One of my favorite games is to play with words. Using forage instead of forge, such as “forage on”, draws stares, chuckles, and occasional befuddlement. Holding up both hands and announcing that I am “amphibious” draws the same bewilderment from “Is she serious?” to “Wow! Maybe I have been using the wrong word?” to “Poor, confused dear.” All of this simply humors me. I do have to wonder just how funny I actually am, but then I reflect that at least I get to have a laugh or two as I play my game of enriched vocabulary.
The duck-billed platypus is a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal. It has a broad tail and webbed feet and its snout resembles the bill of a duck. Now if that isn’t one crazy conglomeration of an animal, I do not know what is. If mammals bear live offspring, how do the eggs come in? If a duck lays eggs and has webbed feet, why isn’t it a mammal? How can a “snout” be determined to be a duckbill? Well, scientifically it all makes sense as each characteristic is identified and then categorized. Of course, the platypus with its variety of interesting features is a swimming, egg layer that nurses its young. This diversity captures the imagination and piques curiosity.
This is also true of platitudes. While defined as commonplace banalities and overused clichés, platitudes also offer guiding advice. Do unto others… , Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill, and other similar quotes create pictures and serve as models for behavior. These produce a common language that adds to understanding within a culture. Although many such sayings do not translate, for example, raining cats and dogs, they provide insight into thinking. The French are realistic, Il pleut a verse – it is raining hard, but the American version is so much more graphic. Watch out for falling kitties and pups!
A duckbill is rounded; a duck emits quacks and garbled cracks. The noise is distinctive. A fowl scientist would probably be able to identify the tonal variations of duck species but I just hear a redundant squabble. Whether my web-footed friend is chasing a duck for mating and scurrying after tidbits of food, it all sounds the same to me. A flutter of wings with a splash of water adds to the resonance creating a unique and wonderful reverberation. There is nothing quite like a duck.
And so we now have the unity of the two: duck-billed – quacky and yacky – and platitudes – inanities of the day as someone yabbers on offering advice and insight that may be useful or it may just provide on-going jabber and boring information. While someone delivering platitudes might draw up an image of a suit and tie and a wagging finger of profound instruction, the picture seems prosaic and just a bit dull. One more lecture, one more list of things to do or not to do, one more speech on how to live life whether it matches my beliefs or not, and often times, one more put-down. Who needs this?
Now conjure up the deliverer of the sage advice dressed in a tux (a bit like a penguin, I know) with flapping wings and snapping bill as loud pronouncements are dispensed. The laughability of the scene allows me to listen more contently with a grin on my face (or one hidden behind my teeth) and a nodding head that appears to be in agreement when it actually indicates total disbelief and doubt. This vision tingles my spine as it adds excitement to my mind, knowing that I can endure the diatribe politely and then turn and walk away with no hurt feelings, no sense of being trod upon, just a foul impression.
I hope you have found this play of words beneficial and that perhaps a smile spread across your face. At the very least I think that the next time someone is expounding on a topic of which you have no interesting or someone is “offering advice” in the form of telling you what to do, you will be able to tolerate it with dignity as you summon this delightfully, odd picture.