I am a pretty avid reader. I like all kinds of books, but I prefer ones in which British old maids solve crimes, or ones that have hilarious women authors such as Nora Ephron. Occasionally, I come across something in one of them that gives me pause. Now that I have a dictionary on my Kindle, most of these problems are solved, but idioms are still flummoxing, because I can’t look them up.
This happened just last week. I was toddling along happily in a mystery story, when one of the characters spoke of being given the “bum’s rush.” I paused. I had never before considered that a bum might have cause for rushing around. I thought that bums were bums by virtue of the fact that they had absolutely nothing to do.
So I called my friend, also a reader and even more attractive at that moment, a writer. Our conversation was as follows:
“Hi. Hey, are you busy?”
“Not really. I am having some graham crackers and grapes. I wanted to have them with peanut butter, but we are out. And actually, these grapes are kind of sour. I tried putting some diet margarine on the crackers, but I thought that tasted kind of waxy.”
“We have established that not only are you not busy, but you are incredibly boring. However, I have a literary allusion/colloquialism that I need you to explain to me.”
“What is the bum’s rush? Why would any bum be in a hurry?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“I mean, they don’t have meetings to go to. And they certainly don’t work, so they can’t be rushing to get to the office. So if bums are rushing you, what are they doing?”
She pondered. “I don’t actually think it is the bums that are doing the rushing. If you think about it, the expression is like this: ‘She gave me the bum’s rush. Or maybe it’s plural: She gave me the bums’ rush.’”
“What, so this means that there are A LOT of bums rushing at you? But why would a bunch of bums do this? Are bums apt to get gangy or something?”
I heard her crunch down on another cracker. She replied with full cheeks: “Nunothemurthslts.”
“Finish your bite, put the crackers down, and say that again! Good grief!”
After the requisite pause, she resumed. “Again, I think you are getting the expression backwards. In actuality, I think it isn’t bums who do the rushing. I think it has something to do with people exhibiting loutish behavior, who are then treated like bums and rushed out of the establishment. Hence, you get the bum’s rush.”
“Still, getting the bum’s rush is a completely misleading phrase, which will continue to conjure up visions of terribly busy and officious bums rushing around, pushing people out of their way in rude fashion.”
“That is because you are a literal thinker. I can’t help you with that. And now, since I have not had either breakfast or lunch, I have to hang up and finish my grapes and crackers, unappetizing as they are. Bye Bye!” And she hung up.
OMG. It hit me like a ton of grapes. My friend had just given me the bum’s rush.