Monday, September 5, 2011

Rethinking Some Shakespearean Clichés

In this criticism of clichés, I will focus only on the idioms of the man who made “household words” household words.

Saying someone is “dead as a doornail” is meant to emphasize how dead someone is, but I question whether something that was never alive can truly be “dead.” Why not just, “dead as a door?” Or why not some other part of the door, like a doorknob or doorbell?

If “All the world’s a stage,” where was I during rehearsal?

“As pure as the driven snow” is actually “As white as the driven snow,” from The Winter’s Tale. During Shakespeare’s time, driven snow meant snow blown into drifts, so it was pretty clean, but snow that is driven over now… not very clean. This one should be retired, if only because half the time, this phrase is used to describe some sort of illegal drug (usually heroin or cocaine, but also meth, ketamine, MDMA, and others), which is almost certainly not pure.

If you’re in a quandary, you might be said to be “in a pickle.” There’s a lot I could say about this but, in a nutshell, it makes very little sense. At least “in a nutshell” means the compact version, and nutshells fit the bill. I suppose it would be dangerous to be in a pickle, especially in a deli, but then it would be just as dangerous to be “in a dumpling,” or perhaps more hideously, “in a suppository.”

In Henry VI, the line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” is uttered. The only thing wrong with this statement is that it is used seldomly.

My mother used to say I was “eating her out of house and home.” This one is also used in Henry VI. I always wondered where the second place we owned was, and which was I living in, the house or the home?

Something ugly is said to be an “eye-sore,” but things that make my eyes sore are usually just weird, like those Magic Eye pictures, some optical illusions where it seems like a spiral is moving, or watching movies in 3D for a long time (especially without the glasses on). But the great thing about vision is you can avert your eyes rather quickly and easily. I’m surprised “ear-sore” never caught on, because you can’t shut your ears. No matter how horrible a sound is, you are stuck hearing it.

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