“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but some of it always gets on your hands.”
The Dictionary for New Farmers, 1st edition.
While traveling in our car the other day, my wife noticed a squeak that she thought originated outside the car somewhere in the vicinity of one of the tires. I did my best to ignore it while my wife was just as adamant to not. I was finally forced to admit its presence when she rolled down the window and the squeak was audibly undeniable. I have usually found, to my detriment, that ignoring my wife’s advice on funny sounds is not a “sound” practice. This recent experience made me contemplate the proverb: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
As one might guess, no one is certain of the origin of this proverb. I am almost certain that, as long as there have been wheels, an expression similar to this proverb has existed in almost every culture. It may have first appeared in print in 1903 by American author and humorist Cal Stewart. Stewart created the character of Uncle Josh Weathersby who was a resident of a mythical New England farming town called Punkin Center. His recordings are still available online and are well worth a listen.
There are multiple interesting meanings and variations to the proverb. Franklin said something similar when he coined the phrase: “The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.” This is certainly a pithy expression that applies to many a situation, political and non-political alike. The Chinese variation of the proverb goes something like this “The shot hits the bird that pokes its head out.” A Japanese variation suggests that, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Today, the proof of this proverb abounds. For example, it seems the more outrageous a politician becomes, the more coverage they get in the media and thus the more money they draw into their coffers.
Some outrageous talk show hosts and their followers may be the worst. The more slop they dredge up, the more excited their followers become and their TV ratings go up. A word of advice here – one should always avoid arguing with such folks for the more one wrestles with a pig, the more filthy one becomes and the more excited the pig becomes. Besides, all good farmers know that, when greasing a wheel, some grease invariably gets on one’s hands.
There is just something about an audible squeak that tries men’s (and women’s) souls. One must get to the bottom of it or go insane trying. My border collie Meg is no different. When her energy level reaches critical mass and she is about to drive us crazy, a purchase of a new squeaky toy provides us some relief. For Meg, it is standard policy that no toy with a squeaker will remain unscathed until the heart of the thing is plucked from its hidden depths and destroyed. Such a toy will keep her entertained for hours depending on the structural integrity of the toy and the ability of its squeaky heart to continue squeaking. When the thing finally emerges, Meg often brings it to us in proud display of her courage and determination.
I, on the other hand, get no such satisfaction from holding the squeaky car thing in my hand other than the silence that is the final result. If I am lucky, my wife will get me a Little Debbie snack as a reward. Although its crinkling wrapper as I unwrap the morsel is not the same as a squeak, it gets my undivided attention just the same.
Jeff and Kathy Crisler own a farm in Hocking County where they raise bees, berries and blisters. They are both retired and have two children and six grandchildren. Jeff wrote this column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.