Depending on the situation, “shake it off” is either the best or worst advice someone can give or receive.
The phrase has deep literary roots. In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero, ruler of the island and former Duke of Milan, tells his daughter Miranda to “shake it off” when she complains that the strangeness of his story has put “heaviness” in her.
Taylor Swift had a big hit with a song of the same name in 2014, telling listeners to shake it off because players “gonna play, play, play, play, play” and haters are, of course, “gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
Long before Taylor and quite a while after the Bard, my friend John and I were familiar with the term, thanks to separate painful incidents.
On a recent evening at one of the area’s most exclusive watering holes, John, artist, philosopher and raconteur, and I were solving the world’s problems when he told me a story that went something like this:
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Decades ago, as he was honing his artistry, philosophizing and raconteuring, he oversaw a landscaping project at the home of a prominent doctor.
This project involved removing flowers, shrubs and trees that did not suit the fancy of the prominent doctor — or more so the prominent doctor’s wife — and replacing them with flowers, shrubs and trees that more accurately reflected the social stature of a well-respected physician and his well-to-do wife.
In other words, there was no kudzu snaking around a utility pole on this spread.
At some point during the project, John stuck his hand under a bush and encountered a yellow jacket nest. The inhabitants reacted as expected, tearing into the intruder with vengeance.
With his hand covered in stings, John thought it wise to seek the advice of the prominent doctor, who just happened to be inside relaxing in what I imagine was a stately manor.
“Doc, I got into a yellow jacket nest and I’m allergic,” he said as his hand continued to swell. “What should I do?”
The doctor, sitting in a chair, looked up from the newspaper he was reading and said, “Shake it off.”
Often, the phrase is used in the sports world as advice on how to cope with any injury from a jammed finger to a compound fracture.
As a second baseman in my teenage years, I once took a bad-hop ground ball to a bad place.
A very bad place.
As I lay in the infield dirt, gasping for breath, I wondered if this would end my baseball career as well as any chance in the future of fathering a child.
The coach jogged out of the dugout and looked down at me.
“I bet that hurt,” he said.
He helped me to my feet, clapped me on the back and said, “OK, shake it off.”
Shaking anything at that point was out of the question.
As it turns out it was a lack of talent, not a bad hop, that ended my baseball career and fatherhood followed successfully without any DNA donations.
That brings me to this week, when I complained to a colleague about taking guff I didn’t deserve for something I couldn’t control.
“I would certainly enjoy engaging that gentleman in a spirited debate,” I wanted to say.
Instead, it came out, “I would like to punch that %$#!er right in his %$#!ing face.”
“Hey,” my colleague said. “You just have to shake it off.”
He was right. He may not have been a prominent doctor or a well-meaning baseball coach, but my colleague’s advice in this situation was spot on.
“I know,” I said. “Shake it off, cause haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. I think it was Shakespeare who said that.”
Scott Hollifield is editor of The McDowell News in Marion and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.