Cliche Sunday…

….has returned. Were you wondering if I forgot last Sunday? I didn’t but with the time change and all the work I did around the house (which resulted in me icing my knee as I may overdone just a bit), I was in no shape to write a post. My brain felt like mush.

So here we are this week, with exciting ‘N’ cliches-because, you know, nothing ventured, nothing gained!

not dry behind the ears: as unsophisticated and uncomplicated as a baby. I haven’t heard this one much recently, but I did hear it quite a bit while growing up. It came directly from the farm, an American farm at that. The phrase, of course, refers to newborn calves/sheep, whose ears take a while to dry out. The phrase hasn’t been used in literature all that much, making it harder to track its date of origin. It seems to have appeared in the American countryside sometime mid-nineteenth century.

neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring: a deliberate ploy to divert attention from an issue. I have also heard “neither fish nor fowl,” with no mention of the red herring. The red herring, of course, is a classic cliché meaning a false trail, used in countless thrillers and mysteries. Meanwhile, I believe many an American politician in the recent election demonstrated this cliché beautifully.The phrase itself is not recent, being first found in 1546:

She is nother fyshe nor fleshe, nor good red hearyng
A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, John Heyword

neither here nor there: of no consequence to the argument at hand. I have always rather disliked this phrase, as no matter how cogent your argument is, your opponent will very smugly say “that might  be, but it is neither here nor there.” Blech. And it has been around annoying many others for a long time: it was first found in Arthur Golding’s translation of The sermons of J. Calvin upon Deuteronomie, 1583.

nine days wonder: something that will lose its fresh appeal very quickly. This phrase’s history comes from a Shakespearean actor. William Kemp, who is thought to have played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing (1599), became famous for dancing a Morris dance* from London to Norwich.  Although he won a bet for this, many doubted he actually covered the hundred (ish) miles in nine days, dancing or not. To prove his side of the story, Kemp wrote  ‘Kemps nine daies vvonder,’ which was published in 1600. This cliché itself is certainly not a nine days wonder!

and, of course,

nothing ventured, nothing gained: without a risk, nothing can be won. This was a favorite phrase of Benjamin Franklin. He didn’t create it, however, as it predates Franklin by three centuries. It can first be found in print in 1374 in Chaucer’s in The Reeve’s Tale:

John lies still for a short time, feeling sorry for himself.
“Alas,” he says, “this is a cruel joke; now I can see that I am the only fool here.
My colleague is getting compensation for his grievance; he has the miller’s daughter in his arms. He has taken a chance, and fulfilled his needs, while I lie like a sack of rubbish in my bed.
And when this joke is told one day, I shall be considered an ass, a weakling!
I will arise and take a chance, too, by my faith! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, or so men say.”

*don’t know what a Morris dance is? Neither did I. According to Wikipedia:

“Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers.”



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