Maxim (max’-im): One of several terms describing short, pithy sayings. Others include adage, apothegm, gnome, paroemia, proverb, and sententia.
“Blow your tuba parallel to the ground.” Whenever I was off on my way to do something—play baseball, go to the grocery store, go on a date—anything that took place in public, my father would utter these words of wisdom. When I asked him what he meant, he’d say, “Come on, don’t mess with me. I’m your father shit for brains.” What he did tell me was that “Blow your tuba parallel to the ground” was a saying whose meaning was passed down through the years in the family from the oldest male who was a father, to his oldest male son who was a father, from generation to generation. There would be a secret ceremony in the garage, in the parked car’s front seat, where the saying’s secret meaning was revealed. I was the oldest son, but I didn’t have a son yet.
The years passed. I went to college, and then on to State University for a PhD. in Anthropology. Given my family background, I specialized in “sayings.” I studied the ancient Camdenite culture of Southern New Jersey. They had left inscriptions carved in trees throughout the region. It had taken linguists years to decipher their language. Able now to translate the trees’ inscriptions, I set about compiling their sayings, looking for themes that would shed light on the hierarchy of the good giving meaning to their lives.
The first thing I discovered was their equivalent of the English f-word was most prevalent. It was used in a contracted form to modify nearly each word in a sentence, as in “F-in eat the f-in clam.” This saying, along with a few others like it, appeared over and over again in the context of advice concerning male romantic endeavors. Most of the tree sayings were simple and basic, aside from the romantic sayings (as above) that were oblique, cryptic, and metaphoric and referenced activities of a sexual nature (as above). The more straightforward and utilitarian sayings were clear and down to earth: “Put your f-in spear away on an f-in rainy day.” “Don’t f-in piss on the f-in fire.” “F-in go outside to f-in fart.” I think these sayings can be taken literally, but they may also have deep figurative references that speak to the soul of Camdenite culture—a culture beyond my understanding as a 21st century bearer of a multi-faceted wi-fi and Zoom-enmeshed in all the f-in mind-game crap you have to put with to get a goddamn f-in PhD. So, I finished my dissertation as fast as I could, and graduated. My dissertation was titled “Differently Cultured Differences in Ancient South Jersey Sayings: F-in ‘A’ Mother F-er.” My dissertation won the “New Jersey Cultural Award for Making New Jersey Look Interesting.” There was a $200 prize and I didn’t start my professor job for a month, so I decided to go home and see if I could wrest out of my father the meaning of “Blow your tuba parallel to the ground.” In a way, it would top off my studies.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon. I rang the doorbell. My father answered the door.
So, standing right there on the porch, I asked him about the saying’s meaning for what seemed like the hundredth time, followed by: “All I can say dad is I don’t know the meaning of the advisory saying you’ve been plying me with all these years. How can I take its advice if I don’t know what is?” He put his hands together in a monk-like prayerful pose and said “That’s the f-in point, son.” Now I was even more confused. I was angry. I turned and stomped off the porch and headed for the bus station. As I turned the corner, I heard him yell, “Blow your tuba parallel to the ground.”
Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).
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