Main piece: When we’re all leaving but we’re kind of late, someone will say “we’re all off like a herd of turtles”. But my family intentionally mispronounces it, so they say “we’re off like nerd of nerdles” or “we’re off like a turd of hurdles”.
Background: My informant is a twenty-year old woman from Richardson, Texas. Her father is from Malmesbury, a town Wiltshire, England, and her mother is from Dallas, Texas.
Explanation: Turtles are famously slow, so “we’re all off like a herd of turtles” means that “we are moving incredibly slowly and are definitely going to be late.”
Analysis: This folk simile exists to make light out of an unfortunate situation, that of being late. Being late can create anxiety, but having a funny saying allows the family to laugh it off, and also serves as a gentle reprimand that they should be moving faster. Additionally, intentionally misstating the phrase is another way to make light of the fact that they’ve made a mistake and don’t have enough time to get wherever they are going punctually, essentially saying that “we’re late, so we can’t do anything right, not even saying the phrase about being late”.
Better late than never,
Better never late
My informant learned this song as a child of approximately six years of age. She was taught it by her mother as a way to instill values of timeliness in her children in a way that was easy to remember for them. Her mother would sing it whenever Sherri and her sisters were tardy or took too long to get ready to go out. Sherri recalls her mother using many songs and proverbs to teach lessons to her and her sisters during her childhood.
This song, which is usually used to target tardiness in children, teaches people that, while it is better to show up to an event you were supposed to be present at, it is even better to show up on time to that event. This is because not only will you get more out of that event, but also it shows the host of the event that you genuinely care about them and want to spend time with them. Your timeliness benefits not only those around you, but also benefits you as you get more out of every situation if you are on time.
I think this is a good lesson to teach to children at a young age as timeliness can make many a difference, from being hired by a company to just conveying the idea that you are a timely person.