Clutching at straws with scarecrow as inspiration

Graeme 'Yer Man' Cousins
Graeme 'Yer Man' Cousins

There’s something incredibly manly about doing DIY.

Besides from rolling up one’s sleeves in order to fix something that has become broken, or at least attempt to do so, there is a hidden masculinity to the process.

The very tools used couldn’t be more male in their onomatopoeic simplicity. You use a hammer to hammer, a saw to saw and a screwdriver to drive screws. These tools are stored in a box known as a tool box.

It’s no coincidence, given that its target market is DIY enthusiasts, that the Ronseal slogan ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ is one of the most memorable in the advertising world. There are no frills when it comes to DIY.

It’s not like cooking where most of the terminology is in a different language and what little that’s in English is overcomplicated. I hate going to a restaurant and ordering something like tempura of sea-caught morsels, served with thrice-cooked frites and seduced greens only to find a plate of fish, chips and mushy peas put in front of me.

One of the latest menu crazes that irks me some, is when something is said to be ‘deconstructed’.

In order for something, for example a cheesecake, to be deconstructed it would first have had to be constructed. What you are served if you order a deconstructed cheesecake is a cheesecake that has all the constituent parts, but the chef hasn’t bothered to put them together. It’s not a deconstructed cheesecake, it is a ‘nearly cheesecake’.

I’ll give you another example of kitchen-based nonsense. The utensil you use to flip things over as they’re cooking is called a fish slice. If you were to use it to slice fish, you’d end up with badly sliced fish and the sneering contempt of every chef who’s ever donned a pair of garish trousers.

The reason I’ve been paying more attention to words than is probably necessary this week is down to a conversation I had with Lucy.

During one of her children’s programmes she pointed to a man in a field with a hat and tatty suit on, and straw coming out all the bits in between.

“Who’s that?” she asked.

“He’s a scarecrow,” I answered.

“What does he do?” she enquired.

“He scares crows,” I said.

With that, I realised that the scarecrow is the Ronseal of all effigies.

Since the scarecrow conversation, in order to tickle my fancy, I’ve been wracking my brains for other things that are named after what they do.

The best I’ve come up with is bear trap, shoe lace and people carrier.

But don’t get me wrong. While I like simple words I also like to see how odd everyday phrases have evolved.

Phrases like red herring. I’m sure we’ve all described something as a red herring, but where does it come from? An actual red herring is something that was used to put a hunting dog off a particular scent, to distract them temporarily to prolong the chase. And so it has become a term used, often as a literary device, to distract the reader and throw them off the scent.

So you’re probably wondering what the red herring is in this week’s column. Is it the tool box, the scarecrow, the fish and chips? Or is it the red herring itself?

My goodness, he’s only gone and used a red herring as a red herring.

Et voila. I give you a deconstructed red herring.