Too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash

Norman Rockwell

I have idioms for my idioms.

This thought occurred to me this morning while I was in the shower. That’s where I do my best thinking, where I get my best ideas. And this morning I was thinking about the phrase “Too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.”

It’s like being between a rock and a hard place, I thought.

That’s rich, I thought, using one idiom to define another. For crying out loud. I might as well have said “I’ll use this skillet instead of the frying pan.” It’s the same thing!

If the shoe fits, I thought.

Damn.

Back to “too poor to paint…”

Whitewash, made of lime and water, was cheaper than house paint and used mainly by people who could not afford paint. For this reason, it came to be associated with poverty. Some say that the adage came to be after the Civil War, when the grand plantation homes fell into paint-peeling disrepair. Gentility would not allow those who suddenly found themselves with little extra money, if any, for paint to embrace the alternative and risk looking like what they actually were — poor.

Over time the phrase has evolved from its literal meaning to illustrate two choices, neither one of which is acceptable. Sort of like being on the horns of a dilemma.

Damn.