Parental Proverbs and Phrases

Welcome to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, where we creep through the English language labyrinth with a flashlight and a good dose of curiosity. Today, however, we might be hearing in our brains such admonitions as “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “Look where you’re going, not where you’ve been.”

Whatever the saying, you probably have some proverb stuck your head that your parents planted there by repetition in your childhood. Why not use clever language to instruct your kids? My parents passed on to me the following:

A thing worth doing is worth doing well. This was a nice way for my father to say, “Get your chore done, and do it right.” Also, it reminded us to give it our best with schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and service.

Don’t upset the applecart. Never mind that the image of a street vendor selling fruit was not in this city girl’s mental Pinterest, my mother threw out that gem to remind us not to pick fights or overreact.

Come into port with all of your flags flying. No, we were not boat people. However, growing up in Corpus Chisti, Texas along the Gulf Coast, I saw plenty of boats. My father used this proverb to let us know how important it was to follow something through to the end. It was often pulled out after Spring Break when the desire of most teenagers is to let their flag sag and cross theΒ end-of-school-year finish line in a ragged heap.

Shake a leg. Not really a proverb exactly, but I cannot count the number of times my mother suggested we be on time (or just a few minutes later instead of embarrassingly late) by using this phrase. It simply means to hurry up already!

Don’t toot your own horn. “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Yet my father would remind us not to brag about ourselves. Let someone else give a compliment and thank them for it. But let your actions speak for themselves; no need to boast.

I find myself adopting my own parental sayings for my children. I suppose it’s a habit all of us parents have. Here are a few I’ve tried.

When you win, celebrate; when you lose, congratulate. You’ll find that I like rhyming sayings. I came up with this one for my son who started playing t-ball at 4 1/2 years old (he’d been begging to play for several months already). Learning good sportsmanship is a primary goal of athletic endeavors with children. This was a way for him to remember how to behave when things do and don’t go your way in a game.

Commentary unnecessary. I use this phrase a lot! When you have more than one child, at some point you will give instructions to one and the other will want to add their own commentary to what you’re saying. It can be as simple as “Oh yeah, what Mom said!” or “He also hasn’t finished his math homework and played video games for an hour.” Whatever the issue, I try to let the non-instructed child know that I’m the parent and I’ve got it covered. Thus, “commentary unnecessary.” At this point, however, I just say, “Commentary–” and my children finish, “unnecessary.”

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around. Well, I did try this one out. It seemed perfect for those times when we need to get serious about cleaning, getting ready, eating, etc., but instead my children are messing around and wasting time. As it turned out, Talking Heads lyrics were a little wasted on munchkins born post-1990. It’s fallen by the wayside. *sigh*

I’m wondering what I should add to my repertoire and what other parental proverbs and phrases are being used out there. So whatcha got? What parental sayings do you recall from your childhood? What sayings have you repeated with your children?

And to leave you with the mother of all parental proverbs and phrases, here is the fabulous comedian Anita Renfroe with The Mom Song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture:

By the way,Β I’m guest posting today over at Nicole Basaraba’s blog as part of her series on genre. I’m taking a look at Young Adult (YA) Fiction.

20 thoughts on “Parental Proverbs and Phrases

  1. LOVED this. What surprised me… how quickly I started using these myself as a parent after hating them as a kid. One of my dad’s, and I could (and may) do a whole post of my dad’s sayings: “You might want horns, but you are going to die butt-headed.”

    Funny coincidence… today is P day in the A to Z challenge, so your title was Perfect. πŸ˜‰

    1. I know! You do kind of become your parents! That’s a really curious one from your dad. I haven’t heard it before! Hey, I like knowing that I coordinated with the AtoZ folks. Thanks, Tia!

  2. Loved commentary unnecessary! I could use that on Grace several times a day. I’m trying to think of phrases I use, and the only ones I can come up with are “ready, freddie?” and “move it or lose it!”

  3. Oh her song… sung it my self sooooo often. Glad I’m now the grandparent – YEAH
    “Keep it up and I’ll smack you into next week”, “Keep pulling up your socks, your fingers will fall off” and my all time favorite. Kid asks, Mom, what are we having for dinner? “Food.” or “What ever you’re making.
    Great Post Julie.

    1. I think I’ve said those last ones to my kids too! Let’s just say that I don’t love cooking.

      Thanks, Doree! I do think grandparenthood will be fun. All of the good stuff and return ’em when you need a break. πŸ™‚

  4. My mom had a million of them. She liked the “shake a leg” one too. I can’t count the number of times I heard such phrases as, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” (so don’t ask for anything) “We don’t live in a barn” (close the damn door), or my fav, “Do unto others…” She never even had to finish the proverb since she said it so often. With seven kids, she was a great one for repetition. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    1. I love your suggestions and their translations, PJ! Now if we include scripture, there are a few more my kids can quote. For instance, when my kids complain about getting a chore and say “I can’t” because they think it’s too hard, my husband brings out, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” LOL. I don’t know if that’s the typical usage for that one, but it’s working. Great input!

  5. THAT was the coolest video I’ve seen in a looooong time. Thank you so much. I was laughing so hard, tears came to my eyes. I use the phrase “born in a barn”. In reality, could that be construed as have Jesus/Mary/Joseph connotations? Not in the way “I” use it!

  6. I don’t remember my parents using these. My daddy always said, “Later ‘gator” and/or “After while crocodile.” Now, I have heard a few (but not all or even most) of these expressions on TV or have read them in books.

    You know, as I sit here thinking about my childhood, I wonder how my parents made it though without killing me and telling everyone I ran away and joined the circus. Thanks for bringing back the memories. I need to be sure to do something extra nice for mom and dad. They deserve it. LOL

    1. Wow, I figured that you were have some fabulous ones from Your Neck of the Woods, Texas. I sure hope my kids wonder someday why I didn’t kill them. LOL! Because we love our kids no matter what. πŸ™‚

  7. Haha! Hilarious. My mom always said, “Eat all your food because there’s starving kids in Africa.” Other than that I can’t remember.

    I loved the Talking Heads “proverb”. I grew up on 80’s music even with being born in the 80’s. My older siblings were huge music lovers. I took after them liking what they liked. And, oh, the 80’s amazing. πŸ˜€

  8. The best two I’ve ever heard came from friends rather than my mom (who had gems that I’m sure I’ll remember as Baby Girl gets older).

    Did I stutter? – I had a friend that used this to let her kids know she wasn’t kidding.

    You’re not the mom! – that was the phrase another friend used when the kids started adding commentary. The funniest part about it was when the kids would add it to THEIR conversation with each other.

  9. Love this! My mom would use “shake a leg”. I’ve also heard several of the ones PJ mentioned a bunch of times. There’s also “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” “Because I said so.” I swore I’d never use this one. That I would give appropriate information when asked. Yada Yada. My niece was 5. After about the 30th time of “why” this came flying out of my mouth. LOL I had to sit down for a while. πŸ™‚

  10. I use quite a few, such as “Just because you can, doesnt’ mean you should,” “Haste makes waste,” “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” etc. Thanks. Great post. πŸ™‚

    1. I’ve heard the “you get what you get…” one fairly often from friends with their kids. I like that first one from you too. Great stuff, Jolyse! Thanks.

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