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"Remember our neighbour Mrs. Steingart standing in the middle of our living room with her hands on her hips, glaring at mom for not being a good-enough housekeeper and dad for not being enough of a man and us for not being normal-enough children and how we were all lying, sitting, slumping with books in our hands, utterly oblivious to her admonishments, and she stomped off home saying we were only word people, we were a word family, one day we'd have to open our eyes. To what? A messy house? Now I remember her parting shot. Words don't feed the admiral's cat! It did give me pause, I may have looked up from my book, but only because of the words she'd used to compose her threat and not the threat itself."


Hello, I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me with the paragraph above, which I came across while reading a book (the writer is Canadian). The only context I can provide is that they are Mennonites and live in a Mennonite community. Do "word people" and "word family" mean that they were "all talk and no walk"? Also, I don't understand why she calls this: Words don't feed the admiral's cat! a threat. If I understand it correctly, the expression means something along the lines of "Words won't put food on the table."

Your help would be highly appreciated!

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anonymouswe were only word people

It is a made-up expression that the author puts in the mouth of a very strong character. She is a working-class person and believes that hard manual work is noble, and sitting around reading books is akin to laziness and indolence.

The Bible is laden with verses warning against "idleness"

 Proverbs 14:23
In all labor there is profit,
But mere talk leads only to poverty.
2 Thessalonians 3:10
... if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.
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anonymousDo "word people" and "word family" mean that they were "all talk and no walk"?

Something like that. The passage mentions that they were all reading books, and that seems to be a clue to what she meant. I have to think there is more to it, that they were writers and thinkers.

anonymousAlso, I don't understand why she calls this: Words don't feed the admiral's cat! a threat.

I don't quite understand it, either. I wouldn't call that a threat, but I guess you could say that the threat is that the proverbial cat would starve.

anonymousIf I understand it correctly, the expression means something along the lines of "Words won't put food on the table."

The expression seems to run "X won't/doesn't feed the admiral's cat." It means that X has no value, in this case for sustaining a family, but it can be applied generally, as in "Sorry doesn't …." It rings a bell with me only dimly, and Brewer's Phrase and Fable doesn't mention it. Google is little help, but there are mentions.