Tag Archives: America

Cliche Sunday

A week into the new year, and I better get it in gear! I haven’t been checking my feed to see what all the other bloggers are putting out there, and I totally skipped last week on my running blog. I would like so say I have been busy, and I will admit that last week was the longest four-day work week ever; but really there has been a lot of Wordy and Solitaire in my life. I might have an addiction problem. I do waste a lot of time that way.  Probably better than Twitter (which I also spend a lot of time on).

I believe we left off on the “G’s”……

get it in gear: to start to work effectively and with energy.* I have to say this is one of my failures. While I can easily find what this phrase means, I can’t seem to find where or when it came from. I can say I heard it a lot growing up 🙂 There was rumor that it came from the 1950s, and was a reference to moving your car-which makes sense, but is completely unsubstantiated.

gee whiz: expletive, like good gracious, good grief, or good lord!  The gee is an actual reference to Jesus, shortened so it doesn’t offend. An Americanism from the 1800s, ‘gee’ was also a popular phrase to indicate surprise or disbelief.

“Gee-wees!…I’ll bet one hundred dollars on that hand!”
Cody and Arlington’s Life on the Border, 1876

gild the lily: to over embellish an item (or person) that doesn’t need it. ‘To gild’ is to cover with a thin layer of gold, so ‘gilding refined gold’ is obviously unnecessary.**  The origin of this lays, once more, with Shakespeare. While he may not have actually come up with the phrase, he is the first one to use it in print:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
King John 1595

go over like a lead balloon: to be a complete and utter failure. This one arose on both sided of the pond. In England it was first used in the beginning of the 20th century, and actually started as “went down like a lead balloon.”  It was coined in America in the early 20th century as well, although at first the phrase went over like the proverbial lead balloon. It was in the early 1950s that it was revived and became popular.





*the free dictionary



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My Election Promise to You

I live in America, and right now you can’t turn on the tv, drive down the street, or walk by a crowd without hearing about the election. Not just the Presidential, but all the local ones too. Sign after sign line the roadway on the way home. Ads run on tv and the radio. I went on Facebook the other day and there were ads on there too! I don’t mind reading my friend’s opinions, but, really, ads?

I do, of course, have strong opinions on the Presidential race, and some of the smaller ones, and the bond questions. It would be easy to climb up on my soapbox and use my blog as a place to express them. But instead of forcing my opinions out into the world, to get lost among the millions of other opinions on the web, I promise to keep this a Politically Free Zone. Although I can’t promise what I might or might not say on November 9th……


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Cliche Sunday

I didn’t have to think too hard on what subject to focus on this week: the Fourth of July! As we Americans celebrate our country’s beginnings, I thought Americanisms would be a great idea. We have definitely added our share.  Starting with:

to coin a phrase: to create a new phrase. Although many non-Americans (like Shakespeare) actually created many of our clichés, it took us to give the process a name! The term ‘coin’ came from the minting of money, where blank circular  disks that were used to create the money by stamping with a die. The first printed use of the phrase was in the mid 20th century.

“It takes all sorts to make a world, to coin a phrase.”
–Mr Lucton’s Freedom, Francis Brett Young, 1940

in an interesting condition: a pregnant young lady. ‘Interesting’ was used in the 18th century to discreetly describe pregnant ladies, and the birth was an ‘interesting’ event. First found in America in September 1846 in a Hagerstown Torch Light article:

. “the elopement of a blacksmith named Samuel Fellows and a Mrs. Betsey Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds is about 31 years of age, and is good looking. She took her family of five children with her. She was also in an interesting condition. Fellows took his two children – making quite an interesting company.”

