Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and to honor my mother, Carol Bull, I want to share some of her
personal sayings, and provide some etymology. Some of her sayings are worthy of
resurrection in the popular culture -- and some are so terrible I cringe when I hear them.
Here’s to you, Mom! We love you!
What is wrong with me! I have a mind like a sieve!
This is what she says when she can’t remember what to do next, or why she came into the
If my brain had a twin, it would be lonely!
She uses this phrase just as much, and she says it when she’s made a mistake and is angry
with herself. My grandmother Mary Raynard said this often as well.
I look like Who Shot Liz.
This is one of my favorites, and I can’t find the root etymology. When you look terrible, or
someone looks ravished, you say, “I look like Who Shot Liz,” or “She looks like Who Shot
Liz.” In England, they use the phrase “Who Shot Lizzy” to express the same sentiment, and
there was even a U.K. rock band named Who Shot Lizzy. Yet I have searched and cannot
find the source of the phrase. Who was Lizzy? And the phrase doesn’t make sense. “I look
like Lizzy when she got shot,” makes more sense, Or “I look as if Lizzy shot me.”
It’s had the biscuit.
This refers to an item that is beyond repair and must be tossed away. For instance, you might
say, “I’ve repaired that car twenty times in the past year, and it’s still having trouble. I think it’s
had the biscuit.” Or she may say, “these are my favorite shoes but I’ve worn them so much
they’ve had the biscuit.” This is an English expression from World War I trench warfare.
When a solider was dying, they rushed to give him the Eucharist and the last rites, which
meant taking a wafer from the priest. Thus, upon dying, you had the biscuit. What once
referred to brutal warfare, my now mom uses to describe an old sweater she must throw
away. Then again, as kids we play “ring-around-the-rosy,” which is a nursery rhyme that
refers to the Plague of the Middle Ages.
A lick and a promise
This is another English phrase, which means to do a barely sufficient amount of work on a
task that requires much more effort than you are providing, but with a promise to return and
do a more complete job later. For instance, “this kitchen floor needs a good mop and shine,
but for now just get a broom and give it a lick and a promise.” I like this phrase, and it hinges
on the word “lick” as a unit of work. You sometimes hear someone say, “he’s not worth a
lick,” or “he didn’t do a lick of work today.” It may have started in England, but it’s used often
in the American South.
It’s better to be lucky than good.
This is a phrase you chant out loud when you get lucky at something, like finding a parking
spot when you least expect it. You also use it to remind yourself that despite your best efforts
to plan and be prepared, luck plays a big part in any success. “Yesterday, I left for the store
an hour early to find a parking spot, and circled forever before I found one. Today I went
there on a whim and found one right away, which proves again that it’s better to be lucky
than good.” The phrase has been attributed to Lefty Gomez, Arnold Palmer, and airplane tail
gunners World War II. The sentiment is in many old fairy tales (pre-Disney) in which the
heroine or hero doesn’t seem very deserving, yet just gets lucky.
I have to piddle.
This one has to go. She doesn’t say pee. She says piddle. She also says it out loud to her
adult children and her grandchildren. For instance, in a restaurant, as you come back to your
seat, she will say, “did you wash your hands after you piddled?” I don’t like this phrase, but I
may haul it out when I’m in my 70s and I want to be passive-aggressive with younger
members of my family.
She often talks to herself when she is frustrated, which is slightly reassuring. It proves
she is equally judgmental of everyone’s performance, including her own. She reprimands
others often, but she reprimands herself just as often.
My mother was born in Canada, but her father was born in Yorkshire England, and her
mother was born on the Isle of Lewis in the New Hebrides of Scotland. Most of these
phrases were probably said in her own home growing up.
In honor of Mother’s Day, my daughter Lily wrote this letter to her grandmother (with
some help from us):
Happy Mother’s Day! I am sorry if this letter arrives late. I didn’t look at the calendar, and
I forgot which week is was. I’m not surprised, I have a mind like sieve! I think if my brain had
a twin it’d be lonely.
I got out of bed this morning and when I looked in the mirror my hair was such a mess I
swear I looked like Who Shot Liz. Then I went to put on my shoes, and the laces broke. it
was then that I realized that my favorite shoes had the biscuit, so I tossed them.
All this made me late so my dad had to drive me to school, but he got a parking spot
right in front. That proves again that it’s better to be lucky that good.
This letter would be longer, but I have to piddle.