Getting the last word in

A while back I was a rep for an investment company. We’d schedule appointments and meet with people to try to get them to buy our stuff. I did this for about six months. We had a script we’d run through, and sort of adapt to the person we were talking to. The schpiel took about two hours. Early on, they’d pair us up with a coworker to go out to our appointments. Sometimes we’d get the sale. A lot of the time we didn’t.

One of the guys I worked with was good at talking with people, but his “confidence” out-paced his impulse control sometimes. He didn’t do this on any of my appointments, but I heard about him getting frustrated with a prospective client and telling the man, “You’re gonna die broke!”

I remember being rather puzzled at that. We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘You can’t take it with you.’ It was a stupid thing to say. Maybe on a rare occasion a broker might be able to insult their way into a sale by guilting a client, who’d said no, into investing. I doubt it happens very often. The statement is usually a “last word” dropped by someone who can’t accept their own failure at an encounter.

But what does that mean, to ‘die broke?’ It sounds like another idle phrase that people throw around that goes unexamined, like the way people talk about someone not having a ‘pot to piss in.’

In our post-modern times of finance and accounts, and everything having a price tag, it could mean that the client won’t be leaving anything to family. It could also mean that the client won’t have enough savings to pay for their final arrangements. This is what happens quite often.

But let’s look into it’s possible history. The other phrase I mentioned, about people being so poor they didn’t have a pot to piss in goes back centuries to the time when people collected urine to sell to the tanner. Urine was used to tan leather. It had value. It was worth not just spilling on the ground. If you didn’t even have that much means you were in a pretty bad place in the culture.

Dying broke may have meant that you had nothing to give to the ferryman, Charon. Those who cared for the dead placed a coin on the eyes or mouth of the deceased as payment for their passage across the rivers of the underworld to Hades.

I’m the one who thinks of this stuff. I doubt my boisterous and loud colleague from several presidents back had any idea that this was an implication of what he was saying.