Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “cliches”

How Cliché: The “B” List


The “B” section is booming with cliché phrases. All these are from Christine Ammer’s Have a Nice Day–No Problem: A Dictionary of Clichés.

The worst backseat drivers | Insurance.com
A backseat driver can be found anywhere

Backseat driver: unwanted advice.
In the 1920’s, those who could afford to do so, engaged a chauffer to drive them. The chauffer sat up front and the passenger or employer sat in the back and gave their driver instructions. Today the term applies to someone giving what they perceive as helpful advice, usually to the chagrin to the person doing the task. Other applicable phrases are Armchair General and Monday-Morning Quarterback.

Back to square one: back to the beginning
Though it sounds like a math problem, thoughts on this one are related to games where the start is a square, as in hopscotch or in a number of board games. Putting in hard work only to start over is frustrating and this term goes with back to the drawing board when the blueprints don’t pan out.

Salt mine Memes
And put some pepper in your efforts…

Back to the salt mines: returning to work
At one point in history, Russian prisoners during communist times were sent to work in the Siberian salt mines. While coming off of break can be tough, it probably is easier going that chipping away at rocks.

(The) ball is in your court: take your turn
A current expression from sports, which is attributed in the mid 20th century which is said when one person is a)being polite b)pushing the other person to take their turn c)a strategy to get the other person to reveal their intentions through action or words.

Bald face or barefaced liar/lie: an obvious, if not bold untruth.
Bare could be brazen, but it is likely is related to “beardless” which connects to only the young (not old enough to grow a beard yet) could so unashamedly tell such outrageous lies.

Idiom: Barking up the wrong tree (meaning & examples)
Categorically funny to Cocoa

(To) bark up the wrong tree: waste time or effort going in the wrong direction
Once when hunting racoons with dogs was prevalent, sometimes dogs, so pleased with themselves, would bound up to a tree so sure they had caught the varmint, would bark to their owners their success. Raccoons, being the clever creatures that they are often led the dogs astray by jumping to another tree or applying some other witty escape strategy. For those out there thinking they have solved the problem through what seems to be a long and productive chase, they might find themselves baying at empty branches and must go back to square one.

(To have) bats in one’s belfry: deemed slightly crazy
Bats in flight fly in a more irregular than regular pattern. At one time people watching bat flight thought the irregular flight reflected how bats thought–erratically. Since then it has been proven bats have a sophisticated flying system that employs sonar which keeps them from bumping into obstacles. While belfrys are not much in current use, one might be considered batty if their thoughts or speaking seems random, which might at first seem like an insult, yet it’s actually a compliment since bats are considered sophisticated creatures.

(To) beard the lion: to take a risk
If you haven’t heard this term recently, that makes two of us. Considered cliché for over a century, this phrase has Biblical roots coming from when David related how by grabbing a lion by its beard he slew him. Facing danger and vanquishing it is one thing, grabbing lions is quite another. Granted, David showed his bravery. Look how this lion’s beard–that’s up close and personal.

Why do men have more facial hair than women? - Quora
Bearding the lion (looks more like a goatee)

Beat (scare) the living daylights out of: to punish or scare someone tremendously
A 19th century American colloquialism for a person’s internal organs was “daylights.” To punish or scare someone so severely that there innards would fall out is indeed severe.

Bed or roses: an implied place of comfort
Metaphorically, lying in a bed of roses sounds pleasant, being surrounded by the fragrant petals. However, there are thorns to consider. And a literal bed of roses demands constant care, so this phrase implies the opposite, as in the situation is not comfortable.


How Cliché: Still Taking “A” Look


Back again this month as we continue looking at the clichés found in the “A” section of Christine Ammer’s Have a Nice Day–No Problem.

All that glitters is not gold - Meme Generator

All that glitters is not gold: what you see is not always the truth.
Though is not exactly the same wording the intent is found in Proverbs 13:7, NIV: “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” This expression is traced to a Middle Ages proverb and in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice during the suitor scene it is stated, “All that glisters is not gold.” It is an apt saying that has its time and place.

