A Proverb From the South/Midwest

“Better than a stick in the eye”

This is a proverb that the informants mother used to repeat to describe something that happened that is only marginally good, usually to put life in perspective. That circumstances aren’t ideal, but that they could be worse. It’s similar to the phrase “better than nothing”. Her mother grew up near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois in the 40s-50s.

“Better than a stick in the eye”  is a reflection of resilience, perspective, and a pragmatic approach to life’s challenges valued by the community from which it came. It highlights values of endurance, gratitude, and humor as essential tools for navigating life’s ups and downs, deeply rooted in the personal, cultural, and historical context of the time and place from which it originates. Considering the historical context of the 1940s-50s in areas near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois, this proverb reflects the economic and social challenges of the time. Post-World War II America was a period of significant adjustment, with rural communities often facing economic hardships and societal shifts. It could also predate this time and originate further back to times like the great depression with even worse economic devastation. The saying may sum up the ethos of a generation accustomed to hard work, modest living, and finding contentment in stability rather than excess.