Cliche, anyone?

As I set up my blog, I tried to figure out what I would do for posts and pages and fun stuff.   I can’t just play it by ear (cliché alert), I have a deep-seated need for organization and lists. One thing I thought would be fun would be “Cliche Sunday”. So many clichés! As writers we are always trying to avoid them.

But do we know where they come from? I mean, sure, we all know where

 “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

came from. But how about

 “tail between his legs”                “a face like a bulldog chewing on a wasp” ?                                                                    “a half-baked idea”  

And, has anyone heard the bulldog/wasp cliché in the last decade? When does a cliché stop being overused and become acceptable as a new fresh way to express oneself? Do we get to decide for ourselves? I kinda love a face like a bulldog chewing on a wasp. Extremely expressive.

One of the books in the ‘grammar class’ I set myself to (see last weeks blog if you have no idea what I am talking about;)) was A Hog on Ice. It struck me as perfect timing since I wanted to explore clichés. The book is about curious sayings, as opposed to actual clichés. Sometimes, however, it is almost impossible to tell the difference.

One of the things I found most intriguing as I read the introduction was the way the author had to go about tracking down his expressions. A Hog on Ice was printed in 1948. No computers, no internet, no easy access to anyone that might know what you need to know.

Charles Funk, the author, wrote letters. He talked to friends of his in the same literary circle–some of which he had to wait for to come back from vacations and trips. He corresponded with the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of American English. He nearly gave up on some expressions, but then, miraculously, a new source would come to light.  In contrast, I can look at just about any cliché online and get a history almost instantaneously. Sometimes I think we forget how easy we have it.  No bulky encyclopedias to lug around the library. No incessant trips to the back stacks. We may have to check a dozen sources, but they are all on our laptop.

So what, I am sure you are asking, is a hog on ice? This was apparently a pervasive saying across Eastern and Middle American states at the turn of the 19th century. Most used it to indicate ‘cockily independent, supremely confident, beholden to no one.’* The full phrase would be “[that person] was as independent as a hog on ice”.**

Why would a hog be independent on ice? I can only imagine the horror a hog would feel as it sprawled ignominiously on an icy puddle with no way to get up.

Mr Funk went through many ideas and localities that could have spawned the saying. He first thought about the differences in the words pig, more commonly used in America, England and Ireland, and hog. He consulted the Bureau of Animal Industry, U.S. Department of Agriculture to see if in fact hogs could stand and move independently on ice. (They can’t.)  In the end, although many states used the phrase, it turned out that the saying was just as imported as America’s population.

It is actually Scottish, from the game of Curling–I thought that Curling was Canadian. I didn’t realize it is part of my very own roots. The stones who didn’t make it far enough could be left on the course as an added hazard for curlers yet to come. (This is no longer acceptable, but we are talking when the game was played out on frozen lochs with rough stones.) If that stone froze to the loch and was not moveable, they called it a “hog”. It “hogged” the playing space–much like some drivers “hog” the road today. Stones played in Curling to this day must make it past a line known as the “hog score”. That would certainly make the hog ‘appear self-assured, cocky and independent’***

So, there is my first cliché Sunday. I think ‘hog on ice’ has had an acceptable down time. Perhaps we should start using it again?

* all quotes from A Hog on Ice & other curious expressions, Charles Earle Funk, 1948



Filed under Cliche Sunday

2 responses to “Cliche, anyone?

  1. That’s awesome. I love hearing how we get our words. Thanks so much for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s