Thursday, April 09, 2009

in which the straw outsmarts us

Expressions let the Germans make the dumb among them even dumber than elsewhere. The most common simile expressions with "dumb" are dumm wie Stroh, or dumb as straw, and dumm wie Brot, or dumb as bread.
Compared to the Germans, the English expressions seem dull. What do we have? Dumb as a post, which nobody uses, and dumb as an ox.
Ok, a post is dumb, but if you put a piece of bread in a bowl of warm water you'll see that it's much stupider. Straw, to take it further, is surely the dumbest of the dumb. It looks dumb, and it just lies around collecting Schmutz.
I find the expression dumm wie Brot particularly hilarious. Do you think one day someone was just staring at a piece of bread and it dawned on him that bread is not very smart?
Of course in English we also say dumb as hell, but we use this noun too much, revealing a poverty of imagination. Hot as hell, cold as hell, expensive as hell, ugly as hell, or, for variety, shit - dumb as shit, ugly as shit... etc! Kind of loses its punch, no?
Of all these -bread, straw, post and ox- the ox must surely be the least dumb. If all these dumb things got together, he'd surely be named leader.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a book about St. Thomas Aquinas called "Dumb Ox." Here's the blurb - notice how straw weasels its way into the story...
'This brilliant sketch of the life and thought of Thomas Aquinas is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1933. It will introduce the wondrous mystery of the man who, after a life of unparalleled genius, was seized by a vision of Our Lord and said, "I can write no more. I have seen things which make all my writings like straw." St. Albert the Great said of Aquinas, "You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you that the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud that his bellowing will fill the world!"'


BJeronimo said...

This post proves my thought that you are smart as a whip.

A favorite use of simile in literature is doornail in Xmas Carol; '...I might have been inclined to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of iron mongery of the trade...'

Ron. Lavalette said...

Here in Yahooville, they often say "dumb as a box of rocks" which, although perhaps not more meaningful, is certainly more poetic and fun to say.

fleck said...

And then there is "dumb as all get-out". . . which is not so easy to translate into German, but is somehow remarkable for its combination of absolute obscurity (what on earth is "all get-out" really? straw without straw itch mites?) and commensurate clarity (I know what precisely what it means).

"All get-out" does have a Merriam-Webster Unabridged entry of sorts: slang: the extreme (as of extent, degree, quality, or condition) encountered or conceivable -- used in comparisons to suggest something superlative: a handbag big as all get-out -- New Yorker; stubborn as all get-out

SarahJane said...

Bob - and still i had cheat off you in algebra. Love that quote. "Mongery!"
Ron., I'd never heard "dumb as a box of rocks," which I guess was invented by a vermonter who keeps boxes of rocks?
Fleck, "all get-out" is a great expression. I would like a handbag big as all get-out, too.


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