Another weekend coming to a close, and we all know what that means–I better get some clichés!! This week’s clichés are brought to you by a local DJ, who used the phrase “rest on his laurels” during his show. I started wondering about that one, especially since I hadn’t heard it in a while. I decided I would start with it this week. And then on to others I am curious about.
to rest on one’s laurel’s–to be satisfied with awards or recognition one has gotten in the past, and not feel that any new effort need be made. This cliché goes back to ancient Greece. Laurel wreathes were given as signs of victory or status, and once received, the wearer often made no effort to gain more. Laurel wreathes were actual sweet bay leaves, and still popular today in kitchens and gardens. The term “Laureate” is also still used today to bestow honor, as in Nobel Laureate and Poet Laureates. While it originally carried no shame to rest on one’s laurels, particularly for retiring soldiers or teachers; in the 19th century a bit of censure was added to the phrase. These days it definitely is not a good thing to have said about oneself.
a riddle, wrapped in an enigma: an extremely difficult puzzle or situation to explain. This one is very easy, it was brought to us by Mr Churchill, as so many interesting phrases were. It has been cut down a bit from is original speech, although sometimes one still hears the full quotation.
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”–Winston Churchill, 1939
Ok, I have to admit I have never heard this one before. But it was a neat little phrase, so I had to add it to the curious ones:
as daft as a brush: very foolish indeed. While it might seem odd to compare someone’s intelligence to a brush, one might point out that brushes don’t have much of a personality or intelligence. Of course, that can be said about many inanimate objects. But a brush took someone’s fancy, and it then took many people’s fancy. This phrase comes from Britain, where people were often thought to be daft. As opposed to America, where one is just dumb or stupid. Daft sounds nicer, doesn’t it?
The wives of two members of a kin-group locally thought to be eccentric and extremely unsociable were pointed out by several people as ‘gay queer’ and ‘daft as a brush’.–William Morgan Williams’s The Sociology of an English Village: Gosforth, 1956
far from the maddening crowd: a quiet and rural place. I guess I could be said to live far from the maddening crowd, out here in the wilds of Maine. That isn’t the reason I like this phrase, I think it is the “maddening crowd,” which I find provocative in its imagery. While most know this from Thomas Hardy’s book title, not everyone may know that he took that phrase from Thomas Gray, and forever gave it life. Gray, however, may have had it from William Drummond (1614) or Edmund Spenser (1579), showing that the phrase has already had a long life indeed.
‘Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.’
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, 1751
tanstaafl or there’s no such thing as a free lunch: Nothing is ever free–someone, somewhere, must pay for it. I had never heard the acronym before, so I had to add it to this list! And whoever expected a free…anything? Where did this one come from? Bars and taverns, that is where! In order to lure in paying drinkers, bars in America and Britain in the 19th century would offer a “free lunch” with drinks. This gave birth to an economic theory, that, “saloon customers always ended up paying for the food in the price of the drinks they were obliged to consume. Indeed, some saloon keepers were prosecuted for false advertising of free lunch as customers couldn’t partake of it without first paying money to the saloon.”* The phrase is connected to both Milton Friedman, an economist, and Henry Wallace, the US Vice President during WWII. The first known printing of this phrase was in rebuttal to Vice President Wallace’s opinions on providing food, shelter and clothing after the war:
“Mr. Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a ‘free’ lunch never existed. Until man acquires the power of creation, someone will always have to pay for a free lunch. Paul Mallon, January 1942