Words in Full Bloom
Words in Full Bloom
“Nicky, my breath smells like the last rose of summer,” announced Anniebell with a chuckle and a scrunching of her face.
My Great Aunt Anniebell has made this announcement not once, but countless times through the years, and admittedly, I’m still not quite certain what the line means:
Are roses noxious in the summer but pleasantly fragrant in the spring?
Is the last rose figurative, meant to suggest something withered, rotting, dead, as opposed to the first rose, which by contrast would suggest something fresh, thriving, and alive?
I myself don’t think about anything floral when I think of morning breath, my own or anyone else’s I’ve ever smelled; it’s right up there with coffee breath, cigarette breath, and onion breath, all of which smell far worse than any August rose.
Annie’s saying epitomizes Southern colloquialisms at their finest; it’s a line fit for Liz Taylor in a work by Tennessee Williams. I can so easily imagine Annie, a soon to be 84 year old, North Carolina native, as a young woman, turning to her husband Odell on a hot summer morning and making this confession. Next, she’d brush her teeth, put on a pot of coffee, mix up some biscuits from scratch, fry some eggs, and slice a ripe red tomato. Then, she’d shower, remove the curlers from her hair, rouge her cheeks and lips, dress, and head to the cotton mill for a ten-hour shift.
The beauty of such colloquialisms lies in their ability to infuse even the most mundane realities of life with color and wit, to make dramatic the otherwise dull and trivial. With this said, Annie has also always told me that life, especially marriage, is no bed of roses. In fact, she told me this again this morning when I called to wish her Happy Mother’s Day. As cliche as this expression may be, coming from her, with her Southern drawl and aged wisdom, I embrace the expression’s truth and her good intention, if not the expression’s lack of freshness.
Please share some of your favorite colloquialisms and expressions in a comment thread. You can also check out the Dictionary of American Regional English.