An odd thing happened on my way to my FFfAW post on Friday–I realized I didn’t post Cliches last Sunday. Now, I didn’t mean to skip them and I didn’t have anything exciting going on (besides the AFC Championship game, that is). I don’t have a clue what happened. But onto today, its the ‘I’s, I do believe.
I don’t have a clue: to have no knowledge or understanding of a situation. At first glance this one seems simple enough, one must find the clues to any given situation to understand it. Clue, however, comes from the word ‘clew,’ which had quite a different meaning. It was, throughout classic history, a wound ball of string. This seems to make little sense until one looks at the usage-first to be used by Theseus to find his way out of the maze after killing the minotaur. He trailed string into the heart of the maze, and thus had a ‘clue’ how to get back out. Shakespeare later used it in his play, All’s Well That Ends Well:
If it be so, you have wound a goodly clewe.
if wishes were horses, beggers would ride: literal meaning. This phrase has been around since 1628:
If wishes were horses, beggers wald ryde.
James Carmichaell’s Collection of Proverbs in Scots
First, I must say, of course I believe this proverb came from the Scots! It has floated around with variations throughout the centuries:
If wishes were buttercakes, beggers might bite or If wishes were thrushes, then beggers would eat birds
I can see why beggars riding won out.
it ain’t over till the fat lady sings: nothing is irreversible. Interestingly enough, the most likely history of this particular phrase comes from American sports.
Bill Morgan (Southwest Conference Information Director): “Hey, Ralph, this… is going to be a tight one after all.”
Ralph Carpenter (Texas Tech Sports Information Director): Right. The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”
The Dallas Morning News, March 1976
The opera in question is probably Ring Cycle, in particular the last of the long, four-part opera, Gotterdammerung by Richard Wagner. Brunnhilde, a rather large lady, has a ten minute solo at the end to signal the end of the opera. The phrase has always been common in my life, in fact, I do believe I still use it.
ivory tower: sheltered and intellectually isolated. A phrase that comes from the Bible originally, Songs of Solomon 7:4. In the original, the pure ivory towers represented virginal purity. The phrase was also used to refer to the towers at Oxford University’s All Souls’ College, which were ivory when they were built in 1716. It didn’t become popular in literary terms until later:
Each member [of society] must be ever attentive to his social surroundings – he must avoid shutting himself up in his own peculiar character as a philosopher in his ivory tower
-Frederick Rothwell and Cloudesley Shovell Henry Brereton -H. L. Bergson’s Laughter, 1911