Rick's List — Naive Edition

The other evening at a dinner party, I made on offhand comment, something about, "Gosh, I don't see anything bad happening anywhere in this fine world of ours ever again."

And one of the folks eating foie gras said, "Hey, if you ever decide to recount this conversation in print, make sure you spell 'foie gras' correctly."

He was spot on! I was going to spell it "foix gras," because I never can get it straight — sort of like "hors d'oeuvres," which I always want to spell "horse d'oeuvres" because, when we were growing up, my Mom would make this amazing appetizer where she'd put a mixture of gouda cheese, raspberry froth, and tenderloin of pony on water crackers. So I think that's where the "horse" part comes from.

ANYWAY, the dinner guest, referring to my remark about nothing bad happening in the world, said, "You're naïve, my friend."

"Whoa!" I said. "It's not like I just fell off the turnip truck, which, as you might know, is an old southern idiom suggesting that I'm not naive."

"Right. But why turnips?"

Which was an excellent question. Why turnips, indeed? I did a bit of homework. Turns out the guy who originated the phrase — the head of a think-tank of professional idiom writers — chose "turnip" after hours of heated debate with colleagues. A small contingency strongly wanted to go with "It's not like I just fell off the rootabaga truck." And one contrarian, for some reason, thought the phrase should be, "It's not like I just fell off a standard-sized, 195-foot river shipping barge loaded with a variety of winter root vegetables."

All of this made me dig into the history of two other popular "naive" cliches.

1. "This ain't my first rodeo" — First used by crime scene cleanup crews who found that saying "This ain't the first time I've had to scrub arterial blood spray from a triple homicide off the walls" made folks uncomfortable. Someone suggested the rodeo scenario, though in the form of "This ain't my fourth rodeo."

After complaints from a variety of professional bull riders and calf-ropers, who issued a joint statement that most if not all professional cowboys are completely comfortable with the nuances of the competitions after that initial run, the bromide was amended to the "This ain't my first rodeo" idiom we so enjoy hearing today.

2. "I was born at night, but it wasn't last night" — You don't hear this one as much anymore. Picky users of overworked platitudes say that even the most naive among us acknowledge a newborn can't talk. To imply, then, that someone springs from the womb with sufficiently developed speech to say, "Hey, I might be naive, but please remember I was only born last night" is absurd.

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