“They can’t eat ya?” What does that even mean?


“They can’t eat ya” is something my father said to me any time I hit a rough patch in my life. So, roughly, 27 million times (give or take a couple million).  When I was a kid, I didn’t get it at all. When I was a teenager, I decided it was one of those stupid things that adults say. As a young adult, I thought “What the hell? Is that supposed to be comforting?” Now, I realize he was right the whole time. I’ve never once been completely consumed by the trials of this life. I’ve been chewed on quite a bit, but usually just spit out and never digested. Why?

Well, let us consider the origins of this phrase “They can’t eat ya.”  I’ve heard other people say it, mostly people older than me, so I was pretty confident it didn’t originate with Daddy. I figured there was a ending to this phrase, and as Americans are wont to do, we have just shortened it over the years.

Turns out, there IS a ending and also a beginning.  The full phrase was reportedly first uttered by a young private to Audie Murphy in World War II.  The beginning is “They can kill ya,” which makes it logical that a person would leave that out if he were trying to put a positive spin on things. How is being killed but not eaten supposed to bolster morale in any way? The ending is ” because you are too damned tough.”Now, we are getting somewhere! “They can kill ya, but they can’t eat ya, because you’re too damned tough.” There is also a variation that has the ending as “… because that would be illegal.” But killing someone is also illegal, so that doesn’t make any sense. I’m sticking with the first version.

I like the idea that while Daddy never said I was too damned tough, it was implied, with the shortened version. Because I am tough. I’ve been beaten down, I’ve had the wind knocked out of my sails, I’ve had many rugs pulled out from under me, but I’m still here. I’m not rich, I’m not beautiful. Parts of my 55 year old body went south for the winter a few years ago and haven’t returned. But my brain and my soul remain and like a good Chianti they get better with age. They can’t eat ya, because you are too damned tough. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying, because they will.

This is my blog, I hope you will be entertained and encouraged. Welcome aboard.

04 comments on ““They can’t eat ya?” What does that even mean?

  • Dawn , Direct link to comment

    I love your writing, Diane. If I were a regular fb person, I would have found it sooner. I forwarded to Cheryl Adams. I know she will love this as much as I do.

  • K. Fritz , Direct link to comment

    My dad used to say the same thing to me. Thank you so much for this post. Iā€™m 60 and the phrase finally makes sense to me now too. šŸ™‚

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