When I was a young child my great grandmother, a woman from West Virginia, was found of adages. Sixty years later I don’t remember, for sure, just which ones, but I’m guessing “A stitch in time saves nine” was one of them. The sense of it is clear: better do that now before it gets worse. And back when mothers, spinster aunts, and elderly widows darned socks (and when the socks couldn’t be mended wove them into rag rugs), this saying was, for most working class people and rural people a very precise figure. Now, not so much. Now our sayings tend to come from advertising or pop culture: waves tossed up on the beach of our awareness, then receding down the sand leaving a few broken shells, a lull, and another wave foaming up. The Fram Oil Filter campaign, where the mechanic opines “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later” (some of you may be old enough to remember that night after night on the TV) is a case in point. And since my teen years I’ve taken to heart Dylan’s line, “If you live outside the law, you must be honest,” and I’ve come to believe, as Mick and Keith put it, that “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you might just get what you need.”
But adages and sayings, as the communal stock used to school the young’uns and comfort the old, generation succeeding generation, are now a quaint memory, not a current practice. To use them now, involves a sense that they’re no longer quite a thread in the actual tapestry of knowing, sharing, and saying. I think that’s a reason (not “the” reason, just a minor ingredient in the recipe) contributing to the slogans printed on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and those signs, often faux rustic, folks might buy at flea markets and swap meets, then hang in the kitchen or den or over the garage workbench.
Slogans replace but change (and don’t quite fulfill) the role of sayings and adages. Partly it’s a matter of media. Slogans tend to be generated and circulated as mass media discourse (ah, advertising). They mime the communal dynamic of sayings (person to person until they seem communal lore), but they’re based on twisting the dynamic of sayings into something novel that will fade as the novelty (the amusement value) wears off. Slogans erase themselves through repetition. Adages grew in resonance through repetition and gained value because they had been repeated (re-performed and re-applied) countless times.
Today, we consume media and txting passes for talking. Today is a time of slogans, not adages. But if slogans, in some ways and in part, evolve from adages, can slogans, similarly, be twisted back toward something that functions like an adage or saying? Authentic adages (in the sense of from a community, living within a community, and spoken by a community as it talks to itself) cannot be written. A written adage, even if the writing implies a spoken inflection, is necessarily nostalgic or ironic or both, and the ironic dynamic is both a matter of content and form.
Several years back I was listening to a Stephen Bruton’s “Lonesome Blues” on his album Right on Time, and was reminded of Waylon Jennings signing “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” with the line “I’ve seen the world with a six-piece band staring at the backside of me.” That was the trigger for the poem “Dr. Twang once had…” (in The Tao of Twang). That in turn led to imagining the kinds of adages that might fit his world and the world of those who would come to hear him.[a link to series of slides drawn from “The Sayings & Wisdom of Dr. Twang” and a recording of texts of the slides]
Are these adages or slogans? I’m not sure. And are they more genuine (even if they’re completely faked and fictional) in the alphabetic lettering of writing (bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, whatever) or voiced? I’m not sure about that either, but my inclination to think of them as “sayuns” (written down) rather than “writuns” (that can be said) may be a partial answer. In any case, here’s a link, to the complete “The Sayings & Wisdom of Dr. Twang” from which the slide show was drawn (some sections didn’t adapt to that format or occasion).
I could (should?) add that the series of faux Burma Shave jingles gathered by T. Texas Twiddle and now posted elsewhere on this site (click here if you want to check ’em out), are in no way serious (and in some instances not entirely polite):
Keep yer chaw
and skip the quibble.
Clean shave that jaw
and wipe the dribble.
All ya need is