All to the good: everything will turn out well.
“Good” used to be an accounting term applied to overall profit. If something was “all to the good” that meant the outcome was profitable. Today it’s more of a term that indicates the situation might have had some bad moments, yet in the end it all worked out. Another one of those clichés that depends on perspective or use.

All wool and yard wide: the real item–not a fake.
Once upon a day in the yards-good industry, a person would be assured the measurement and quality of the goods was true by stating it was measured by the standard yard. This was an assurance that the item was genuine and substandard measurements were not used. Personally, never heard of this one.

I am Along for the Ride - Happy Grumpy Cat 2 | Meme Generator
Being passive doesn’t mean being unhappy

Along for the ride: passive participation
“I’m just along for the ride.” Might be considered as more of a clarifying statement than an actual cliche. It’s relatively new being traced to the mid-twentieth century.

Another day, another dollar: another work day accomplished.
Back in the day a day’s work would equal a dollar. Today the term is not so literal as it is figurative and is probably stated with a facetious or ironic tone.

Any port in a storm: accepted relief in a desperate situation, even if it isn’t the first choice.
Found in the 18th century in different plays, but thought to have been in use previously. One of those sayings that can truly fit certain occasions.

What is the name of the "a-ok" sign "meme" (if you would call it that)?:  OutOfTheLoop
Pacha agrees that it’s all A-OK

A-OK: just about perfect.
The term “OK” is abbreviated from “okay.” The term “A-OK” is attributed to NASA’s Colonel Power who misunderstood Alan Shepard’s “okay” confirmation that the flight was going well as “A-OK.” It entered into the everyday lexicon and indicates that everything is excellent, the best it can be. That is, unless, one is being sarcastic and applies the term as irony.

A poor thing but mine own: as in “it’s not much, but it’s mine.”
This expression might have been derived from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It when Audrey says, “An ill-favour’d thing, sir, but mine own.” There are many variations of this and I heard it recently in an Australian whodunnit when the sheriff defended one of her officers by saying, “He might be (uncomplimentary term), but he’s our (term). So the expression can take on the sense of ownership pride, loyalty, identity, but then if it came from Shakespeare there are a multiple interpretations already implied.

As the crow flies: the most direct route
Probably originated before the 18th century, the expression is given when a person is getting directions. It should be duly noted that crows can fly over traffic jams, don’t have to stop at toll booths, and avoid gas stations. Then again they don’t have cruise control or tunes while traveling.

At one fell swoop: happening all at once, usually a description of a singular violent incident.
Shakespeare, once again, is the author of this expression which appears in Macbeth. “Fell” at that time meant “fierce” and when it applies to the metaphorical line of how Macduff’s family was brutally murdered as a hawk might swoop down and kill chickens, it is quite appropriate.

Oh I'm not at your beck and call? Yeah that's because I actually have a  life - Koala can't believe it | Meme Generator
So leaf me alone for awhile, ‘kay?

At one’s beck and call: being at someone’s demands.
Oh, we’ve been there, right? When it is required to meet a person’s every need, call, wish, command. “Beck” is no longer in use, but it means “a silent gesture” as in finger beckon or nod of the head. “Call” is to vocalize a need. To be at someone’s beck and call means to be in someone’s line of sight to watch for both a silent gesture or a vocalized instruction. Isn’t that why texting was invented?

At one’s fingertips: instantly ready.
There is an ancient Roman proverb that says, “To know as well as one’s fingers and toes,” meaning it’s readily available. Fingers transformed into fingertips in the USA around the 19th century. I don’t know about you, but my fingertips aren’t always instantly ready. Mixing up the meatloaf puts fingertips on standby status, among other occupations that come to mind.

At this moment/point in time: at a particular time.
My editing fingers get itchy at this phrase. “Wordy” is the penciled side note. Just say “now.” There is also the expression, “At this stage of the game” for sports fans. Where did this phrase originate? It’s thought Watergate leaned heavily on this construct. It was cliché before it left the building.

Are you feeling self-conscious of these expressions now that you realize they could be cliché candidates? Or have you found one that you will casually drop in a conversation some time? They are there at your fingertips and it is A-OK to use them at your beck and call.

How Cliché: A Look


As a writing teacher I wince whenever my students add in “The author paints a picture…” *Sigh* I remind my students to strive for originality. I really feel for the essay readers since I only have thirty offenders and they must read hundreds of cliché-ridden essays.

Previous posts dealt with those everyday expressions that we have little idea what they mean through the monthly column of “Why We Say.” It ran its course and now it’s off to another dictionary of expression use: Have a Nice Day–No Problem by Christine Ammer.

Ammer scrutinizes over 3,000 sayings that have been used, and overused, to become relegated as cliché. She informs reads of the origin and whether the expression is obsolete or still acceptable. Considering the book is copyrighted in 1992, current use could be questionable, and there are no doubt new clichés that could be entered. There is also the consideration that not all clichés are questionable, and are actually appropriate, if not useful, to make a point. One person’s cliché, then, could be another’s coup de grace (to paraphrase a cliché).

We start in the “A” section:

Today's News, Entertainment, Video, Ecards and more at Someecards. |  someecards.com | Innocence quotes, Funny confessions, Absence makes the heart  grow fonder
Some truths must be faced

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: separation can create a longing
The first line in an anonymous poem published in 1602 it then became the last line of a song by T. Haynes Bayly, “The Isle of Beauty,” in 1850. It has since been said and resaid. The opposite expression would be “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Achilles’ heel: a person’s weak spot.
Go back to Greek myths to find where the mother of the great warrior Achilles wanted to protect him. She held her baby boy by the heel and dipped him in the River Styx to supposedly make him invincible. However, during the battle of Troy, Paris, Hector’s brother, shot Achilles in the heel and brought him down to his death. Still current.

The Acid Test: a means of establishing the truth or validity of someone or something.
This comes from the practice of determining true gold by applying nitric and hydrochloric acid, which dissolves the metal. It became a figurative term and is still current.

Actions speak louder than words: what a person does is more telling than what is said.
A proverb stemming from ancient Greek and other cultures, it still applies aptly to today.

Add insult to injury: increasing harm caused.
There is a Greek fable in which a bald man goes to smack a fly that landed on his head. He misses, which incites the fly to ponder what the man will do with the insult added to the injury. Well-used cliché.

Afraid of ones own shadow – Mystery of Existence
Mickey in the Haunted House (1929)

Afraid of your shadow: extremely timid.
This expression has been stated by Sir Thomas More as, “Who may lette her feare her owne shadowe,” although it can be traced back to Plato.

(To go) against the grain: going in the wrong direction of the natural wood fibers.
While the actual meaning applies to wood, this expression has evolved to mean more towards something becoming an irritant. Shakespeare stated this expression eloquently in Coriolanus, “Preoccupied with what you rather must do than what you should, made you against the grain to voice him consul.” Dickens picked up the phrase and placed it in Edwin Drood–it might have be a cliché by then.

All in a day’s work: part of what one does for a living–expected.
This expression is found in the 18th century and was used figuratively and literally, as it is now.

All over but the shouting: the outcome is determined, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Thought to have originated in the 19th century as a phrase found in sporting events, yet it applies to other events as well and is used today.

This depends on one’s perspective–and what tactic is applied

All’s fair in love and war: all and any tactic is appropriate.
Found in some form from Chaucer to Maxwell Anderson and has been paraphrased to suit occasions as in “All’s fair in love and war and politics.”

While some of these expressions could be considered everyday expressions or idioms or proverbs, others are allusions, and a couple are metaphors. Be they cliché? Chime in. The Acid Test is if upon hearing the saying you grit your teeth since its use goes against the grain to hear them used.

More “A” explorations next month. We are far from over, so don’t be shouting.

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