Monday, August 1, 2022

Never Say Never (#MY Eng 57)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lie', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle', 'on the same page', don't judge a book its cover', 'reinvent the wheel', 'shifting gears', 'throwing in the towel', 'jump on the bandwagon', 'passing the buck', 'breaking the ice', 'cracking the code', 'when it rains it pours', 'bigger fish to fry', 'ball is in your court', 'back to the drawing board', 'square peg in a round hole', 'don't rock the boat', 'a whole new ball game' and 'burning the midnight oil'.

Ever made a promise that you swore that you'd never ever break? Don't drink and drive, don't an entire roll of Oreos in a single go, don't date bad boys - that sort of thing?

Well, the thing is, absolute ultimatums are hard to keep. Even the ones - or rather especially the ones - about food.

It's normal to take on bad habits, regret about taking them, not repeat them for a couple of weeks, and then only to lapse back to our old routine. Yes, bad habits are easy to build but hard to lose...

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Sorry, but that's digressing a bit from today's idiom. Which is really about making promises, rather than breaking habits. Promises tend to start with the words "I'll never again...". Hah! Fanciful thinking. You and I know that we should never say never...

Hey, but isn't that a contradiction? To never say never itself is an impossible feat. That's somewhat true. But let's not get dragged into semantical logic, shall we?

Ultimately, the point is that the word 'never' doesn't quite work in real life (I had to stop myself from saying 'never' a second time and settle with "doesn't" instead - happy now, linguists and logicians?). That's because the word is an absolute, and there are very few (if any) absolute rules in this universe. Even time and gravity gets all wonky inside a black hole.

But more importantly, the word 'never' doesn't quite work for human experiences. We're fond of thinking that we are capable of powerful change. That we can be so sure about where our choices in life leads to. That we can predict every step in the way of life's journey from credle to the grave.

* * *

But truth is, we can't really keep to all our promises, can we? Whether it's framed in negative terms of 'never', or more positively, 'always'. Our promises will be subject to a long list of exceptions to the point that the promise itself turns out more like a flexible guideline rather than a hard rule.

And true enough, I'm gradually discovering how hollow the word 'never' really is, especially when it comes to important life decisions. There's never been a time where I told myself that I would never do this or that. This is despite me almost knowing for a certainty that there are lines in the world that I will never cross.

I just said a bunch of 'never's' in that last paragraph alone. But I never said that I'm with the idea of 'never say never', did I? Which leaves me in a margin of ambiguity of where I stand on the using the word 'never'.

Was that all very confusing? Perhaps. Well, allow me to maneuver a way out of this conundrum with two simpler and more powerful words: never mind...

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