A collision between idioms and idiots

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There are times when the changing of one letter in a word can make a great difference in the meaning of the word.

For instance, there is the word idiom. Very simply, idioms are familiar phrases or sayings. We hear them all the time. An idiom that I thought about this week was “give a thief enough rope and he will hang himself.” More on that in just a moment.

But first, let’s look at just a change of one letter in regards to our word idiom. Replace the “m” with a “t” and the word becomes idiot. Need I define idiot? Surely you know one, but just in case you don’t, let me just say that an idiot is a stupid or foolish person. It takes one to know one and I know many.

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Every now and then, idioms and idiots collide. May I introduce you to Bernie Madoff.

Madoff (pronounced made-off) was an unknown name to 99.9 percent of Americans until a few months ago, although his reputation around the financial capital of the world, New York City, was among the largest. He was one of the highest of the high rollers on Wall Street and his company was, supposedly, making hundreds and thousands of clients richer and richer.

It took 20 years and our latest economic crisis to expose Mr. Madoff. It turns out that he was only being true to his name. Bernie “made-off” with about $65 billion of other people’s money. If Bernie had only been satisfied with $65 million, with an “m,” he might never have been caught; however, “give a thief enough rope and he will hang himself.”

There’s another idiom that comes to mind, but I mention it with sensitivity. The lure of great gains in the games that people play on Wall Street have brought out those who have plenty to use and to lose. Some are greedy and make foolish decisions with their eyes blinded by even greater riches. The idiom? “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

Some may say that Bernie Madoff is not an idiot, but a tremendously gifted schemer. That may be, but only an idiot, a foolish person, would knowingly (and his confession leaves no doubt as to his recognition of wrong) do those things that would hurt as many people as he did. He might have been very talented, but the bottom line is that he used his gifts for evil and that makes him an idiot in my book!

There was another situation recently of an idiom and idiots colliding. The idiom is any version that ends with “too big for their britches.”

For full disclosure, let me say that I have been accused more than once of being “too big for my britches.”

Usually the accusation would have begun with some smart aleck remark that I thought was funny. Unfortunately someone else might not have had the same opinion of my humor and, hence, the remark that Lynn Roberts was getting “too big for his britches.” That’s probably happened to you, too. It could have been true, but it was probably innocent.

These days, though, there are definitely some companies that are simply too big for their britches. The idiom fits perfectly, and there are also some idiots involved.

AIG comes to mind.

AIG is an acronym for American International Group, a company that according to the 2008 Forbes Global List was the world’s 18th largest company. That’s pretty big and did you know that AIG was begun in Shanghai, China, in 1919?

AIG is just one of the companies that the U.S. government has deemed too big to fail (TBTF). Mostly this TBTF policy is aimed at the banking industry, but it carries over into other industries as well. There is the great debate around General Motors. Is it TBTF? A better question is has some companies gotten “too big for their britches?”

Of course they have.

Let me ask another question. What happened to you when you got too big for your britches? Did momma or daddy, or whoever might be accusing you of getting out of line, cuddle up to you and ask you if there was anything they could do to help you?

“Son, what you’ve done is arrogant and selfish. You’ve gotten too big for your britches,” Daddy said, “you’re going to have to learn to live within the rules of civility and responsibility, so here’s a hundred dollars. Don’t do it again.”

I don’t know about you, but that would really set me straight! Only an idiot would misread that message.

AIG has gotten $170 billion of your money in the last six months. If they had any brains whatsoever, they would put their tail between their legs and disappear for at least a couple of decades.

But before the ink could dry on the money we printed to give them, they have disclosed that 165 million of those dollars will be given out as bonuses to the executives who drove the bus off the cliff!

Once again, we see the collision of an idiom with a bunch of idiots!

One more thing about this “too big for their britches” idiom. Who gave AIG the $170 billion to start with?

One would have to think that only an idiot would do such a thing. I’ll let that one roll around in your mind for a while.