It’s all in the timing, you know. I once gave a friend, an avid fantasy reader like myself, my beloved Belgarion series to read. He loved RR Martin so much, I had to give him David Eddings. David creates the best characters, and I had hooked many a person on the series already.
My friend gave it back with an “Eh, it was ok.” I was horrified. When asked why he didn’t love it as I did, he said it was too formulaic: the search, the journey, the cast of wizard, thief, young boy who would be king, etc.
It recently occurred to me, however, that he was quite a bit younger than I am. I read the series originally in 1982, and it was the beginning of my love affair with fantasy. Eddings was at the forefront of the fantasy “quest”, and all the ones I read later seemed copied from him (and Tolkien, of course). But my friend had already read the exposition of fantasy in the last 30 years, so to read Eddings last made him seem like the one who was cliché.
When I began Dracula, I was worried that it too might seem cliché because of all the vampire stories that have been floating around for years, and, of course, many of them started with Dracula’s legend. But it seemed very fresh, mostly from Stoker’s writing style of diaries and letters. I enjoyed that he used some common clichés like “take no chances,” using quotation marks with to ensure we knew that they were phrases he had heard elsewhere. I believe he said that one was an Americanism. I would think in 1897 that would be quite a new phrase. He also used “pig in a poke,” which I had previously defined in one of my Sunday posts. He gave credit for that one to the Scots. Hope I did too!
So I was thinking, we should bring back some clichés. These phrases are no longer cliché, as no one has heard them in a donkey’s age 😉 I simply went through my cliché sources and picked some that tickled my fancy. Hope they tickle yours too.
to walk the chalk: this one has two possible meanings. First, like our present day “walk the yellow line,” it was a sobriety test. This particular test was developed by the navy: a straight chalk line was drawn along the deck and the sailor made to walk it to ascertain his sobriety and whether he was too drunk for duty or not. The repercussions of failing the test was often being stuck in the brig. The second meaning was used in both America and England, and meant for one to take a speedy departure. ‘Mark Twain used it in Sketches, New and Old, “If anybody come meddling’ wid you, you jist make ’em walk chalk.”‘* I say we can certainly use this nowadays, when needing to make a quick escape just say “I gotta walk chalk.” By the time they recover from their confusion, we will be gone!
to return one mutton’s: returning to a subject under discussion. This one has its roots in France, known as revenon a nos moutons–Let us return to our sheep. A poet, Pierre Blanchet, used it in a sixteenth century play. In a confusing turn of events, a rascal stole a length of cloth from the local draper, who then found his shepherd had stolen his sheep. The draper takes the shepherd to court, only to find out that the rascal thief is the shepherd’s lawyer! The draper is continuously distracted by the rascal, and confuses the judge by raving about his stolen cloth. The judge attempts to keep the draper on point, saying “let us return our sheep.” This could be a good way to keep a conversation on track–after one explains what “returning to one’s muttons” means, exactly.
to take time by the forelock: to seize an opportunity. A first century Latin writer of fables, Phaedrus, described Opportunity as having a heavy forelock, but being bald in the back. Thus one must grab the opportunity at first sight, as one may have nothing to grab onto if one waits. English writers continued Phaedrus’ idea into the sixteenth century. Eventually artists used his description of opportunity as a description of Time and gradually the phrase came to be “take time by the fetlock.” I rather like the original meaning, and I suggest we all take opportunity by the fetlock 🙂
In the spirit that it is all about the timing, I wanted to point out that my nephew has discovered David Eddings on his mother’s bookshelf. He is 12, the age I was when I was first entranced by this alternate world, and he is currently on the second book. I learned this through his Halloween choice of costume: he was Garion, the main character in the series. Love it ❤
*A Hog on Ice, Charles Funk