Congresswoman Grace Meng Responds To Jewish Community

We now return to the fertile topic of “expressions that annoy me,” which is growing ever bigger the older I get.

And I’m not just talking about expressions that people say specifically to annoy you, such as, “You’re old!”  My bother frequently says this, just because I’m older than he is.  And I have to constantly be reminded, because I’m old.  He says it all the time, whenever he can work it into a conversation, because younger people like repetition.  And this isn’t going away, because I’m always going to be older than him, as far as I can tell.  But if I would’ve known he’d be like this, then I would have said, when he was younger, “You’re young!” 

“Hey, I’m going to play this board game, for ages three and up.  Want to play?  Oh, wait, you can’t.  You’re young!... Fine, cry about it.  Because you’re young!” 

I just thought of this now, because I’m smarter.  Because I’m old. 

But people do say some things specifically to be annoying.  Take, for example, the people who yell, “Tekiyah!” when you blow your nose.  Really?  It’s great that they’re taking your nose blowing as a reminder to do teshuva, and that they think they’re hilarious and that no one has ever made this joke before, and they’re wondering why you’re not laughing along with them.  As you’re blowing.  But they’re doing it wrong.  The ba’al makreh doesn’t announce what the baal tokeiyah is going to blow after he blows it.  Otherwise they’d be stuck in a loop all day.  (Blow. “Tekiyah!” Blow. “Tekiyah!”)  Move on!  If I’d make this joke, which I never would, I’d say, “Shevarim-teruah!” Then the guy might actually respond by making three medium bursts, followed by 9-18 short bursts, followed by, if he has anything left, a tekiyah gedola.  He might have to change shofars in middle. 

Could someone remind me why it’s acceptable to blow your nose in public again? 

It’s weird that the tekiyah thing is what annoys me more.

Another annoying thing that people say is “It’s the best part.”  This is usually said by someone who is trying to get you to eat something you don’t want to eat. 

“You don’t like the crust of the pizza?  It’s the best part!” 

No it’s not.  No one’s buying pizza for the crust.  How about we trade my crusts for your centers? 

And then he pops the crust into his mouth right in front of you, just to show off.  “Yum!  Boy, I’m really enjoying this crust!  And talking with my mouth full!”

And of course, there are the people who say “entrée” when they mean “appetizer.”  But I’m pretty sure they think they’re saying “on tray.”

A lot of expressions are just annoying to us because we don’t really understand them, and we suspect that neither do the people who use them.  For example, people say, “If someone would have told me ten years ago that I’d be doing X, I never would have believed him.”  This expression assumes that it’s a normal conversational convention for people to casually predict mundane things about the future.  If you met someone who said, “In 13 years from now, you’ll be eating whole wheat challah,” you would politely excuse yourself from the conversation.  You wouldn’t stand there going, “Navi sheker!  Get him!”

Another expression that doesn’t actually make sense is “Make like a tree and leave.”  There are other similar expressions, such as “Make like a plane and take off” (meaning that you should still leave, but after a short delay, and also you should leave your shampoo behind), and my personal favorite, “Make like a trillion dollars and retire.”  But the tree one actually gets me to want to leave, because it doesn’t make sense.  I have never once seen a tree get up and walk away. 

“He’s leaving!  What did you say?” 

“I don’t know!  I just called him a sycamore!” 

Are you talking about the leaves?  Because yes, the leaves leave the tree.  That might be why they’re called that.  But one leaf is not called a leave.  I guess you could say, “Make like a tree and leaf,” but leaf, as a verb, just means “to turn over”, like how you turn over a new leaf, which doesn’t make sense either.  Why are you turning over leaves, and what’s so hard about doing it that you have to make a big deal about it?  (“Well, I guess I have to turn over a new leaf.  Wish me luck!”)

But why not pick something a tree actually does

“Make like a tree and just stand there and don’t say anything.” 

That’s a good idea for us all.

But sometimes, if people do want your opinion, they say something like, “I need to pick your brain.”  Which, I’m sorry, but I hate the visual that comes with that expression.  Does it mean that he’s choosing your brain?  You don’t get to pick your brain.  You get the brain you get.  Otherwise everyone who lived before us would have gotten all the good brains, and by the time we got to our generation, we’d be getting…

Oh. 

Of course, in actuality, “Can I pick your brain?” means, “Can I get a free consultation out of you?”  Unless it’s asked by a brain surgeon.  Then he probably just left something inside you.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to hear the other person out, because, of course, the reason he wants to pick your brain is that “two heads are better than one.”

Are they really?  Because if I had two heads, I’d get stared at a lot.  But on the other hand, I could talk when I’m eating, whistle while I brush my teeth, and give myself a haircut without a mirror – or at least on one side of each head. 

Though my breath-mint expenses would skyrocket. 

And how would I wear knapsacks? 

I understand when you’re talking about Rosh Hashanah, you want to buy two fish heads, because it’s better than one, especially if you’re having company.  There’s barely any meat on those things. 

So the expression isn’t really true.  It only works if the two heads belong to two people.  And in that case, you’re leaving crucial information out of the expression.  It’s actually two people who are better than one.  Assuming they each have a head, and they’re not time-sharing a single head. 

Though two people aren’t always better than one either. 

“I have to go get something out of the crawl space.” 

“Well, two people are better than one!” 

“What?  No!  Get out!” 

Though there are a lot of expressions that might have been invented to cover oddly-shaped people, such as, “His eyes are bigger than his stomach.”

Run for your life!

My eyes used to be bigger than my stomach, but now, Baruch Hashem, my stomach’s bigger.

There are a lot of things we say without thinking, because they’re very easy to say.  Take, for example, the verb “do.”  It’s a universal verb that can mean too many things.  This is something I learned back when I was in yeshiva, and my chavrusa invited me to come do avodah zara with him.  I was pretty sure he meant “learn Meseches Avodah Zara,” as in “My whole yeshiva’s doing Avodah Zara this year,” but I wasn’t sure.  So I did skeelah with him.  Meaning that I learned about skeelah.  In Sanhedrin.  Also, I threw something at him.  

Not that I’m not guilty of using mindless expressions.  For example, whenever someone is looking for something, I generally help by saying, “It’s got to be around here somewhere!”

That way, they know.  It’s very helpful but easy on my part, and then I can get back to standing around and picking my brain.

I also mishandle the phrase, “You too.”  I bet you do too.  I was at the library the other week, and the librarian gave me my books, and she said, “These are due back in three weeks,” and I said, “Thanks a lot.  You too.” 

What? I work here!  I’m due back every day! 

And then she said, “Have a good day,” which is what they always say after they tell you when you have to bring back the books, and then I realized that I’d already said, “You too.”  I’d responded first by accident.  I was in a rush.

So at this point, I had nothing to say, because I was clearly tired, and also it wasn’t my turn to use the head.  So I made like a bird and took off, and smacked into the glass door.

That was the best part.


Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.