The other night whilst washing baby bottles (because this is what I do now) a phrase popped into my head that I don’t think’s ever been in there before at my behest: “chief cook & bottle washer”.
Hardly a proposition from Wittgenstein, I realise – I was LITERALLY washing bottles as it came in there.
So I thought I’d go a-googlin’ to find out where the phrase comes from. It’s one of those things that I don’t think anyone ever says unless they’ve got kids, but they say it with the sense of hackneyed tradition that communicates that it’s “a thing”, and if it IS a thing then it’s probably a thing that came from somewhere else.
Most of the references I found were user-generated content (think Wiktionary), where people were explaining that describing yourself as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer meant that you were responsible for all duties around the house – Chief Cook being the sort of managerial role, and Bottle Washer being the lowly gruntwork.
The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was that I’ve NEVER heard the term “Chief Cook” used anywhere. Head Chef, certainly. Was Chief Cook maybe a naval term? It just didn’t sit right. But, the content was out there. And indeed the merchandise – primarily in the form of print-on-demand quasi-hilarious aprons, templated probably by the same people who wrote the wiktionary content.
I don’t know if this would ordinarily play on my mind for any length of time – however I had fuck all else to do other than think about the bottles I was washing, so I pondered why it was that the phrase conjured up the friendly face of Dick van Dyke. And it suddenly occurred to me that the first time I heard the phrase was probably as spoken by Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:
You’re more than just a father to those two children.
Oh, yes. Nursemaid, private tutor, chief, cook, and bottle washer. Everything. Except what they really need.
And THERE it was – the reason “chief cook” didn’t sit with me was because the first time I heard it it was part of a longer list. And, to my mind, “chief, cook and bottle-washer” makes VASTLY more sense than “chief cook & bottle-washer” – Chief is the upper management role, cook is the maintenance/sustenance/happiness enabling role, and bottle-washer represents the manual tasks.
It’s just more rounded & complete, no?
Glad we got to the bottom of that.