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December 5, 2022
Ben Griffin

Things to Say When You Have Nothing Better to Say

Ben Griffin

Encounter new proverbs and experiment with times and places to say them.  

Ah, the English language. The language of Shakespeare, science, America, the unnecessary letters of Q and X, and weird proverbs that make no sense. Who’s to say what they mean, who said them first, or why other people decided they would say the same things? What’s important is how sayings make us feel.  

In general, sayings provide minimal practical advice to the listener but give the speaker a sense of elation. This pleasure is derived from properly remembering an obscure phrase somewhere in the dregs of their amygdala and applying it to a situation where it’s not at all applicable, but at least acceptable in the same way as an unwanted gift.  

I want to equip you with a few choice proverbial sayings you may not yet know. To familiarize you with them, I shall give you examples of opportune moments in which to use them, as well as a fill-in-the-blank quiz to help you remember the others.  

Good luck and enjoy becoming more intimate with our beloved English language (which has lovingly passed from colonial power to colony like a bad case of pink eye with a side of inconsistent spelling)! 

Example situations: 

Someone asks whether you think it will rain: 

  • When the oak is before the ash, then you will only get a splash; when the ash is before the oak, then you may expect a soak. (Bonus points if you say it in an English accent.) 

The Taco Bell employee asks if you would like sauce packets: 

  • What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. (“Uh yeah, so I’ll take mild, yeah thanks.”). 

You decided to wear white, and today, of all days, you spilled on yourself: 

  • There is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip. 

Your friend wants advice on their relationship where nothing is explicitly wrong, but things have felt off lately: 

  • Many a little makes a mickle. (Ignore the confused face your friend makes.) 

That same friend nearly ended their relatively short but emotionally complex relationship during a scorching fight with their significant other: 

You just ate Subway again and regret it immediately: 

  • A mill cannot grind with the water that is past. 

Your other friend does their laundry all together without separating the whites, the linens, the colors, and the wools, and you’re trying to explain to them that it really isn’t that hard, and they wouldn’t have to wear grey clothes everyday if they would just turn around their behavior now: 

  • You've got to separate the wheat from the chaff. (This is the analogy you use them to convince them you’re right.) 

Your grandpa who you’re staying with for a week is a birder, and you don’t know one single thing about ornithology, but you want to break the silence somehow: 

Literally any other situation: 

  • Softly, softly, catchee monkey. (Most effective if whispered in their ear.)
Carson: One of our beloved baristas literally about to spill a drink. Photo by ASWWU Photo.

Fill in these beautiful blanks: 

  1. ______ and ______ you plant for your ______. 
  2. Every ______ has two ends. 
  3. Do not cut off your ______ to spite your ______. 
  4. Fat ______, fat ______ it. 
  5. What you lose on the ______ you gain on the ______. 
  6. Even a ______ will turn. 
  7. Do not teach your grandmother to ______ eggs. 


Answer Bank: may be used more than once 















4. dog, dog 

1. walnuts, pears, heirs 

5. swings, roundabouts 

2. stick 

6. worm 

3. nose, face 

7. suck 




  1. List of proverbial phrases. (2022, November 1). Wikipedia.   
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