Often people talk about swings and roundabouts. Known as a cliche it’s often used to describe a situation, or series of events, that has had ups and downs. It’s used in an attempt to console people and make them feel better. For example, you tell someone your precious dog, your best friend since you were 12, has just died. And they say: “Just think how much you’ll save on dog food. Swings and roundabouts eh?”
As you can see it has great power to console and comfort. Still, what’s what? Are the swings bad? Or is it the roundabouts we want to avoid? And what if life is all swings and no roundabouts? Is that unfair? Who runs this great cosmic playground so we know who we can file an official complaint with?
I haven’t actually decided which I prefer. I have memories of swings that took me to heights that brought tears to my 9 year old eyes and gave me nightmares of swings doing a full circle while I hung on in a futile attempt to stay on the right side of the troposphere. Then again ‘extreme roundabouting’ as a teenager also left me with ‘hard to heal’ emotional scars. What started out as harmless fun inevitably ended with a reckless diehard mate who decided that roundabouts are more fun at the speed of light. I suggested we take it a step further and aim for the speed of dark but no-one got it. Funny that.
So after many years of scientific debate I’m still no closer to choosing one over the other. And like so many idioms (why is that word so close to idiot?) in the English language, swings and roundabouts is right up there with so much of the white noise that goes on in everyday banter. I’m not proposing we get too OCD about this and take to people with what I like to call the ‘grammar hammer’ but maybe like the ad says we need better work stories, or better life stories. Then we’ll all have so much real, interesting bits of information to share around that the hackneyed cliches will never get to see the light of day.
While I’ve got the grammar hammer out, I do want to mention the whole twenty ten vs two thousand and ten debate because the last time I checked it still hadn’t been resolved. The grammar elite are arguing for twenty ten because of the historical precedence of nineteen eighty-four while some in the media, like our own C4 with their new season promo, are pushing two thousand and ten. My money is on the media winning this stoush since who really cares what some stuffy English professor thinks even if he is technically correct and what’s ‘correct’ usually just ends up being what is commonly used – hence the media have the upper hand in this one.
So next time someone uses the ‘swings and roundabouts’ phrase on, around, or next to you, do me a favour and ask them what it’s all about and how it applies to the real world. Let me know how it turns out. Sporting chance they’ll stop talking to you because they think you’re weird but it’s a small price to pay to uncover the truth behind a meaningless phrase.