4 Wise Proverbs That Need to Be Revised for the Modern World
Language needs a maid. It keeps accruing new words and phrases compulsively while never taking the time to throw out the old stuff, like a frenzied, desperate hoarder who is doomed to be crushed one day by his own toppling stacks of ancient dictionaries and Cosmo magazines. Even the adages, originally designed to help clean up the mess of language by acting as shorthand for universal truths about putting eggs in baskets and stitches in time, have sat neglected for so long that they're now far more confusing than helpful. And while I'm sure each of those proverbs has a fascinating and storied history, it's time for us to harden our hearts, huck all that shit into a dumpster, and move on.
"Jesus, how long exactly have you been holding on to this?"
If only there was someone willing to stand up and do the job of cleaning house, a hero to face that tangled nest of words and separate the garbage from the reusables. If only there was someone who already owned a sultry maid's outfit because he bought it for a Halloween party last year but chickened out at the last minute and went as a skeleton, again.
Alright, I'll do it.
What follows are four archaic proverbs that are so old and tired that they need to be cut from our vernacular immediately, and in their place I've provided modern versions that I think you'll agree are infinitely more relatable and, at times, downright sexy. Let's agree to do this again every 50 years or so. If I'm dead by then, I'll leave my maid's uniform in a cave somewhere, like Batman.
Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
Given how weirdly dependent this axiom is on an expertise in horse bartering, it's odd that it has stuck around as long as it has. It both presupposes that people are doling out horses as gifts frequently enough that we'd all feel comfortable using that as our context for understanding some bigger truism, and also that we would instinctively know to look for the strengths and weaknesses of a horse by prying open its mouth. Do horses have some sort of natural on-board diagnostics system in their throats? That seems like something Westerns would have covered more often if it were true.
The sentiment, of course, is that you should never be ungrateful for something that's free. It's just a shame that the one example had to be a massive animal that shits where it pleases and can kick a hole through you when it gets nervous.
Great, thank you. I'm sure it will go well in my studio apartment.
In fact, if anyone threatened to give me a horse as a present, I would look for any excuse I could think of not to accept it. And if I knew that I could use some tell in the horse's mouth as an out, that's the very first thing I would do. So really the saying has only taught me a trick to avoid owning a horse, which I don't think was the original intention. That's why, in its place, I submit the much more accessible:
No One Deserves Birthday Cake
While most of us have never tried to force apart the jaws of a horse, everyone has certainly spent a day celebrating their continuing existence by forcing restaurant waitstaff to begrudgingly sing "Happy Birthday" over a free dessert. Birthdays are the epitome of self-entitlement, celebrating a moment in your life that you had absolutely no control over and from which you are already the primary beneficiary. Still, we make special allowances for people on their birthdays, showering them with gifts and parties and Facebook messages, and at the heart of the ritual is always cake.
Now, unless you are 100 years old or the survivor of some debilitating disease, you don't deserve birthday cake. You have never deserved birthday cake. It is something society has collectively decided to offer you as a generous gift to make you feel special. Yet everyone feels entitled to it. We will complain that we don't like butter cream frosting or that the inside is dry because we've forgotten that none of this is merited.
Oh, shut up.
No one should ever complain about anything between bites of birthday cake, even if they are eating it in the middle of a house fire. Those are rules we should all live by. That same sentiment extends to every scenario in which you get more than you deserve. Take every gift and be grateful, even if that gift ends up being a whole horse, which it won't, ever.
A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush
This idiom is an embarrassment. It's the equivalent of finding 20 shoe boxes full of expired coupons to Kenny Rogers Roasters in the congested house of language. Its origins are so obscure and archaic now, it's shocking that a saying like this could survive for centuries. Born from the art of medieval falconry, hunters deduced that having one hunting falcon trained and on your hand was a better option than two wild ones that haven't been caught yet. This logic is hard to argue with, primarily because no one knows the first thing about throwing birds at other birds anymore. There's another version from Ecclesiastes IX in the Bible that says, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," which is equally obscure if not just a little more hardcore. Both sayings are meant to assure people that it's always better to take a certainty over the remote possibility of something greater, but there are much easier ways to do that now than relying on a knowledge of exotic pet ownership. That's why I propose we start using this adage instead:
Karate Kid 3 on Netflix Streaming Is Worth the Whole Franchise on Redbox
Part III is hands down the worst movie of all the Karate Kids, and arguably the worst movie of 1989. It's almost as if Parts I and II are allergic to the third movie because it actually makes them worse just by proximity.
