“Putting Works into Someones Mouth”
I recently saw a silly cartoon that gave me an idea for this column. The first frame showed two siblings sitting on the floor amidst piles of torn paper. The second frame showed the older of the two with a comic bubble showing a lightbulb above his head. He then began sticking bits of paper in the younger one’s mouth, saying, “Chew! Chew! Swallow!” at the younger’s loud cry, the mother rushes in and asks,”WHAT’S going on here?” The older calmly answers, “Aw, nothing, I’m just puttin’ words in Timmy’s mouth.”
I looked up the definition for this common phrase and the simplest one was, “An attempt to make another person say what is desired to hear.”
Now, don’t try to tell me you’ve never done this. I know you have. I’ve certainly done it myself. We can learn this practice at a young age–like the brother in the cartoon.
The example of my own use of the ploy took place when I was only five. It was a warm summer afternoon and the front door had been left open with only a screened one leading to our front porch. The doorbell rang and I ran to see who was there. I’d never seen the tall man before and there was a large black truck out front with lettering on the side I’d never seen either.
“May I speak to the lady of the house?” He asked. I’d opened the door and let him in before Mama, dusting her hands, came down the hall. “I don’t know if he wants to see you or Willie,” I offered.
“I’m Mrs. Starks. How can I help you? Brenda, go in the kitchen with Willie!” I didn’t; I only stepped inside the dining room archway. I listened while he began his spiel without waiting for Mama to ask him to have a seat. He had a piano outside on his truck, the last one, and he’d give someone a great deal on price if he didn’t have to haul it back to Pine Bluff.
“Ohh.” Mama began, “Our child isn’t old enough for a piano and…”
“I am, too, and I want one real bad!”
“AND,” Mama continued in a loud voice after shushing me, “We can’t afford one.”
“M’aam, do you know the Higgs family up the street? Mrs. Higgs said the same thing but her husband said he’d be glad to pay $650 for such a beautiful instrument for his little Suzanne.”
“Suzanne’s my best friend! Did she get one??” I couldn’t be silenced and ran right up to him.
“Hush!” Mama scolded, “besides, Daddy’s in Little Rock and I…”
“No, he’s not! I saw him come back to the store. Our store’s right down the block.” Before Mama could catch her breath, I’d grabbed the man’s hand and was pulling him out the door, Mama right behind us, gasping, “Brenda…BREN-DA!!!” I never missed a step while telling him, “Just say Suzanne’s daddy bought her one and I want one just as bad and he should buy one for ME! Don’t let Mama fool ya’–Daddy has a BUNCH of money in the cash register. I’ve seen it! Tell him I’m almost crying I want one so bad!!”
Of course, it worked. Daddy was soothed a bit by the man saying he’d knock $50 off (“but don’t tell Mr. Higgs”) since it was the last one on the truck. I had my new piano in the living room by nightfall.
Do you know this ploy was even used in the BIBLE? Once in Sunday School we were studying II Samuel: 14. Joab wanted King David to allow Absalom to return and asked a woman to pretend she was a mourning widow, advising her, “Go to the king and speak to him in THIS fashion…” and told her what to say. He ended the lesson with a story I’ll leave with you today.
A man lavished all his love and attention on his faithful cat, “Purry.” Before leaving for a month’s vacation, he reluctantly left the cat in the care of his neighbor, giving all kinds of meticulous instructions for her care. He’d call each Friday to check on her well being.
At the end of the first week, he made his call. “How’s my “Purry?”
“I’m sorry. But Purry died yesterday.”
“NO!” cried the owner, “NO!! How COULD you tell me like this??? he shouted.
“How else could I have told you?” the poor neighbor responded.
“Uh..Uh..Well..When I made this call you could have said, “Purry climbed atop the roof,” In my next call, you could have said, “She’s still up there but we’re doing all we can to get her down.” Then, the following week you could have said, “We did everything, but she fell to the ground and died.” THEN, perhaps, I’d been prepared.
“Oh…” the neighbor muttered. A week later the man called back just to check in with the neighbor. “How ARE things?”
The neighbor casually replied, “OK…’bout the same…’Cept your momma’s on the roof!”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]