Beastly Expressions

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We wince when apt asses bray the frayed phrase: Were you born in a barn?

Because it worries us when words are chosen to create a pleasant or amusing sound at the expense of a clear meaning. This we dub to be the case with, "Were you born in a barn?"
Now, whatever its origins, most people now use it as a pejorative to connote the foul manners of another.

Yet if one considers what the phrase literally says, they should quickly realize that its perceived meaning is a misconception--and a bullheaded one at that.

Where one is born has relatively little impact on their conduct. Most of the people we know were born in the hospital, and despite the cleanliness of most hospitals we know, many of these people wallow in what we would charitably refer to as a pig sty.

Our Saviour, for example, was said to be born in a manger, among all sorts of asses, pigs, horse and sheep, slop, filth, straw, hay, rotted wood, mold, mildew, and Magi--in short decorated with all sort of lurid and disgusting grime, yet who among you is willing to decry His manners?

A better expression then, or at least one more consistent with the connotation, would be "Were you raised in a barn?"--suggesting that the disparagee's rustic sojourn was both extended and formulative.

But we've been ducking our initial point: "Raised in a barn" lacks the alliteration of "born" and "barn." For those who accept the inherent brusqueness of consonant plosives, "raised" lacks that, too. So "Born in a barn" may sound more forceful, but it's certainly less clear, and what's the point in sounding forceful if no one knows what you mean? That sort of thing really gets our goat.