Grammar Moses: One man's meat is another man's poison

Updated 8/19/2017 3:59 PM

Newton's third law holds that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

You're probably thinking to yourself: Grammar Moses, is this going to be another stupid column on the dubious use of physics terms in advertising or an explanation of the space-time continuum?

Perhaps another time, but this is my weird way of introducing how there is a maxim, proverb, aphorism or old saw (yes, I know those are all synonyms) that supports just about everyone's world view -- and they often are diametrically opposed to one another.

And this is why you should be careful in how you use proverbs to teach your kids about life.

Try this scenario: Your stuffy, well-to-do parents object to your bringing home the young janitor (with whom you are madly in love) at your prep school.

You know that "opposites attract."

But your parents know full well that "birds of a feather flock together."

When your folks send Janitor Jimmy packing and find you a new prep school to attend, they believe it is for the best because "out of sight, out of mind."

But you pine away, dropping to a B in your French Literature of the 1960s class, because "absence makes the heart grow fonder."

You jump a bus to Reno for a quick wedding because "he who hesitates is lost."

But because you texted your mom your marital plans, and she has access to a private jet, she and Daddy Warbucks meet you at the door to the chapel, urging you to "look before you leap."

Janitor Jimmy in his ill-fitting, ruffly, powder blue tuxedo pleads with your folks, telling them he is pure of heart and will make you happy for the rest of your life. "Don't judge a book by its cover!" he demands.

Your folks refuse to thaw, because they know from decades of seeing their friends' kids marry below their station that "what you see is what you get."

There you go: four pairs of competing sayings in one little love story.

There is another pair of sayings that appear to be opposites, but I embrace both of them. I agree that "actions speak louder than words," but I also feel its author, the verbose Edward Bulwer-Lytton, must have been referring to platitudes rather than meaningful discourse.

Being that I'm a newspaper editor and editorial writer and buy ink by the barrel, I can find no fault with "the pen is mightier than the sword."


Regular contributor Bob Anderson reminded me of a column I wrote about uniqueness -- about how things that are greatly different from other things can approach uniqueness, that things that are truly one of a kind are unique but that it is as logically impossible to be "very unique" as it is to give something "110 percent effort."

We recently published a wire story about the Smithsonian's jewelry collection. The writer states "All the pieces are unique from each other."

Does that mean they're all unique? That each piece is from a different collection? That they're all segregated under their own protective Lucite domes?

My guess: They're all unique (period.)

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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