Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Hug The Cactus

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2013

During the 25th Annual American Cinematheque Awards Ceremony, one of the recipients stated that one of the presenters had hugged the cactus long enough. The expression was vivid and visual, and put forth the concept that surely someone who hugs a cactus — regardless of whether it’s voluntary or involuntary — earns forgiveness and a second chance.

Gina Holmes, author of such books as “Crossing Oceans” and “Wings Of Glass” used the expression in a blog article she wrote and published online on July 18, 2005. She shared her top advice for prospective authors, and one of the many valuable pieces of information shared was this:

So, to recap, my advice: Join the toughest writer critique group you can find and hug the cactus. (That means embrace the painful critiques).

This concept is one that’s found in only a handful of newspaper articles such as the article entitled, “Taking A Chance On Dare” in the Kansas City Star edition of July 2, 2004. The dare in question was the movie “Love Me If You Dare” — the romantic and yet continuously platonic relationship that lasts three decades, from childhood through to adulthood. The reviewer felt the movie was beautifully made, and gave the actors kudos for their works, however, he indirectly referenced the expression when he wrote:

One may admire a cactus, after all, but nobody wants to hug it.

While it seems to be a rarely used idiom, when it is used, it an idiom that’s immediately understood. The expression impacted on family life educators and authors, David and Claudia Arp in 1999 and included it in the title of their bookSuddenly They’re 13 or The Art of Hugging a Cactus: A Parent’s Survival Guide for the Adolescent Years.”

In trying to track down the history of this expression, a Friend of Idiomation living in Texas claimed that it’s been around Texas for generations and refers to an individual going through hard times. To hug the cactus means the individual confronts life’s hard knocks head for the purpose of getting over them as quickly as possible and move on.  The meaning attributed to this saying in Texas is consistent with how Robert Downey, Jr. used it when speaking about Mel Gibson.

Even with that bit of information to go on, Idiomation was unable to make much headway in tracking down the history of this expression.

If anyone out there knows a bit of the story, please feel free to share what you know in the Comments section. We’d all love to get the inside story on where this idiom came from, or at least, the journey it took to make it onstage at the 25th Annual American Cinematheque Awards Ceremony.


2 Responses to “Hug The Cactus”

  1. […] Hugging the Cactus: Why Businesses Should Value Negative Customer Feedback […]

  2. Max Reif said

    I originally heard phrase this as a story attributed to the sage Ramakrishna: “A traveler in the desert passed a man who was hugging a cactus. The man turned his face to the traveler as he passed, and said, “This is all I know.” A real “teaching story”, with lots of implications!

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