Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

How Cliché: The “C” List


Call Someone’s Bluff: to uncover a deception.
A poker term in which a player bets on his or best hand and to “bluff” is bet on a hand, even it might be the best. To “call someone’s bluff” is to match the bet and when the cards are revealed it is evident who had the best hand. American in origin, around 1800s, the term has moved on to mean confronting someone who might be believed to be less than forthright or might be less than honest in their endeavor.

A tangle of problems

Can of Worms (like opening): introducing a set of problems.
Those who fish know when opening a can of worms they will find them tangled and squirming with one another. And so it is with some problems they way they can twist up upon one another, becoming entangled up into another problem. This term is from mid-twentieth century America.

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees: focusing on small details instead of looking at the greater picture.
A 1546 proverb by John Heywood says “Ye cannot see the wood for the trees.” C.S. Lewis put a twist on the proverb when he said in a critique, “All those little details you only notice in real life if you’ve got a high temperature. You couldn’t see the word for the leaves.”

Cast One’s Bread Upon the Waters: to invest one’s efforts in expectation of a return.
From the Book of Ecclesiastes (11:1): “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days,” which is thought to mean, according to Elbert Hubbard in his 1911 Book of Epigrams, “Cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back to you–buttered.”

Good point…

Catch More Flies with Honey Than Vinegar: more can be gained by being nice than being unpleasant
Miguel de Cervantes states in his Don Quixote: “Make yourself into honey and the flies will devour you.” A hundred years later Thomas Fuller mentions in Gnomologia: “More Flies are taken with a Drop of Honey than a Tun of Vinegar.” The proverb can be found in many languages.

Cat Got Your Tongue: being silent when expected to answer.
An expression found in both in America and in England that addressed how a child would go silent when asked a question to avoid getting in trouble. As to why the cat would have his or her tongue that might be derived from the French saying: “I give up, give my tongue to the cat.”

Change of Heart: revising one’s opinion or intentions
The nineteenth century cliché appeared in the 1933 movie Duck Soup. Groucho Marx replied to a character comment of “He’s had a change of heart” by saying “A lot of good that’ll do him. He’s till got the same face.”

Charmed Life (leading a): to be fortunate; to escape harm or danger
Shakespeare might be credited with this expression. In Macbeth the titular character claims he is protected against death: “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born.” That may be what he thought, but Macduff proved Macbeth’s belief quite wrong.

Chip Off the Old Block: resembling a parent
This expression refers to a chip being from the same block of wood, just as a child comes from his or her parent. Dating back to ancient Greece the expression originally was “a chip of the old flint.” The expression traveled on through the times with writers such as John Milton borrowing it for use.

Clip Someone’s Wings: to deflate a person who thinks highly of themselves
Although it sounds somewhat militaristic, the sayings refers to trimming out a bird’s wings so it cannot fly; however, the ancient Romans had a saying that went “Away to prison with him, I’ll clippe his winges.” Sounds a bit military after all, doesn’t it?

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4 thoughts on “How Cliché: The “C” List

  1. petespringerauthor on said:

    I’ll throw in a few others: a clean slate, cost an arm and a leg, chomping at the bit, cute as a button, and cut to the chase.

  2. In the past, any-time I used the word “cliche” in conversation I used it in a negative way, but no longer; for, as they say, the scales have fallen from my eyes. I never appreciated how beautiful they are.

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