Cliche Stories

Jordan looked at the two burly men in exasperation. Another minute and they would be hissing at each other.

“So, what’s gonna be, guys?” she asked. “Handbags at ten paces, or do you just wanna start pulling each other’s hair?”

The big men looked  a bit shamefaced, before the spluttering started again.

“It’s Howie’s fault!”  Ryan pointed. “I was just putting away the dishes, when he comes stomping in the kitchen with those big-ass feet and knocked over the pantry table.”

“Ryan moved it,” Howie snapped, “and it was in the way. He knew that I’d run right into it.”

Jordan frowned, the table was moved into the path everyone used to wind through the kitchen. Usually these spats ended  with the guys upstairs, drinking, slapping each other on the shoulder after they closed for the night. God save me from “artistic” temperaments, she thought as a touch of worry crept in.

“What is going on here?” she demanded.

“Howie said, he said, that my team was gonna get creamed tonight,” Ryan said indignantly.

“Football?! This is about football?”


Jordan cut him off. “You,” she pointed a finger at Ryan, “get that table back.”

“And you,” turning to Howie,” get back to work! We have a room full of people out there expecting food, and you both are going to get it to them!”

“Football,” she said again, tossing up her hands as she left the kitchen.


handbags at ten paces: a slightly hysterical confrontation that has no real danger of violence. I had to pick this one, it was so very amusing!! And I had never heard it before, mostly because it comes from Britain. As a once avid reader of historical everything, I am of course familiar with “pistols at dawn” or “pistols at ten paces.” This phrase devolves from those clichés. During a football game, the players knew they were not able to physically strike one another, so many vented their anger by facial expressions and arm waving. Although a good deal of posturing occurred, the likelihood of violence was pretty much nonexistent. The “handbag” in the cliché comes from Margaret Thatcher, as she was said to give slacking politicians a “good handbagging-” verbal thrashing. The cliche was coined in the 1980s, and continued to gain steam in the next decade:

Leeds win out in battle of the brawlers–
….Kamara was booked for arguing before the referee took four names in as many minutes: Ward and Wallace for handbags at 10 paces, Deane for a hideous foul on Cowan…

                                              The Sunday Times, September 1993


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