Stuck in the forest
by Christine Kling
You know that saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? I’ve been stuck in a bunch of trees the past few days, and I’ve been having difficulty finding my way out.
I’m sure you know what I mean. You’ve undoubtedly been there too. See, I’ve been feeling grumpy, and I wasn’t about to let ANYBODY cheer me up, goddammit. Some small tree-sized stuff was happening in my life, and I couldn’t rise about the smallness of it.
Okay, so I am a writer and when I decided I wanted to write about this issue, I first thought about that forest for the trees saying — and it occurred to me that it was simply a cliché. I shouldn’t blog about such a hackneyed phrase.
Or was it a cliche? See, I asked myself why the heck it so resonated with me if it was just a trite expression. If it wasn’t a cliche, then what was it? Was it a proverb or a maxim or an adage? Or what about an aphorism or an idiom?
In fact, what is the difference between all these words? It’s embarrassing to admit (as a writer and a former English teacher), but I wasn’t sure. So, I went to Miriam-Webster Online and found these definitions.
Cliché: a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting
Proverb: a brief popular saying (such as “Too many cooks spoil the broth”) that gives advice about how people should live or that expresses a belief that is generally thought to be true.
Maxim: a general truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct: a proverbial saying
Adage: a saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation
Aphorism: a concise statement of a principle Example from Socrates: “Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.”
Idiom: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own (as ride herd on for “supervise”)
Some of the definitions are pretty damn close to each other. The English language is not easy. But, given the above examples and definitions, I think “He can’t see the forrest for the trees” is more of an adage. I understand the metaphor, and I’m not sure how to see it in non-metaphorical language.
We writers are an odd lot. There I was feeling grumpy full of self-pity, and I took this weird side trip into the language. The end result is that I am back to feeling grateful for the amazing life I get to live. I mean look at that forrest! It is gorgeous! Someday, I hope to sail back there.
Sometimes, I just have to write to figure out what I really think.