.
These days I can almost hear my dad’s voice uttering those immortal words as I tackle
housework, DIY projects, exercise or even Christmas present shopping (I start in July). To my
horror, I’m now using the same expression with my children but when it comes to tidying their
rooms it’s become more: “very little, not very often”.

“You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps!” is a much derided cliche, but fortunately
there are plenty of useful sayings to be found in the workplace. My first job was in a pub and I
can still hear landlord Sid Bishop’s words as I started my shift: “You can only serve one
customer at a time.” This advice has served me well throughout my career, not just pulling pints,
and it sits beautifully alongside that other classic; “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Whatever your job, you may feel overwhelmed by demands but this simple recommendation
helps to still the voices. Make lists, prioritize what needs to be done but listen to yourself and
remember you can only do one thing or concentrate on a single person at a time - the result or
relationship will be better for your undivided attention.

Some sayings truly hit home and truly take us in a new direction. I’ve repeated my Uncle Peter’s
pithy “this isn’t the dress rehearsal, it’s the real thing,” to many friends, as well as myself, when
there is a difficult decision to be made. And, if I ever worry about spending any savings on a
wonderful, chance in a lifetime, experience I ask: “what do I want to be - the richest person in
the graveyard? - in other words “you can’t take it with you.” There are hundreds more about
grabbing opportunities while you can, living every day as if it’s your last and being in the
moment. It would be all too easy to cast off any of these expressions as just platitudes but as
my mum often said, “they are platitudes for a reason” and that’s because they are universal and
true and they help us navigate life.

Article originally published in Breathe magazine 2021.

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