“Don’t Be An Idiom!”

Thank you Peter for the witty title!

I never sit directly on a toilet seat in public places; I wipe down my shopping carts; I use paper-towels in public bathrooms to open the doors; and I religiously wash all fruit and vegetables… and yet, I’ve been sick, more often, than ever before.

I don’t get it. They say, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and I’m the very soul of sanitation; and yet the germs keep gaining ground!

Does God hate me? Or is it that because I am not close to godliness that cleanliness does not produce the obvious results?

What I do know is that – not only am I not next to godliness, but that my attempts at cleanliness don’t produce the desired outcome.

Hmmmm, which came first the chicken or the egg?


I love idioms and sayings.

I can spend hours browsing through them. That’s how I discovered the brilliance of Chesterton, and Waugh (an anti-Semite of the first degree). However, some of those quotes are sheer nonsense, and yet we repeat them like they’re truth – probably because they just sound so good, smart, wise and useful.

Hitchens already wrote (and beautifully so, IMHO) about the fallacy of “Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger”. This sounds like a good one, doesn’t it?  Therapists and 12-Steppers love to quote it, except that it is often untrue.

PTSD won’t kill you, but it won’t make you stronger. Likewise, you can suffer from Crohn’s disease and still be alive, but not stronger. You get my point?

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” said F D Roosevelt.  My first reaction is ‘duh’, it is kind of obvious.  But, my second reaction is that this is one of the best examples of tautology. In analyzing the idiom for its inherent message, shouldn’t I fear a gun aimed at me?  You betcha!  I have a lot to fear, that is if I still want to be alive…

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” is a famous Benjamin Franklin’s quote. Now I really like Ben, but this one feels like he simply wanted his statement to rhyme. “Rise” and “wise” sound good together, and they also make it easier to remember!

Maybe one does stay healthier if one gets enough sleep, and maybe one can get wealthier by getting up early, as we all know that “The early bird catches the worm”…  But wise? That befuddled me completely. Maybe you can tell me how I can become wise by going to bed early.                                                                                                   

According to Wordsworth and Billy Joel (respectively), “The good die first” and “Only the good die young”.  So, I guess that means the rest of us, who are still alive and not so young mustn’t be so good – unless, of course, this was intended to console parents when losing their children. Regardless, I know many good people who died old and some young ones who were not noted for their kindness.

So the next time you quote someone or something, please: “Think before you speak!” It’s a good practice, and it kind of rhymes…


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
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14 Responses to “Don’t Be An Idiom!”

  1. Barbara Cooper says:

    Too much cleanliness leaves your immune system unable to fight germs- that is why you are getting sick. A random germ here or there keeps your body working properly to fight infection!
    Overcoming that which doesn’t kill you- not just surviving it, but overcoming it does make you stronger!
    Only the good die young- well if someone is so good and so loved even if they live to a 100, they’ve died too soon.
    I can’t address “early to bed” not part of my lifestyle!
    And maybe I’m missing something here, but “Think before you speak” doesn’t rhyme, at least not in English!

    • rachel bar says:

      The quote is not about “overcoming”, but even overcoming does not necessarily make you stronger. Actually, sometimes overcoming trauma makes you weaker for the next one.
      I agree with your comment that if you love someone, then whenever they die, it will always be too soon. However, that’s not the quote.
      Finally, it kind of rhymes for me, but that’s probably because of my accent. I did make a correction on my blog:)

  2. Jim Palmer says:

    “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (My favorite philosopher) The Hitchens you refer to ….Is that the famous author/athiest that just died recently ?? not my favorite guy

  3. Jim Palmer says:

    I had read your blog about Hicthens, just forgot it….. I had a different opinion about him, his phrasing was to cute by about half….You need not apologize about your communication skills, Your thoughts come through load and clear…..politically and socially naïve and uber left wing, however i never wonder what you meant. There is a certain comedic effect to your thoughts, like my daughter you live in a different world than most of us………


  4. Martha Carr says:

    I frankly think it is random in terms of getting sick. As careful as you might be, you could easily have been handed a check by a client who had a bug, or put your hand on a railing going down some stairs that someone else had just used, or pushed an elevator button, or just hugged someone who was infectious but not yet symptomatic. I’ve had years where I hardly get colds and others where I’ve had multiple colds and my hygiene habits haven’t changed! It also depends on whether you’ve previously been exposed to that virus (and if you are rested, stressed, run-down etc.) Your immune system helps you fight it off sometimes more successfully than others! SO many factors! Dick has a cold now!

  5. frances mitchell says:

    My mum is a nurse so she knows how to control infection. It’s not what you’d expect. When all her residents (rest home) are well, she uses basic cleaning I.e. once a day with regular products. Only when an outbreak occurs does she start cleaning more often and with disinfectant etc. This way outbreaks actually happen less often and don’t last as long. The reason is that if you keep yourself in a constant state of almost sterile cleanliness your immune system actually becomes weaker. There are no bugs to keep it working. If you only take the precautions you mentioned above to avoid seasonal diseases e.g. colds in season, you’re doing a more effective job than if you did them year round.

  6. Oh, my, here I go contextualizing. My best bet about Ben Franklin is that (1) he was a man of his age and we need to understand the cultural context first. Word usage changes over time. (2) indeed, he sold writing and wise and rise do rhyme, at least they do now. (3). He drank like a fish so maybe he was in his cups at the time.

    BTW, I like how you think. :^).

  7. I often think of this comment by Al Capone which became an idiom of mine while I was in protective services: “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” I think, however, it is more black humor…

  8. backonmyown says:

    (Giggle.) I love idioms. My high school students liked the name “idiom” because somehow it fits. I used to put an idiom on the board once a week to see which students could figure out an English equivalent. Well, more or less.

    I agree with Barbara–too much cleanliness paves the way for germs to take hold. I read (I don’t remember where.) that we would do well to go back to washing our hands with regular soap and skip the ubiquitous antibacterial concoctions of today. We may be killing off too many good germs. Just a thought for what it’s worth.

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for your comment. I decided to read my blog again and I found many punctuation mistakes! Hopefully all corrected. I agree that I’ve become a zealot when it comes to washing hands. Mostly because I used to be so healthy and as I age I get sick more often. I did relax about it after writing the blog

      • backonmyown says:

        I’m going to be gone for a couple of weeks, with limited internet access, but I look forward to reading more of your posts when I return. Take care. BTW, since I no longer teach, I no longer look for or notice grammatical and spelling errors. I imagine I make quite a few myself. The important thing is to WRITE IT DOWN. It’s important to tell our stories.

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