Tag Archives: Americanism

Cliche Sunday

Here we are again. Sunday already, after a very long weekend. Am I hedging, to let you know this might be a short post?

Yup, I am! I ran about yesterday doing errands, getting the horses’ manicures, walking the dog and practically steamcleaning the house. Today my husband decided it was time to get out and start the logging for the year. I didn’t complain, since we were cutting down the trees that shade my vegetable garden in the late afternoon.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and natureThis is before. And yes, I am standing in roughly the same place. Also, look at that 6 foot ladder leaning against the tree we cut down–tree makes it look like a toy, doesn’t it?? Sadly, that tree did not go¬†to plan, but we all walked away–well, except for the tree, that is ūüėČ

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature

Anyhoo, on to the reason we are all here-cliches!! And since we are on “Q,” the alphabet is helping me keep this short. Not a lot of “Q’s” out there anyway.

quick and the dead: all souls, living or dead. Many of us are familiar with the phrase from recent movies, particularly westerns. Quick in this application is not referring to speed, but rather the “quick” of life. The first time a baby moves in the womb is called the quickening, while¬†quicksand means that the sand it has life, moving.But the phrase far predates any movies, being first found in the Bible. In the Bible it notes that only the Almighty can judge the quick and the dead–meaning all souls, whether they still live or have passed.

quid pro quo: to do something with the expectation of a favor in return. This clich√© is an original Latin version that has become popular, literally meaning “something for something.” ¬†But there are many versions in English as well;

One good turn deserves another.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†H. L’Estrange’s The Reign of King Charles, 1654

Or there is always “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” or even ¬†the basic “I do for you, you do for me.” In recent years, the English versions have been used in many crime movies, giving them a rather Mob flavor. The Latin quid pro quo,however, ¬†being used in law and legal contracts, sounds classier and has become more popular.

quality time: spending time with a neglected child/spouse/friend to make up for the neglect. This is an American phrase with roots in the ’70s. ¬†The family was expanding in the ¬†1970s, with women entering the workforce. The idea of quality time was to ensure that she felt she really could do it all:

How To Be Liberated–

The major goal of each of these role changes is to give a woman time to herself, Ms. Burton explained.”A woman’s right and responsibility is to be self fulfilling,” she said. She gives “quality time” rather than “quantity time” to each task, whether it be writing, cleaning the house or tending the children.
                                           Maryland newspaper The Capital, January 1973

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Cliche Sunday

Oh, it is time for ‘O’s!

on the nail: one has hit the meaning on the head. This came about as a monetary phrase, meaning ‘spot cash’ (paying at the time). The origin seems a bit uncertain, as both the Dutch and the Germans also use this phrase. It is also referenced in a Scottish deed from 1326. Ireland has some claim to it, as well, as there was a pillar in Limerick that was topped with a copper plate under the Exchange. The pillar was called “The Nail” and a buyer would place his money on the copper plate. It seems more likely that the pillar was named after the clich√© than that the clich√© came from the pillar, based on the timeline.

one horse town:¬†a town so sleepy and lifeless that one horse might do all the work. I admit, I thought this might have been said of a town that could afford one horse. I don’t suppose it makes much difference. The phrase is definitely an Americanism, and is thought to have originated in New Orleans. The popularity of the clich√© didn’t spread until it reached Boston, where it ¬†expanded quickly.

on the bubble: on the edge, particularly for sporting events-one may make the cut, but could still be pushed out if a following competitor does better. This phrase definitely comes from the American car racing.  Indy 500 reporters in 1970 used the term:

On the ‘bubble’ is rookie Steve Krisiloff whose 162.448 m.p.h. was the slowest qualifying speed last weekend. With only six spots open, Krisiloff’s machine would be ousted if seven cars qualified at a faster speed this week end.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† –The Lima News, May 1970

on the quiet: also known as “qt” or “down low”, meaning to keep something secret to the benefit of all. The phrase, although popular in American culture in the last decades, is more likely to be a British saying. The phrase is also older than one might expect given its recent popularity, ¬†with the first written ¬†record is from 1862:

Unless men can work [the gold] on ‘the quiet’, they are not likely to make ‘piles’ so rapidly as Messrs. Hartley and Riley.
Otago: Goldfields & Resources

I will finish with a classic phrase, both in gravity and origin:

once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more: we must try yet again, despite overwhelming odds.  This is a rallying cry from Henry V, Act III, 1598, in which Henry was exhorting his Army to break through gap in the wall surrounding the city of Harfleur, which was under siege by the English.

      Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
      Or close the wall up with our English dead.
¬† ¬† ¬†In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
     As modest stillness and humility:
    But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
    Then imitate the action of the tiger;
    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
¬† ¬†Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
¬† ¬† ¬†–Shakespeare, ¬†King Henry V, 1598

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Cliche Sunday

And on to the ‘D’s. Doing the clich√©s by letter is rather intriguing, as one never knows what one will find. I feel like the pickings in ‘D’ will be slim, but I could be surprised. Oh, look, I am surprised:

damp squib: to fail spectacularly and not live up to expectations. I have never heard this one, but it might just be a new favorite phrase for me. How fun to say “damp squib” instead of “fail!” Unlike “squid,”an ocean creature and easily confused word, “squib” is a type of firework. Obviously, a damp firework would be a great disappointment. This phrase has also been around longer than one would expect, first appearing in the sixteenth century.

the darkest hour is just before the dawn: in extreme circumstances, there is always hope. I had to include this one as one of the most over-used phrases ever. No longer encouraging, the phrase mainly brings an eye roll from the recipient.  It appears we may blame Thomas Fuller for this hackneyed phrase:

It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.
      A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650

There is no written record before Fuller, so he may have come up with it himself, or perhaps wrote some local wisdom into his book. Either way, it certainly has had a long shelf life.

delusions of grandeur: to believe (strongly) in the false over-importance ¬†of oneself. ¬†Another hackneyed clich√©, this one appeared in the late 1800’s, although people may have used the ¬†phrase before. Unlike today, where we use it lightly to describe individuals who seem to big for their britches (yup, I used a clich√© to explain a clich√©), it originally was an actual accusation of delusional behavior, first occurring to Henry Prouse Cooper, a tailor in New York:

“Mr. Cooper was subject to a judicial enquiry for insanity in 1882, an investigation brought about by his brother Stephen, who was also a business partner. H. P. Cooper made no defence against the charge of insanity, in fact he loudly proclaimed it and insisted on being taken to an asylum – “Take me away at once. Don’t you see I am a slave to women and rum!”. The ‘delusions’ that his brother was concerned about included a false claim to have opened a successful department store in Paris and wildly optimistic plans for bizarre property developments in New York. In the course of the enquiry, Mr. Cooper was described as having ‘delusions of grandeur’.”*

doom and gloom: ¬†a feeling of hopelessness, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel–unless the light is the one you follow when you die.Originally, this phrase was used mainly in politics or business. Its use was spread throughout the second half of the twentieth century by use in plays and on tv. ¬†And, while it seems like it ought to have a long history, the clich√© is actually an Americanism coined in the late 1800s:

Slowly, and with a tone of doom and gloom, the ponderous clock began striking.
                        The Statesville Landmark, May 1875

duvet day: to play hookey with the employer’s blessing and get paid for the day. Since I started with an unknown (to me) clich√©, I thought I would end the same way. I have never heard of this, as it is a British practice, but I would love to bring it across the Pond! (yes, another cliche!) This phrase began life in the late 1990s:

… To staff at Text 100Italic, a PR company, there is a third option. They can take a “duvet day”. Each employee is allowed two days a year when they can play hookey with their employer’s blessing.
Financial Times, September 1996

It has become a figure of speech as well, now being used to say that something, i.e. a piece of equipment, is taking a “duvet day.”




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