5 Common Sayings That Mean The Opposite Of What You Think

Sliced bread was not a groundbreaking invention. Not all pictures are worth a thousand words. An apple a day doesn’t keep the doctor away — that son of a bitch can’t be bargained with, he can’t be reasoned with, he doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are properly treated. Uh … a lot of common sayings are full of crap, is our point here. But some are so full of it that they end up meaning the opposite of what they were originally trying to convey. Case in point …

5

To “Pull Yourself Up By The Bootstraps” Is To Try An Impossible Or Stupid Task

To pull yourself up by your bootstraps is to succeed against all odds using the sheer power of hard work. Whether that’s possible or not. “Sure, Paolo may be the son of impoverished immigrants and stuck in a school system riddled with racism, incompetency, and asbestos, but if he pulls himself up by his bootstraps, he can easily become a brain scientist or space astronaut.”

What It Actually Means:

Experiment time: Go try to lift yourself into the air by tugging on your bootstraps. You may need to acquire boots with straps to perform this experiment. We’ll wait.

How did it go? Unless your parents discovered you when your spacecraft crashed into their cornfield, we’re guessing it wasn’t a success. And that’s the point. Originally, “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” was meant to refer to an impossible and futile act, like licking your own elbow or talking to a Comcast customer service agent. The phrase apparently comes from people fudging the details of a scene in the 1785 book The Surprising Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. In it, the titular baron pulls himself out of a swamp by his own hair, using a method that physicists refer to as “some Bugs Bunny shit.”

Gustave DoreThis is how that scene in The Neverending Story ended, right?

Soon enough, hair was swapped out for bootstraps, and the phrase grew in popularity before being corrupted and turned into a political talking point, following the same basic life cycle as the average meme.

“Did you see Paolo trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps at lunch? He must have been getting into the lead paint chips again.”

4

The Proof Is Not “In The Pudding” — It’s “In The Eating” (That Is, Experiencing Things Yourself)

“The proof is in the pudding” essentially means that as long as a claim is backed up by evidence that seems clear-cut and authoritative, that claim’s assumption can safely remain unchallenged. Like, if you read something on Wikipedia and it has a ton of tiny blue numbers next to the words, you can stop there and assume it’s true.

“You may say my Harry Potter / Gobots slash fiction is derivative and bad for society as a whole, but over 13,000 people have downloaded it, so the proof is in the pudding.”

What It Actually Means:

The original phrase, which dates back to the 14th century, is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which is a rather clumsy way of saying that someone should experience something for themselves before making up their mind about it. In other words, all the evidence in the world can’t replace firsthand experience … which is the exact opposite of what the saying is used for today. That hasn’t stopped politicians from using the phrase to demand that we agree with their claims without question, of course.

“Sure, clinical studies may show that my Harry Potter / Gobots slash fiction regularly causes erections lasting more than four hours, but you really should read it for yourself. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating — or in this case, the masturbating.”

3

“The Luck Of The Irish” Was Meant To Be Sarcastic And/Or Insulting

The Irish are simply a naturally lucky people. That’s why four-leaf clovers are so closely associated with Ireland’s offspring, as one mutated leaf definitely makes up for a history filled with brutal invasions, potato famines, and racist hiring practices.

“Seamus found a big bag of mescaline in the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day. Must be the luck of the Irish!”

What It Actually Means:

This phrase was originally an insulting shot at the Irish, which is weird, because history is normally so friendly to those guys. There are two ways the phrase can be taken, and unsurprisingly, both are filled with the same kind of intolerance and bigotry that saw Irish people classified as their own race just so America could discriminate against them more specifically. Some consider the original intent of “the luck of the Irish” to be a sarcastic reference to the country’s long and troubled history of alternating periods of oppression and starvation — which, on the whole, is a pretty shitty thing to be sarcastic about.

James Mahony“lol ‘My family is dying’ lol”

Alternatively, “the luck of the Irish” may be a backhanded compliment which means that any and all success achieved by Irish men and women must be attributable to luck. Because who could possibly believe that those potato-farming, whiskey-drinking, marshmallow-cereal-hoarding bastards could accomplish anything on their own merit?

“Seamus started a rewarding career as an investment banker. Must be the luck of the Irish, because those pricks can’t count to 20 without taking off their shoes.”

2

“A Foregone Conclusion” Is Something That Already Happened, Not Something That Will

Used primarily for things like climate change and celebrity breakups, a “foregone conclusion” is something that has to happen someday.

“My cousin Franklin is so hilarious, he’s definitely going to become a famous stand-up. It’s a foregone conclusion!”

What It Actually Means:

The phrase was coined by Shakespeare, a notorious inventor of word-things, and it was first used in Othello. In the play, Othello hears that Cassio has been talking dirty about Othello’s wife Desdemona in his sleep. Rather than considering the ethical implications of believing the word of someone who listens to other men sleep, Othello immediately decides that the only reason Cassio could be whispering sweet nothings to himself about Desdemona is that the two have already boned.

H. C. Selous“Look upon thy slattern’s exposed wrist; a grievous skankage hath she committed!”

It is, as Othello says, a foregone conclusion — meaning something that has already happened. Something like the moon landing, or the disco era, or Kevin Spacey’s non-direct-to-video career.

“My cousin Franklin isn’t going to become a famous stand-up, because he died of rubella. It’s a foregone conclusion.”

1

“The Left Hand Not Knowing What The Right Hand Is Doing” Is Supposed To Be A Good Thing

An organization whose “left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing” is one that is poorly managed, with multiple factions working against one another’s interests without even realizing it. This is how companies end up sponsoring youth soccer while simultaneously employing third-world child labor, or how the NFL promotes inner-city education while paying young men to smash into one another brains-first.

“Justin Timberlake tried to be woke in his newest music video, while his website is selling T-shirts sewed exclusively by lazy-eyed Malaysian children with psoriasis. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!”

What It Actually Means:

This time, the phrase comes from Jesus himself, who dropped this pearl of wisdom: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” While this may sound like it’s about pleasuring yourself with your non-dominant hand, it is in fact about doing charitable acts and not bragging about them afterward.

John Singleton CopleyThis is why he tries to keep each hand as far away from the other as possible at all times.

Jesus was commenting on people taking selfies of themselves giving money to homeless people. It’s a bit unclear why he wants people to do charity with their left hands only, but we’re not biblical scholars here.

“Justin Timberlake donated $1 million to the #MeToo campaign and then didn’t brag about it on social media. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Which is a good thing. I don’t know why I’m applying a semi-sarcastic phrase to the situation, now that I think about it.”

Stephan Roget sometimes tweets frequently over @StephanRoget, but sometimes he doesn’t for weeks on end. Follow him there, or here, or not at all. Don’t let us tell you how to live your life.

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