Monday, August 27, 2012

Things got kind of hairy

I ran a triathlon in early August. I made an impulsive decision to do it about four days before the event, so I hadn't exactly trained. But some friends were going for it, so I got a wild hair and went for it as well. At least, that's what I told everyone. "I got a wild hair and signed up." Naturally, they looked at me as if I was crazy.

One way to pass the time on a three hour swim/bike/run is to let the mind roam where it will. In my case, I found myself pondering the expression "wild hair." Where did it come from? Was it wild hair, or wild hare? Either one seemed to work: I pictured a wild hare bounding around a meadow in erratic, jackrabbit fashion, hopping wherever the spirit led. Then again, it could refer to a bad hair day, with one feisty tuft of hair sproinging out of place despite one's best efforts.

The race got kind of hairy, especially the last leg--a 3.8 mile uphill in the blazing sun--but I managed to finish and put it behind me, except for a lurking unease about the term "wild hair." Further research illuminated the trouble: I had misused the phrase. According to Daily Writing Tips, "wild hair" comes from:
'to have a wild hair up one’s ass.' The meaning of this vulgar expression is 'to have an obsession or fixation about something.'
Uh oh. If that's the case, then it was my friends who had the wild hair about the triathlon, since they had been training for it since January. For my part, I was acting hair-brained. I mean, harebrained. Whatever.

After the race, my friends and I gathered for a cold beer on the lawn, and wound up (somehow) on the subject of hair expressions.

"Do you know where 'hair of the dog' comes from?" Pete asked.

"Um ... ???"

"It was an ancient remedy for rabies. If you got bit by a rabid dog, you were supposed to cure it by applying the hair of the dog that bit you into the wound."

"Really? Did it work?"

"I doubt it. It probably just gave them something to do."

Good point. For better or worse, our weirdest ideas can turn out to be the most memorable.

Click on "Some Hairy Expressions"  for more about:
splitting hairs
hair-trigger
a hair's breadth
letting one's hair down, etc.