"Your movie is sucking and I can't save it!"
But given the choice between knowing for sure that The Karate Kid, Part III is on streaming and available to watch immediately or walking to 7-Eleven in the hopes that the Redbox has any other movie in the franchise, we will always take Door Number 1. As disparate as the films may be, it's simply not worth the risk of getting there, not seeing it, renting the 2010 remake by mistake, and wandering home with the wrong movie and a stomachache after tricking yourself into buying gas station nachos. It's just not worth it. Everyone knows that, so let's give up on the weird falconry past times of our ancestors and focus on hobbies that actually matter. Specifically, watching Daniel Larusso win on a technicality.
You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover
There was an age when reading a book was much more visceral. It required cracking a spine, coating the corners of each page with spit and occasionally some blood from paper cuts. The books were also hardbound and expensive, so it was only natural for people to want to know what they were investing themselves in early. Jumping into a book was almost like jumping into a relationship, which is why the saying "You can't judge a book by its cover" is a mantra people frequently turn to on dates with midgets or psoriasis sufferers.
"It's weird, you didn't constantly pretend to gag yourself in any of your profile pictures."
But the era of books was more than three years ago, Grandpa -- we've moved on to Kindles and Nooks now. We don't have to judge books by their covers anymore because most of them don't have covers. Also, we have the luxury of hundreds of reviews available at our spitless fingertips before we ever even buy the thing that makes the saying completely obsolete. So in order to impart the same sentiment today, you have to present it in terms the hip young kids will understand. That's why I'd like to upgrade the adage to:
Video Thumbnails of Vaginas Are Almost Never Vaginas
Time is a precious commodity, and there's a special type of rage reserved for the realization that you've been duped into watching a boring Internet video when you thought for sure there was going to be nudity. This is a frequent trick implemented on YouTube to accumulate views on otherwise boring videos; the still image from the video in the thumbnail will look vaguely like it might be someone trying to get naked or already a nudity success story. Even though the Internet is bursting at the seams with pornography, for some reason biological imperative steals our sense of free will and obliges everyone to click on these images.
Yeeeeeah, wait. No, this is a video on armpit waxing.
As a result, a video about some teenagers jumping into water will have 49 million views exclusively because one of the girls looks like she might be taking her top off in the thumbnail. This maxim just reminds us that things are not always what they seem, plus it also has the added benefit of letting you say "vagina" twice, which is fun.
The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword
When this adage was coined in the late 1830s, our ancestors couldn't have possibly anticipated that we'd live in a future where pens are relegated exclusively to dream journals and restaurant receipts. Whatever power the pen once had has been neutered or stripped away to the point that a pen isn't mightier than most toothpicks anymore. Additionally, a sword isn't all that impressive either now that we have laser cannons that shoot from space and guns that can fire through walls, so really in every respect this idiom is dated. The only way it could conceivably still ring true is if we are talking about a James Bond type of pen that shoots poison darts or explodes.
Fortunately, words haven't lost any of their ferocity since the 19th century; they just changed mediums. That's why I'd like us all to try adopting a new axiom:
We're All Killers Behind Our Keyboards
Part of the reason words are so dangerous in the first place is because they make it tough to fight back. People can wield them from hundreds of miles away without much threat that the person on the receiving end will be able to track them down and push them into a ditch. Everyone on the Internet has sensed this tremendous power and, naturally, exploited it enthusiastically. The new modified version of "The Pen Is Mightier" birthed the Internet Tough Guy into the world, ready to do battle with entire armies, provided he doesn't have to put on pants first or leave the house.
Sorry, I didn't mean to be sexist. I'm sure there are plenty of terrible Internet Tough Girls, too.
But keyboards don't just produce hollow threats. Some people have the capacity to do far more damage than a sword ever could, hacking into government files, taking control of operating systems, and ruining lives. It's all still language, but it's used with a devastating efficiency. But because everyone maintains a cushion of anonymity, it's not always easy to tell the difference between someone who is genuinely dangerous and someone who's just pretending at danger, so we have to treat everyone with the same caution. Everyone's a potential killer when they're on the computer, even the woman from the Midwest who blogs fan fiction about her ferrets. Even that impossibly symmetrical columnist you love to read on Tuesdays.