standing on my head since 1993

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Dec 2 01:30:50 UTC 2005

At 2:03 PM -0800 12/1/05, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>Over 1200 raw Googlits for "cows don't fly," occasionally in musical form.
>   JL

Then there's "when pigs fly" (247,000 raw hits), our version of "ad
kalendas Graecas".


>George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: George Thompson
>Subject: standing on my head since 1993
>Ever since I was a boy I have been fascinated and astonished by the
>fact that phrases and entire expressions can be formulas known and
>used by an entire community. I remember when I was pretty small
>playing in a friend's yard when one of us -- this detail hasn't stuck
>in my memory -- was shit upon by a bird. When his mother cleaned it
>off, she said "It's a good thing cows don't fly." I thought that this
>was the wittiest remark I had ever heard, and when I got home I told
>my mother about the bird, and said "Guess what his mother said." My
>mother said "It's a good thing cows don't fly." I was astonished.
>How could she have known? And so a philologist was born.
>You all will no doubt remember the day in 1993 when I burst into the
>world of philology with a note in American Speech discussing the
>convict's defiant boast that he will do his sentence "standing on his
>head". At that time the earliest citation I has was 1886 (the latest
>was 1992). Here is an antedating of more than 25 years:
>Yes, but never mind, boys, ten years is nothing; -- we can
>stand on our heads for that time," said Diver. California Police
>Gazette, April 17, 1859, p. 1, col. 3
>Nowadays I think it is particularly interesting that there can be such
>persisting statements can be amorphous. In this case, the actual
>expresion may be "I'll do it standing on my head" or "I can stand on
>my head that long", "hands" can be substituted for "head", and other
>smaller variants can occur.
>George A. Thompson
>Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
>Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
>  Yahoo! DSL Something to write home about. Just $16.99/mo. or less

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