Back(s) of our necks

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri Jan 5 13:55:11 UTC 2007

Perhaps we could coin a term (and define a category) "folk impossibilities." Many of these are proverbial:  "weave a rope of sand"; "hedge a cuckoo"; "number the stars in the sky."  Others appear as motifs in narratives (often in the ironic perfomance of the [seemingly] impossible): answer the question "What do women WANT?"; find a woman who is both fair and faithful; herd a flock [?!] of rabbits (or cats); lasso a cyclone. Others are humorous "psychological" situations to contemplate: Sit still for an interval without thinking about a white bear; cure a toothache by circumambulating a church while not thinking about a fox's tail; resist putting beans in the baby's ears after having been admonished not to. There's also the parental advice, "Don't stick anything in your ear except your elbow."

The interesting thing about Doug's 1931 quotation is that it presents the "impossible" seeing-the-back-of-one's-own-neck as being "scientifically" POSSIBLE. I haven't checked the source, but that's the sort of paradox that was relished in the popular books about Einstein's theories. I read many of those books as a child in the 1950's; sometimes the infinite telescope would show one's eye looking at itself.

(I know NOTHING about euchre or the parlance of the euchre-playing nation.)


---- Original message ----

>Date: Thu, 4 Jan 2007 18:53:55 -0500
>From: "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
>Subject: Re: Back(s) of our necks

>My impression is that this should be interpreted as "... even if we never see the back of our necks." Seeing the back of one's own neck is considered an impossibility, hence (jocularly) a great feat. So I think the above would be like "Well, at least we scored a point, even if we *never* win the world euchre championship [or whatever]."
> From 1942: <<A good drill sergeant will ... about-face you until you see the back of your neck.>>
> From 1931: <<If you were to live forever and had an infinitely powerful telescope and you kept looking forever, you eventually would see the back of your neck.>>
>-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list