A good friend told me this week – her ship had come in.
This means a change in luck, a sudden shower of good fortune or a great success.
When I heard this news, I was delighted for my friend, but also sceptical. So, I kept my distance and held off on the back-slapping and celebratory dancing.
If you’re from a family who tends to exaggerate, you will be familiar with the term making a mountain out of a molehill.
This may come about in a number of ways. If you forget to bring a cake to a tea party, your host might show a great deal of distress over your forgetfulness. The guests might think her performance is unnecessary as most of them are on a raw-foods diet.
As I contemplate my next travel destination, my enthusiasm starts with a trip to Russia, then Egypt and Morocco and finally India, again.
Then it occurs to me, having just finished reading Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin, why not China?
Working as a writer and copy editor, I have noticed how the brain tricks you, or me. If the word sounds right in the mind it’s easy for it to be mistaken as the right word.
For example, earlier this week, in the final proofread of my book review I wrote about a ‘smaller waste’ and the context was food so it was even easier to miss. Just moments before submitting the final draft, I realised that what I meant was ‘smaller waist’.
This week I discovered a ‘delightful’ idiom in the novel Sophie’s Bakery for the Broken Hearted by New York Times Best Selling Author, Lolly Winston – sackcloth and ashes. I’ve read too far ahead to give you the context, but I made a mental note to make it the subject of my blog.
All the research indicates that wearing sackcloth and ashes is a sign of mourning, contrition or remorse – repentance for something you feel badly about.
Sackcloth and ashes defined by:
The Free Dictionary: a display of extreme remorse or repentance or grief
Collins: – a public display of extreme grief, remorse, or repentance
Merriam Webster: to publicly express or show sorrow or regret for having done something wrong
And its origins? According to pharases.org.uk, “It was an ancient Hebrew custom to wear sackcloth dusted with or accompanied by ashes as a sign of humbleness in religious ceremonies.” From “The Dictionary of Cliches” by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).
Gotquestions.com explains: “Sackcloth and ashes were used in Old Testament times as a symbol of debasement, mourning, and/or repentance. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and put ashes on top of his head. Sackcloth was a coarse material usually made of black goat’s hair, making it quite uncomfortable to wear. The ashes signified desolation and ruin.
“When someone died, the act of putting on sackcloth showed heartfelt sorrow for the loss of that person. We see an example of this when David mourned the death of Abner, the commander of Saul’s army (2 Samuel 3:31). Jacob also demonstrated his grief by wearing sackcloth when he thought his son Joseph had been killed (Genesis 37:34). These instances of mourning for the dead mention sackcloth but not ashes.
Daily Bible Study provides the quotes:
“Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.” (Genesis 37:34 RSV) (see Coat Of Many Colors)
In modern usage, the phrase is used more loosely. For example, Richard has been seen in nothing but sackcloth and ashes since his wife left him, which describes his emotional state.
For me, the meaning is literal. Sackcloth and ashes are all I’ll be able to afford if I continue to work for free and underquote my services!