Friday, October 25, 2013

Here’s the real reason every show wants a strong cast

Last weekend, I was headed to Umpqua Actors Community Theater to see “Little Women.” A few of my friends were involved in the production, so I sent them a quick “break a leg” note of encouragement on Facebook.

Then I stopped and thought about what a weird phrase that is. If I’m trying to encourage someone, why would I wish them harm?

There are phrases like this that I say and think I know what they mean. At least I know what they mean in today’s culture, but after a little research, I discovered that they started off meaning something quite different.

For example, in the instance of “break a leg,” it turns out that actors are traditionally superstitious and think that a “good luck” will have the opposite effect. So, by wishing someone bad luck (a broken leg), the hope is that something good will occur.

Speaking of legs, another strange idiom we use is “pulling my leg.” My son has a friend who was raised in a bilingual home, so there were times that messages were lost in translation on Erick, especially when he was young. In fact, one day I was giving him a ride home from pre-school and he was telling me some story about dinosaurs and pterodactyls, and I said, “Are you pulling my leg?”

Silence. He leaned forward from the back seat, craning his neck to see me in the front seat before declaring, “I’m nowhere near your leg!”
The kid had a point.

Turns out that phrase began in the 1800s in London. Criminals would trip someone (by pulling their leg) in order to disorient and confuse them, allowing them to be easily robbed. The idiom is used primarily in English-speaking countries, but in Spanish speaking countries they say “Are you pulling my hair?”

Another phrase that has baffled me over the years is “raining cats and dogs.” Obviously, there has been no record of rainfall where cats and dogs fell from the sky, so what gives? There are many theories on this phrase, but one is the most accepted explanation. In 16th Century Europe, many houses were built with thatched roofs. Animals reportedly sought shelter under the thatched roof in inclement weather to protect themselves from the elements. During heavy rain falls, cats and dogs would literally fall from the rooftops.

There’s one phrase I’ve used to describe my own children when I say they’re “cut from the same cloth” as their father. Of course I realize it means that they are very similar, strikingly so, whether in appearance or manner. But the real meaning goes beyond that. Back in the day when women sewed clothes for their family, it was often more economical to buy a lot of the same fabric, so their clothes were actually “cut from the same cloth.”

When I hear that someone has a “chip on his shoulder” I understand that to mean that he has something to prove. The original meaning was quite literal: In the 19th century, when someone was looking for a fight, he would walk around with a chip of wood on his shoulder, daring others to knock it off. If you were interested in fighting, you would simply walk up and knock the chip off the person’s shoulder and the fight would begin.

Suffice it to say, language is interesting … almost as interesting as the people who speak it. Whether we’re “pouring salt in the wound,” “tying the knot” or “buying the farm” I never tire of the way we use words to paint pictures of life.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Killer savings prompt ‘Veni, vidi, vilse’ at IKEA

If you’re anything like me, you love a bargain. And sometimes that means getting home, unpacking your bags to brag about how much money you saved, then asking yourself, “Now what was I thinking when I bought that?”

“Oh, yes, it was $64.99 marked down to $4.99! How exciting.” I answer myself.

Begs the question: Will I ever wear it? Chances are I won’t, but I did save myself 60 bucks right there, and to me, that’s better than having a wool jacket from Old Navy that will sit in my closet only to be brought out at opportune times to exclaim “Look what I got for $4.99!”

Periodically, some lucky family members are the recipients of my deals, impulsive decisions made based on the sheer savings. I happily wrap the presents while whistling a merry holiday tune, and I imagine my sister in Ohio opens the present Christmas morning and mumbles to herself, “Now why does Eileen think I need a combination mustache/ear hair trimmer?” Little does she know I saved her 75 percent from the asking price, for which she’ll thank me later, I’m sure.

And that’s what found me walking the aisles that are IKEA in Portland.

If you haven’t been to an IKEA before, it’s a little like entering Alice’s rabbit hole or C.S. Lewis’s Wardrobe. Put simply: Once you enter, it’s tough to return. And you leave something of yourself behind every time.

The maze-like layout is confusing, abruptly dropping you in a corner by yourself, not knowing when or how you got there. In situations like these, our family utilizes the ever-scientific Marco Polo technique: The lost person yells “Marco” while the person-who-was-smart-enough-to-not-wander-off replies “Polo.”

We started off together, one big happy family. But somewhere after looking at light fixtures together and examining the length of window treatments, I found myself looking at toilet scrubbers (two for 99 cents!) alone. Utterly and completely alone. I let out a weak “Marco?” but no one was around to answer “Polo.”

I know, I thought, I’ll use my cell phone to call Craig and see where he is. Now this is a technique I usually abhor, especially when I’m in Roseburg, at Ross, and someone calls their spouse/friend/child to shout “I’M IN THE SHOE SECTION. WHERE ARE YOU?” And I want to yell back, “Seriously? That’s worth making a cell phone call? You can’t walk around this store, which isn’t huge by the way, and see if you can locate this person?”

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was lost in a Swedish labyrinth of rock-bottom prices, surrounded by signs with unpronounceable Swedish words, and a sea of unfamiliar faces. So I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Craig. And immediately after pressing send the message came back: “Call failed.”

I was not getting reception in this wonderland of savings. I was vilse, vilse, vilse (that’s Swedish for “lost”) and I couldn’t find my way to the entrance if I tried, making me feel like a trapped Swedish prisoner-of-war (are there such things?) who would never again find her homeland, let alone her husband.

The only thing I was sure of was that the terry cloth bath towel I was gripping was a steal at $1.99, but everything else was a blur. I may have even signed up to become a Swedish citizen at one point, but I’m not certain.

So I did the only thing I knew that would eventually lead me to my family – I went to the in-store cafeteria. And there we met, and we reunited over a plate of Swedish meatballs, potatoes and ligonberries ($4.99 with drink!)

Crisis averted, we headed home, only $60 poorer. And IF I ever go back, WHEN I get lost again (this is a certainty) I will keep a few useful Swedish phrases in my pocket. First and foremost is “Var finns toalett?” There’s nothing worse than being lost in a maze and finding yourself in dire need of a toilet.

But one phrase that I hope I never have to use is “Jag har faktiskt blivit svensk medborgare.” This translates to “I've actually become a Swedish citizen.” I’m telling you, it’s times like this that make Craig shake his head and say, “I can’t take you anywhere.”

But as I wait, checking the mail to see if a letter from the Swedish Embassy arrives, I must find something to do with my four toilet brushes that were simply too cheap to pass up. Maybe I’ll hang them in the closet next to the coat from Old Navy, you know, the one I got for $4.99.

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking...