Cliche Stories


“Stop faffing about, Henry,” Bill hissed, looking up and down the hall.

“Stop bouncing that light around then! I need it right here,” Henry pointed with his screwdriver.

Bill adjusted the light, shining at Henry’s industriously working tools. The screwdriver slipped, stabbing Henry’s finger. He sucked in a breath before returning to the lock.

“Is he in yet?” Frank called down the hall in a loud whisper.

Henry sighed, shaking his head. “Why did we invite him again?” he muttered.

“We needed a third to stand guard,” Bill said before waving Frank away.

The rec room light came on just as Bill heard a click and Henry’s huff of satisfaction. They quickly slid through the door, turning the lock behind them.

They waited quietly as footsteps came down the hall, stopping to test each door. Their doorknob rattled, then the guard moved on to the next. Bill and Henry looked at each other, then got to work. Fifteen minutes later they left the Director’s office, door locked neatly behind them.

“Well?” Frank asked as they got to lounge area.

“Oh, she’s never gonna know what hit her,” Henry smirked.

“Yeah,” Bill agreed,  “that’ll teach her to take away Friday night concerts!”

“Concerts,” Frank sneered. “It’s a guy on a piano in the rec room. But it’s our guy! And who knows what would be next–desserts?!”

Bill looked at Henry as Frank wandered off, still talking to himself.

“Not quite like the old days, huh?”

“Nope. But tonight we had a much better chance of getting back to our beds,” Henry replied.

Bill nodded agreement as they headed to their rooms. Tomorrow should be quite exciting, he thought. As exciting as it gets in a nursing home, he added wryly.


faff about: to “dither, fuss, flap.”* I liked this one, it just sounded fun. Not surprisingly, it comes from the United Kingdom. It has a bit of a Scottish sound to me (can’t you just hear a Scot accent saying “stop blethering and faffing about!”?), but there is no proof that it came from that direction. It was first recorded by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1874:

T’ clock-maker fizzled an’ faff’d aboot her, but nivver did her a farthing’s worth o’ good.

The phrase has probably saved the word “faff” from extinction, as it isn’t really part of our language any moreexcept in conjunction with the cliche. Even the cliche has fallen out of fashion in current UK slang. The word Faff originally came from the word Faffle, from the 16th century.  Faffle meant to “flap idly in the breeze.” Faff did travel to Australia with British inmates, as it can be found in  1879 The Austrialian Journal:

“No, it [a candle] burns quite steadily now; you are right about it faffing about before, because it blew towards my face.”




Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches

Cliche Stories

I was trying to decide on my cliché this week, and had just about settled on a Sherlock Holmes quote when I saw the Daily Prompt from WordPress: confess. The two seemed linked together and my path was set.


“C’mon, Jackie,” Kayden urged. “Just say you did it.”

“Yeah,” Lindsey  agreed, “If you just say it, we can all go to lunch.”

Jackie  looked around his classmates resentfully.  He didn’t do it. Why should he take the fall?

“Why?” he asked.

“Cause teacher is going to make us sit here foreeeevver,” Lindsey said. “Don’t you wanna get out of here? She won’t do anything, she never does.”

“Yeah, last week, she just shook her head and sighed when I told her it was me that hid the erasers,” Kayden said.

“It’s like what that guy in storytime says, it’s ele-el-mentary,” Charlotte chimed in. “She thinks you did it and if you say you did, you can save all of us.”

She batted her  blue eyes at Jackie with a sweet smile, and he groaned, knowing he was going to give in.


elementary, my dear Watson: the famous and oft used line to explain that a perplexing question is really so very simple after all. The history of this one is obvious–it comes from Sherlock Holmes. Holmes often used the phrase condescendingly to his assistant, Dr Watson. But did he? The most famous quote Holmes ever made never appeared in any of Sir Conan Doyle’s books. It was added later in Sherlock Holmes’ movies, as a liberty taken by film writers and directors. Sherlock did say “Exactly, my dear Watson,” as well as “Elementary” in several of the stories, so at some point they were glued together for Hollywood. The phrase itself, however, actually belongs to another writer, P.G. Wodehouse, who used it in Psmith Journalist, 1915.



Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches

Cliche Stories

“Where’d it go?”

“Dunno,” Kerry said.

“How deep is it?” Lenny asked as he leaned over the railing.

“It’s a long ways down to Davy Jones’ locker, that’s for sure,” a tall guy answered, walking up. “Why don’t we get those feet back on deck?”

Kerry turned to make a face but stopped as he took in the uniform. He climbed down the railing, leaning against it.

“Who’s Davy Jones?” Lenny asked.  “How far down is he?”

“What’s he doing down there?” Kerry added. “Did he fall over?”

The crew member smiled at the two boys. “Davy’s a bad guy, just down there waiting for sailors–and other foolish people–to drown so he can take them for his crew. Tis said he roams the seas, and wherever there is a storm or wreck, he’s there to collect his souls. Some say he can even cause the storms, when he needs more crew.”

Lenny stepped sharply back from the rail before checking to see that the sky was still a calm blue.

“Um, Kerry, why don’t we go find your mom?” he asked, still eyeing the sky.

“I’m sure she’s waiting for you,” the crew member agreed, hiding his smirk.


Davy Jones locker: the locker is a mythical resting place of drowned sailors, controlled by an evil spirit. This cliché has old roots, although it was marvelously brought to life by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series in the 2000s:

See the source image                                                                                                                                  Davy Jones portrayed by Bill Nighy

Disney’s writers were quite inventive when it came to giving Davy a background, but where the name of Davy Jones actually comes from is quite contentious.  It could be variation of the biblical Jonah (who is clearly bad luck for all seamen); or taken from a corrupt man, whose name actually was Davy Jones, and was known for press-ganging sailors before they could leave his pub; or it could be taken from the patron saint of sailors, St David.  While entertaining, there is no information to back any of these stories up, leaving the myth as mysterious as the man.
Tobias Smollett was the first one to use the name Davy Jones, in 1751:

‘By the Lord! Jack, you may say what you wool; but I’ll be damned if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, his horns and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the blackguard hell’s baby want with me? I’m sure I never committed murder, except in the way of my profession, nor wronged any man whatsomever since I first went to sea.’ This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other disasters, to which a seafaring life is exposed; warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.
                                               –The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle

The idea of the locker came fifty years later, when it was used in the 1803 Naval Chronicle, describing how a sailor would go to a watery grave, or, in fact, to “Davy Jones’ locker.”





Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches

Three Line Tales

hosted by Sonya, from 100 lines. Going through my Reader on WordPress, I just could not resist this picture! Check out the other short stories inspired by the picture by searching the tag “3LineTales“.

three lien tales week 99: a purple sky and a batman shaped belfry

The sky rumbled as the earth shook under the army’s feet, and Mary knew her time had come.

She had made her gamble, but it was all for nought. Under this electric sky she would be wed , and thus stripped of her lands.

Yes, her lands, Mary thought defiantly, no matter what her younger brother thought. Even though he had the King order her to marry the approaching Earl, she wasn’t done yet. She just had to think…..


Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction

Cliche Stories….

….almost. It has been (again) a crazy week. But I think I am ready for Christmas–finally. Are you?

I have picked out a cliché this week, I just haven’t gotten time to think about an actual story.  I am reading Jules Verne for the first time this week too, which is great fun since I just watched  Journey to the Center of the Earth 2, Mysterious Island (I am a sucker for The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson) while wrapping presents. I had picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as my Verne book–and Capt’n Nemo’s Nautilus does show up towards the end of the movie.

Now that I have seen the movie, I think more reading of Verne is in my future. They did pull from quite a few of his books, as well as Treasure Island (something I skipped when assigned) and Gulliver’s Travels. More books to read, although I had, in fact, put Treasure Island on my summer reading list, which is an actual pile of books I pulled from my library that I think I should read.  I am half way through now, having finished Dr Faustus and  After the Fall. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was just on top of Treasure Island when I went to grab a new book.

My version of 20,000 Leagues was my father’s, and cost 50 cents in the 1960s when he purchased it. It is also single spaced with very compact print, which makes the reading extra special fun!

I can absolutely see why Verne’s novels have lasted as long as they have. He is extremely detailed and imaginative, although I will admit to my eyes glazing over during some of his more scientific explanations of how Capt’n Nemo’s inventions work. And, occasionally, I feel the need for a dictionary. That is mostly during his scientific or plant/animal descriptions. Although my father had a PhD in Zoology, I never learned the Latin names of oceanic  flora and fauna.

I feel that Verne started with a solid scientific base (he was clearly interested in science and the natural world), before he started expanding into the more fantastical inventions of Capt’n Nemo’s. I’m not familiar enough with the science of that time to know exactly where the line is, but fun to wonder about  submarines and when exactly divers started carrying their own air as Nemo did, instead of being tethered by an air hose.

I am fascinated by the language he uses, the depth and breadth of it as well as how some words have changed in meaning since he wrote this in the 1860s. I did find myself a little offended by the main character’s complete faith in killing a large sea animal that was never been seen before, just so that he could say he did it, and bring some piece of it back to his museum.  I realized that was a common enough attitude in the 1800s, however, when man was conquering the planet and feeling justified about doing it (of course, some trophy hunters of today still feel that way, but that is a whole other subject). So I try to see that as more historical context. Especially as it turned out to be the Nautilus they were hunting, and not some defenseless narwhale.

I’m only about a third of the way through, as I am so busy that I only get to read a half hour a day at lunch. But I am looking forward to my next lunch break.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches, Uncategorized

Cliche Stories

So I missed last week. I’m going with the “crazy season” as my excuse. I felt run ragged, and, honestly, I just couldn’t find a cliche I liked. You’ll notice this one was way near the bottom of all the lists–starting with ‘Cu’ as it does. But I finally found it, so here we are…..


“Well, aren’t you just as cute as a bugs ear!”

Sheila smiled politely as she maneuvered the tray onto the table before adjusting the table over the old man’s bed. Cute as a bug’s ear? Was that a compliment? She pondered as she reached over to adjust the pillows so he could sit up and eat.

A compliment, Sheila decided as she looked at his frail weight resting on the pillows as he began to slurp his soup. He was just so nice, she thought. There were stories circulating the nursing home about his past, but she didn’t believe any of them.

“Is that a saying from Texas?” she asked him.

He froze, carefully placing his spoon on the tray before looking at her. “Why do you ask that?”

“Oh, I thought I heard you were from Texas,” Sheila replied carelessly as she folded new towels for him. “One of the girls out front said something.”

“Why?” she asked, turning to face him. He was suddenly more alert, sitting away from pillows and moving the table away from the bed before swinging his legs over the side.

“Oh, Mr. Smith, you should really stay in bed! Is there anything I can get you?” Sheila cried.

“No, you have helped me greatly already. I think you should go now, before…”

Even as he spoke, Sheila heard the door open. Several men entered, led by a dapper little man. Backing up in apparent fright, Sheila slowly reached behind her and pushed the button for security before clasping her hands tightly in front of her.

“I was right,” Mr Smith said, “you are acute as a bug.”


as cute as a bug’s ear: as cute as can be. Many  clichés are similes, where something is like something else. But a bug’s ear being cute? Where did that come from? It is said to be from Texas in late 1800s, and even there they don’t have any particularly attractive ones. However, bugs ears can be said to be ‘acute’, in that they can hear a very high frequency, or very soft sounds. In the 1700s, ‘cute’ was a synonym for ‘acute’–

Nathan Bailey defined it in The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1731, as:

Cute: sharp, quick-witted, shrewd.*

It crossed the ocean to America and was used with that meaning by James Russell Lowell–

Aint it cute to see a Yankee Take sech everlastin’ pains?
                    The Biglow Papers, 1848

In the late 1800s, cute began to refer to being adorable or pretty instead of sharpness or acuity, and the phrase lost common understanding as to why a bug’s ear would be so cute….or why someone would think that would be a compliment.





Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches

Cliche Stories

“I don’t like her name,” I said flatly.

“Huh?” Mom said.

“Charlotte. A nice name by itself, but you know we are going to end up calling her Char like Kathy did. It’s just easier to call when you want her, but I don’t like it,” I reiterated.

“Or holler when she steps on our feet, ” I added. The horse had no idea where she ended and we started. Made for a lot of bumping. “In fact, I think I’m going to give her a middle name. So when we are really irritated  we can yell it out, like you did when I was young.”

Mom laughed. “Like I haven’t done that recently! What’s wrong with Char?”

“It sounds harsh.”

She sighed, and we went back brushing the horses.

The next day she said, “Hey, your mare is one busy mare. She had her nose in more areas of that paddock today!  Think maybe we should call her Charby.”

“Charby?” I questioned.

“Yeah, Charby. Cuz she’s busy as a bee!”


busy as a bee: to be very busy. This phrase has been around for centuries, as it first  appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s. It’s popularity hasn’t waned all that much.

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.
                              –The Squire’s Tale

PS – My horse’s name really is Charby, and she was named pretty much as described.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches

Cliche Fiction

“So, here’s the deal,” Fred said, “I’m gonna be a’betting, so I need  you to aid me.”

“Huh?” Greg responded, returning his attention to Fred.

He had been looking around the aged casino. What a grand old dame she must have been, he thought, looking past the faded chairs lining  the slot machines. The drapes were a fine fabric, the rugs had once been plush and the chandeliers were fine glass. Dusty, but glittering underneath.

“Just like that old saying,” Fred repeated. “I’m gonna be abetting over at that table, and I need you to aid me. Aid and abet, you know.”

“That’s not…”Greg started to say before shaking his head.  What had Pete got him into? “What do you need me to do?”

“I got my thing,” Fred said smugly.  “I just need your handsome face to keep that dealer girl over there from paying attention to me while I do it.”

Greg looked over at the tall dealer with the glossy dark hair. Men must be hitting on her all the time, he thought. Still,  Greg knew that girls liked him and he figured he could keep her busy, at least long enough for Fred to do his “thing.”

Well, damn, Greg thought with a dawning smile, that is aiding and abetting!!


aid and abet: to encourage and help, particularly in the case of nefarious or illegal activities.  Anyone that has watched any cop show in the last twenty years (or more) knows this phrase. Cops are always threatening people with being charged with “aiding and abetting” if people don’t give up the suspects, or even sometimes, actually charging people with it.  The phrase dates from the second half of the 18th century. The original meaning of abet was “to cause to bite,” but by then the word had lost that particular meaning and was more similar to the current meaning of encourage. The previous meaning had come from the practice of bear abetting, or bear baiting. Bear baiting was a popular sixteenth century entertainment where bears were tethered in “bear gardens” and trained dogs set loose to tear them apart. (I know, I know, don’t even get me started. I am sure the German “beer gardens” are far more entertaining. And I don’t like beer.)
The history of “abet” came from several countries, but does make sense of the “bear abetting” meaning:

1275-1325; Middle English abette (whence Old French abeter, unless perhaps the latter, of Germanic orig., be the source for the ME),
 OldEnglish *ābǣtan to hound on, equivalent to ā- a-3bǣtan to bait, akin to bite*


Leave a comment

Filed under Cliches


I missed National Cliche Day last week as a) I had no power or internet, and, b) I was recovering from getting anaplasmosis from a tick bite (anaplasmosis is a lot more fun to say than live through!).

But it did make me think about my Cliche Sundays, and how I miss learning about the various phrases sprinkled through our language. I don’t think I want to go back to Cliche Sundays, but I did think of a new idea.

Since I have been reading so endlessly, I haven’t been writing as much. I could write, but I would rather figure out who-dun-it in that mystery I am reading. Definite laziness on my part, as giving in my obsession to read someone else’s fiction is certainly easier than coming up with my own.

My new series will involve clichés, fiction and arrive weekly. They will also be alphabetical, so that means there will be twenty-seven weeks. I haven’t picked a day of the week yet, nor exactly when I will start–probably as soon as I have the first story written. Guess I better put that book down and go find an A cliché!

1 Comment

Filed under Cliches

Word of the day: Opposite

“C’mon Gemma, let’s go out!”

Gemma stretched her legs, before shaking her head and fluffing her blanket along the couch.

“Why not?” Jen demanded. “It’s beautiful out.”

“It’s cold!”

“The air is so fresh.”

“Spring air is fresh, summer delightful, even winter air is bracing. Fall air is dank, with decaying leaves thrown in for good measure,” Gemma sniffed disdainfully. “Where’s the remote?”

Jen flopped on a chair. “What, so you’re just going to sit here and watch tv?”

“Yup, that’s the plan. I don’t get why everyone gets so excited about fall. Sure, the trees are pretty, spring flowers are better. And they’re dying, soon they’ll just be skeletons to hold up the snow. I don’t need to go out and scuff around in dead moldy leaves. Fall is made for snuggling under covers.”

Jen handed Gemma the remote she had found under a pile on the coffee table. “I guess we need some coffee? What we going to watch?”

“Hot cocoa,” Gemma said as she tossed aside her blanket. “And doughnuts! I think there are some pastries left in the fridge. I found the old Dynasty series on Hulu.”

“Oooh, binge worthy!” Jen giggled. “We can make fun of those style choices during the cat fights!”


So this word prompt was my own. I was thinking about how an author shouldn’t let his/her feelings influence their characters on the way home from work the other day. I was traveling through canopies of glorious fall color, and I started to wonder about people who didn’t like fall. What was that like?!  Autumn is my favorite season: I love the colors, the scents, the air,the carpet of leaves on the ground, the food (holiday parties, you know), just everything about it. I thought it might be fun to write a character that hated it!




1 Comment

Filed under Flash Fiction