Tag Archives: Britain

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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Cliche Sunday

Here we are again, on a lovely Sunday night. Once more I had a busy weekend. I guess that is just par for the course at this point. Hmmm, I didn’t do that one when I did the “Ps.” Guess I can’t get them all! I do seem to be adjusting to this hectic weekend pace, I guess we can get used to anything 🙂

So on to “S.”

safe as houses: to be completely safe and secure.  I have always wondered about this one. I mean, I do feel safe in a house during, say,  a thunderstorm; but still an odd saying overall. This particular phrase came from our friends in Britain, and from  a time period when safe was more commonly used to mean certainty rather than our current usage, with safe meaning security.  When picking a simile, one does tend to be over the top; so large and conspicuous houses were an easy fit.

No uncertainty here, guv’nor,” answered one of his captors. “You’re booked, safe as houses.
                                James Friswell, Out & About, 1860

one sandwich short of a picnic: an amusing way to indicate that someone is not all that smart. There are quite a few phrases that use ‘X is short of Y,’

with the meaning that someone is not clever. I rather like this one, however, it just sounds funny. It also comes from across the pond, with the first noted usage in 1987 in  BBC’s Lenny Henry Christmas Special.

scarper: to depart hurriedly. I have read this one before, where a character would scarper off, but I didn’t think it would be a cliché, as it was one word versus an actual phrase. I do seem to be picking ones for my own enjoyment today, as I also find the idea of anyone scarpering completely hilarious 🙂 The word comes from Italian word ‘scappare’, meaning to escape.

He must hook it before ‘day-light does appear’, and then scarper by the back door.
                                                         Swell’s Night Guide, 1846

season of mists and mellow fruits: a lovely, wordy way of saying autumn. Once more, this comes from Britain, in the 1820s. British poet John Keats used the phrase:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
To Autumn, 1820

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