‘Because You See His Teeth, Don’t Assume the Lion Is Smiling’

(Acrylic brushed on wrinkled paper glued to cardboard scrap.) Joan Didion’s novel introduced me long ago to the reigning English solecism. I’m not a golfer, why am I attracted to Play it as it lies? Didion, a rigorous stylist, knew what she was doing. Her choice of the phrase’s version lends it the undermining force she needed. — JMN

The comment about the unsmiling lion is attributed to the 10th-century Arabic poet al-Mutanabbi (915 – 965). I heard it on a podcast called “Arabic Qahwa.” The line has a zesty zing to it that marks it as an old saying to be handed down indefinitely on the tongues of hoary elders, delivered with narrowed eyes and sagacious nods.

Old “Chinese” sayings abound in English. I’m not sure they’re all Chinese, or old, or even much said, but I have a favorite:

Wisdom consists in getting the names of things right.

Chinese Saying?

Whatever its origin, the saying bucks me up by validating a penchant for being ruled by grammar. The fewest words that are right can say enough barely, and leave the rest clearly understood. Excepting poetry, that’s good speech.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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