A Bird in the Hand

Following the post I made at the end of last year which discussed my reaction to having been officially diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Condition (a.k.a. the Syndrome Previously Known as Aspergers), I've noticed that there are a few misconceptions that have made their way into received wisdom about how I must behave.

These are not true for many reasons.

For a start not everyone with ASC is going to behave in the same manner. Everyone is different no matter where they sit on the spectrum. It is perfectly possible to have ASC and be an introvert or an extrovert. Some people might exhibit certain symptoms whilst others don't.

One of the most common preconceptions that people seem to have is that I will take everything they say literally. That if they use an idiom or colloquialism I will think they actually  mean that someone has (say) eyes bigger than their stomach.

Well no, of course not. That would be silly. I have enough of a sense of the real world and what's possible in it to realise that when a nonsensical phrase like that is used it's almost certainly an idiom and - if I'm unfamiliar with it - a few seconds thought will usually enable me to work out what it means.

Sometimes these expressions can be a little opaque. For instance a very well known one is "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". Of course I do know that this means that it's not worth risking losing something you definitely have now in order to possibly get hold of something of a greater value, but even knowing that, it's still not what the expression says to me.

For a start in my head the expression definitely is about catching birds. This is something that - I suspect in common with many people - as a child I always wanted to do. There's something about a bird's ability to fly away that comes across as a challenge to small children. I'm sure I am not the only person who spent many fruitless hours of their childhood hiding in the garden holding a string attached to a stick propping up a shoe box under which a handful of crumbs had been scattered. But I digress.

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

I quite clearly visualise the bird in the hand and the two in the bush a little way off. I can't see why the captive bird is somehow worth more than the two that still have their freedom. If anything it's the other way around. This is partly because I am seeing the expression from the birds' point of view. The birds are the only real characters in this micro story, and while you might feel sympathy for the poor bird who's been captured by the nameless hand, the two still at liberty have far more potential, far more worth, simply due to the fact that for them the sky is the limit.

Most idioms are easier to decode though. Some are really obvious. For example "The early bird gets the worm" may still be about birds in my head, but its meaning when applied to birds is directly transferrable across to human situations. Others may be less straightforward but I know what they mean on an intellectual level and they don't alarm me.

But while many people use idioms as a kind of unconscious shorthand, I can't help imagining what it would be like if they were literally true. This ties into my sense of humour. What if her eyes actually were bigger than her stomach? What if a feast for the eyes actually did involve shovelling spoonfuls of trifle between your eyelids? Once I was watching the news and a reporter said "politicians have got to stop surprising the public". I immediately imagined an MP leaping out at someone from behind a bush. Probably the same bush that had the two birds in it.

Sometimes if an imagined scenario strikes me as particularly amusing I might make a joke based on one of these what-if scenarios. Unfortunately often people won't get these jokes. Their expressions freeze for a second before they embark on a detailed explanation of the idiom in question and what was really meant by it.

Well yes, I know. But wouldn't it be funny if...?


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