All I can say is, thank goodness she got married if she was in an interesting condition in 1846!

jump the shark:  To reach the point in a TV series that denotes it is irretrievably past its best by introducing a ridiculous or otherwise unbelievable plot device or characterisation in order to boost ratings.* I have always loved this one, mostly cuz I remember the moment when Fonzie literally jumped a shark on water skis–in a lake. Happy Days will never be forgotten now, if only for coining this phrase.

loose cannon: a thing or person that is unpredictable and likely to cause damage. (I needed at least one semi-military phrase!) Although cannon were commonly found on ships, the phrase never was. After Victor Hugo used it in Ninety Three, Americans picked it up with their usual enthusiasm and used it frequently during the 19th century. It reappeared in the 1980s as an apt description of wild police officers in several  action flicks.

pipe dream: a dream that has no basis in reality, and is unlikely to ever come to pass. I include this one as the British government surely thought the American Revolution was a pipe dream of the Founding Fathers 🙂  This one was literally meant to mean a fantasy one might have had while smoking opium through a pipe. Many writers in the 1800s were known to use opiates, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, “pipe dream” comes from Chicago,  such as this one from the Chicago Daily Tribune:
 It [aerial navigation] has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years.

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Cliche Sunday

Well! Summer has definitely found my part of the world. Not that I am complaining, but whew! We were working outside today, my app said it was 80 but felt like 90 (I live in a farenheit world). What did we do before apps instantly telling us why we were overheating? After much sweating, I came in to write today’s clichés. So my choice should not surprise anyone:  we are doing clichés revolving around heat! Which means you should expect a few featuring Hell or the Devil, as that is the epitome of heat 😉

het up: agitated, excited. Most of us know that “het” it a shortened version of “heated.” But many probably think that it is a fairly recent version, brought into existence by the American South. Sounds like a colloquial phrase a nice older man might say in wonderfully slow Southern accent, right? “Don’t be getting yourself het up, now….” It is, however, much older than America herself. It originates in the 14th century. The first known use (in print) in America was in The Freeborn County Standard, July 1884.

hell or high  water: going to overcome, no matter the difficulty or obstacles. This is an American born phrase, although exactly where and when it was born are not clear. One early (1882) print version is from the The Little Rock Gazette (although I am not quite sure what accent or culture  they are trying to imitate here):

    “Since dat time de best ob my friends hab become enemies, an’ strangers hab become friends. De debil had brook loose in many parts ob de country, an’ keepin’ up wid de ole sayin’, we’ve had unrevised hell and high water – an’a mighty heap ob high-water I tell yer.”

devil to pay: consequences of the action will be severe.  The origin of this one is quite literal:

“Don’t you know damnation pays every man’s scores… we knew we should have the Devil to pay one time or other, and now you see like honest men we have pawn’d our Souls for the whole Reckoning”  –Thomas Brown’s Letters From the Dead to the Living, 1707

There has been an argument that this was in fact a nautical term; “devil” being the center seam of a ship, and “paying” being the act of tarring the seam. However, Faust used this idea of paying the Devil with our souls long before any mention of the nautical use of the phrase can be found.

dog days: very hot weather during the summer months, specifically July and August. Often referred to as “the dog days of summer.” For this one we have the Romans to thank. They noticed that the extremely hot weather of summer coincided with the appearance of the Dog Star–Sirus. In that day, many of the astronomers believed the star contributed to the heat of the season. Thus, the phrase was born, and has lasted a considerable time!

steal my thunder: to take someone’s ideas and use as your own, to steal someone’s big announcement. This is a theatrical phrase, coming from the days when they had to make thunder for the plays in unique ways, from using sheet metal to rolling metal balls down troughs. Long before electronics made FX so simple. And therein lies the story of this phrase:

‘stealing someone’s thunder’ is that of the literary critic and largely unsuccessful playwright, John Dennis. In 1704, Dennis’s play Appius and Virginia was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre, London and he invented a new method of creating the sound of thunder for the production. We don’t know now what this method was (some texts say it was a refinement of the mustard bowl referred to by Pope, in which metal balls were rolled around in a wooden bowl), but it is reported that after Appius and Virginia failed and was closed, the method was soon afterwards used in a production of Macbeth. Dennis was less than pleased at having his idea purloined and this account of his response was recorded by the literary scholar Joseph Spence (1699–1768) and later quoted in W. S. Walsh’sLiterary Curiosities, 1893:

“Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder.” *

This one works because we are supposed to get thunderstorms due to the high humidity!


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