Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rethinking Some More Clichés

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Except… you earned the penny before you saved it, unless you stole it. However, people drop pennies all the time and don’t bother to pick them up, so “a penny picked up is a penny earned,” especially if someone else dropped it. Plus, this new idiom has a sort of “carpe diem” message to it.

“We’re going to hell in a handbasket.” I really can’t imagine being taken to hell in a handbasket. That sounds too comfortable to be the mode of transport to the most tortuous place in existence. If there is a hell, I bet you get there by public bus.

I don’t like when light punishments are called a “slap on the wrist.” I bet if you slapped someone on the wrist as a punishment, you would get sued, so people are not taking it lightly.

When someone loves another person, they might call them the “apple of my eye.” I don’t even know how to approach this madness. Why not “the grape of my nose” or “the orange of my ass”? People will say nonsense when it’s about someone they care about, I guess.

There’s also a fair amount of talk about “backseat drivers.” I know I cannot be the only person who has more problems with passenger-seat drivers…

“Blood is thicker than water” is meant to suggest that family ties are important, but I have no idea why viscosity is the measure of loyalty, nor do I understand what “water” is meant to represent. I think you would have better luck guilting your kids with the fact that you changed their diapers for years. After all, shit is thicker than blood.

If you reveal a secret, then you “let the cat out of the bag.” Only… a secret is supposed to be hidden, while a cat isn’t supposed to be in a bag. I would say it should be “you let the cat out of the house,” but there are plenty of outdoor cats. The problem is, switching it too much, like, “You let the iguana out of the aquarium,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. The best I can come up with is, “You let the hound off the leash,” since, like a secret, they will just run off further than you can see if you let go of them.

A small space may be described as having “no room to swing a cat in.” What the hell were people doing to cats when the foundations of the English language were being laid out?

If you’re “long in the tooth,” you’re old. The problem here is that teeth don’t keep growing as you age, so your teeth aren’t longer when you are elderly. If anything, when you get older, you become short on teeth.

When someone wants to emphasize that an idea is proven, they might say there are “no bones about it.” I am guessing this is not a figure of speech used often by paleontologists.

This one really gets me: people who are insane are sometimes said to “not be playing with a full deck.” You don’t have to be crazy to play Euchre.

One that is pretty good in some respects is “being on the fence” if you’re remaining neutral. What I can’t stand is when people call those individuals cowardly, even though being on the fence clearing means you’re taking fire from both sides. That takes courage, people. The cowards stand off to the side, or just stay home.

As someone who is rarely serious, I have people ask me all the time if I’m “pulling their leg.” I don’t know what to say about this one, I just find it stupid. How does saying something that might be meant to trick you or make you laugh compare to pulling someone’s leg? In fact, I’m trying to imagine pulling a person’s leg, and I am wondering: pulling it how? Am I grabbing the ankle and dragging the person somewhere? I just… I honestly have no clue why this got popular.


  1. Excellent.

    This one was best:

    When someone loves another person, they might call them the “apple of my eye.” I don’t even know how to approach this madness. Why not “the grape of my nose” or “the orange of my ass”?

  2. "A penny saved is a penny earned"--not wasting a penny is just as good as earning a penny.

    "Apple of my eye"--blame Shakespeare and the KJV of the Old Testament for the popularity of this one.

    "Cat out of the bag" probably refers to putting cats in bags instead of piglets. German has a similar idiom for buying false goods--"buy a cat in a bag".

    "Long in the tooth" refers to the shrinking of the gums as you age. (This is why you should see a dentist twice a year. I didn't for a a few years and I'm longer in the front teeth than I should be.)

  3. "Long in the tooth" is also a reference to horses, whose teeth do continue to grow as they age. People would look at a horse's teeth to judge its age before buying.

    It is also from this that we derive the phrase "never look a gift horse in the mouth."

  4. Yes, but if you lead a gift horse to water, can you look him in the mouth while making him drink?


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