The Higher They Are…

July 1, 2008

Here’s a column I wrote today while parked at the beach in Scituate. As an aside, it’s great that technology allows writers the opportunity to work anywhere.


One expression that gives me fits is “looking up to someone.”

I understand that it’s not a literal representation of what you’re supposed to do when you interact with different people, but it still annoys me.

What makes height a measuring stick of a person’s worth, intelligence or charisma? And when did this expression jump into the vernacular?

According to, to look up to means to respect; to regard with deference. Well, we understood that, but sources have little to say on when the phrase first appeared.

One thing’s for sure, you wouldn’t want to mention someone’s shortcomings, make a task a tall order, or even praise someone for their amazing mediocrity.

What got me thinking about height was a literal trip into the shower. While stepping into the tub, I caught my foot on the edge and almost tumbled headlong into the porcelain.

After catching my balance and slowing my heart-rate, I wondered if I had gotten shorter overnight.

Perhaps I had begun the inexorable journey downward in height and I’d soon need a stepladder to reach the lettuce crisper and to dust windowsills.

That last thought is just ludicrous. Anyone who knows me can testify that I’ve never dusted a windowsill in my life.

But it stands to reason that I could be on my way to the unenviable role of needing others to push elevator buttons for me. My grandmother was like that.

Legend states that at one point Lil Cutler was eight-feet tall. She towered physically and metaphorically over all others and was impossible to beat in Scrabble.

I can’t testify to the former because during my formative years I was shorter than her and she had already begun her literal decline as I reached adolescence.

In fact, if Lil had lived much longer, the entire family agrees that we’d have had to bring her places in a Barbie Dream House. She really was that small.

These days, the PC crowd would categorize Lil as height-disadvantaged. The irony is that it’s not really politically correct to ‘categorize’ anyone as anything. But PC zealots trade in a measure of common-sense when they sign on to freak out about fences in the southeastern United States and about ADHD being a genuine illness.

Lil probably would have taken offense at being put into a box (a figurative box) with other short people. She was self-assured and decisive, traits we ascribe to taller folks all the time.

And I suppose that her outlook wasn’t tempered by her low-level perspective. She probably believed that it was more important to value a person’s actions rather than their stature.

If Lil were around today I might be able to eat any number of foods off of her head including peanuts and sushi and maybe even a piece of angel food cake. But that doesn’t mean that our views are vastly different.

In fact, were we to start talking about height and the way it influences people’s perceptions, I’m sure Lil and I would see eye-to-eye.