I’ve finally hit rock bottom. It’s time to make a change. It won’t be easy, but I can’t avoid it any longer. I need to update my idioms.
My use of outdated expressions was first pointed out to me at work during a meeting with a supervisor and her staff. The supervisor is a friend of mine and she enjoys pointing out my flaws, especially if there is an audience. I was explaining the purpose of the meeting to her staff. I said I wanted to get their ideas about a particular topic and I told the group that I was looking for “grist for the mill.” My friend giggled. I looked at her confusedly, as I was sure I had not said anything funny. She turned to her staff, all of whom were younger than 30-years-old, and said, “Do any of you know what ‘grist for the mill’ means?” They all shook their heads, indicating “no.” One of them asked, “What’s ‘grist’?” and another said, “What’s a mill?”
I realized that as confident as I was in the meaning of the phrase, I too didn’t know what ‘grist’ is or what a ‘mill’ looks like. More significant was my realization that this particular idiom had not been handed down to the next generation. It was dead. By using it, I was only creating confusion.
I arrived at rock bottom in a draft of my new book in which I attempted to make a clever simile about the time I got a metal rod inserted in my leg as part of a surgical procedure to repair a fracture. I wrote that I felt “like Promontory Point.” When my writer/editor friend told me he didn’t understand the reference, I was shocked. How could my exceedingly well-read friend not understand that I was comparing myself to the spot where the Golden Spike was driven into the ground in 1869 to join the tracks of the eastern and western railroads? I looked it up online and discovered that I got it wrong. The Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit, not Point. Not only was I using a 145-year-old reference, I was 37 miles away from the geographical location of its source.
That’s when I knew I had a problem. This is a matter of concern for me both as a manager and a writer. I don’t want my staff or audience to be confused by my use of stale or incorrect expressions. I don’t want them to be bored, either. This is not a problem to be handled with kid gloves. I can’t solve it by jumping on a bandwagon or going through a wringer. I need to come up with fresh similes and metaphors to convey meaning. I’ll do my best. Wish me luck. #rockbottom #gristforthemill.