Skip to Content

Coffee House Culture House Daily

Spectator competition: redefine ‘oolite’ and ‘ampthill’ (plus: your meaningless proverbs)

7 June 2014

9:30 AM

7 June 2014

9:30 AM

The latest call, for proverbs that sound profound but have no meaning, attracted an enormous entry. It was a pleasure to judge, and cheering, too, to see lots of unfamiliar names in among the regulars.

The best entries contain just the promise of a profound meaning — but frustrate the reader’s attempt to work out exactly what it is. I tried to weed out those submissions (some of them very amusing) that did express a clearly discernible deeper truth, but some may have slipped through the net.

The following competitors deserve an honourable mention: ‘The shallow puddle floods no meadows’ (D.A. Prince); ‘A circular argument cannot be broken’ (Barry Baldwin); ‘People in glass houses should put their kaftans on’ (Tessa Maude); ‘Never play chess with snooker balls’ (Dr J.D. Renwick); ‘Never underestimate big numbers’ (Nigel Grigg); ‘It’s a weak proverb that hasn’t got something to say’ (John O’Byrne); ‘Even Adam and Eve were not forbidden to eat a pickled onion’ (Brian Murdoch); ‘Wit needs no disguise’ (Michael Jones); ‘A cauliflower is a vegetable but a sweet pea is not’ (Alanna Blake).

Lord Chesterfield warned his son that proverbial expressions are ‘the flowers of the rhetoric of the vulgar man’, and that ‘a man of fashion never has recourse to proverbs and vulgar aphorisms’. But perhaps he would have changed his mind if he’d seen the glorious nuggets of folk wisdom you’ve come up with.

The winners below are rewarded with four pounds for each proverb printed. Congratulations, all round.

Brian Allgar
A wise snake never attempts to play hopscotch.
It is better to scalp a cat than to swallow a lawnmower.
No living creature is ever too old to age.
It’s a short road that has no length.

Chris O’Carroll
The deepest ocean is shallow at the shoreline.
When you don’t know where you’re going, every route is a shortcut.
Even a tall man has his toenails close to the ground.
You won’t find your keys in a kangaroo’s pocket.
You can’t hide what you can’t find.
Life is the crossword, love is the clue.
There is no ‘I’ in ‘eye’.
No staircase leads in only one direction.
Success is a strategy, not a tactic.
A steep mountain rises from a flat plain.

G.M. Davis
The overcoat of conceit will not deter the lizard of oblivion.
The mountain does not argue with the valley.
The hungry goat does not ask for Lobster Thermidor.
Live like a nettle, die like a lotus.

Basil Ransome-Davies
The wise caterpillar shuns the anvil.
Beware the bridge that stops halfway across.
The burrowing mole sees not the horizon.

Alan Millard
Badger the fox and you’ll fox the badger.
Letters in post boxes cannot be read.
The wake of a ferry leads nowhere fast.
Still waters won’t run a bath.

Bill Greenwell
Woods do not grow on trees.
The dead need no passports.
It’s a poor morning that never turns into afternoon.

Sid Field
A knot in a plank cannot be undone.
It is a poor pawnbroker who has only two balls.
There are more coppers in a pound than there are in a police station.

Patrick Smith
It is better to have travelled than never to have arrived.

Frank Upton
Lowing sheep and barking geese/ Fill the cooking pot with grease.

John MacRitchie
The bigger the churn, the more the cheese.

Alan Sinclair
Dark sky at night, brighter sky at dawn.

Malcolm Burn
A chiropodist will not remember you by the colour of your eyes.

Your next challenge is to incorporate the following words (they are real geological terms) into a piece of plausible and entertaining prose so that they acquire a new meaning in the context of your narrative: Corallian, Permian, Lias, Kimmeridge, Oolite, Cornbrash, Ampthill. Please email entries (wherever possible) of up to 150 words to by midday on 18 June.

Show comments


Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.