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Cliche Stories

“I don’t like her name,” I said flatly.

“Huh?” Mom said.

“Charlotte. A nice name by itself, but you know we are going to end up calling her Char like Kathy did. It’s just easier to call when you want her, but I don’t like it,” I reiterated.

“Or holler when she steps on our feet, ” I added. The horse had no idea where she ended and we started. Made for a lot of bumping. “In fact, I think I’m going to give her a middle name. So when we are really irritated  we can yell it out, like you did when I was young.”

Mom laughed. “Like I haven’t done that recently! What’s wrong with Char?”

“It sounds harsh.”

She sighed, and we went back brushing the horses.

The next day she said, “Hey, your mare is one busy mare. She had her nose in more areas of that paddock today!  Think maybe we should call her Charby.”

“Charby?” I questioned.

“Yeah, Charby. Cuz she’s busy as a bee!”


busy as a bee: to be very busy. This phrase has been around for centuries, as it first  appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s. It’s popularity hasn’t waned all that much.

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.
                              –The Squire’s Tale

PS – My horse’s name really is Charby, and she was named pretty much as described.


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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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Cliche Sunday

Animals! I love anything with four legs and a tail….whether it purrs, barks or grunts. I gotta admit that I do like fur (so soft!), but I won’t discriminate against any animal if it happens to be missing. Yes, even for Bearded Dragons. They change color when they are happy with you, you know. I thought that animal clichés, from the most overused to the obscure would be a great subject today.

a little bird told me: a source you don’t want to reveal. This most likely did come from the Bible, although the exact wording wouldn’t be seen until 1833.

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
                              Ecclesiastes 10-20

act the giddy goat: to act foolishly. Ok, I have never used this one. But I do like the sound of it. Giddiness has not always been associated with goats, once people were abjured to not be giddy heifers or oxen. Goats came into it later:

–Don’t be actin’ the goat–
   Stray Leaves from a Military Man’s Note Book, 1879

Latin for goat is actually capra, from the word capricious. Between that and the alliteration, ‘giddy goat’ was a phrase born to stick around.

as busy as a bee: always busy with something. I had to include this one, as my horse’s name came from it. Her full name is Charlotte, and she was nicknamed “Char” by her last owner, but I thought that sounded harsh. My mom came up with “Charby,” because she was always into something! The original phrase is original indeed, as it comes from The Squire’s Tale:

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.
              Chaucer, 1386-1400

 fly on the wall: to be in a hidden spot to overhear an anticipated confrontation. This phrase is an Americanism from the 1920s. It has definitely been over used, particularly in the age of “reality tv.” How can it be real with all those people in the house watching them? Certainly, that would affect my behavior. The idea being that the cameras were just a fly on the wall–“participents often said:
                                                                                       We just got used to the camera crew and after a while we just ignored them”*


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Cliche Sunday

Here we are again! Hope your week went just as fast as mine. My schedule at work was varied this week, so I rarely knew what day it was. That made it go by quicker 🙂  For no particular reason, I think we will explore phrases spawned from the Bible this time around. Most are from the King James version, which is still the most common version of the Bible.  I will admit to picking those that I did not realize came from the Bible, and those the tickled my fancy.

a fly in the ointment:  a small flaw that spoils the whole. Originally, creams and ointments were most likely for beauty or anointing for ceremonial purpose . A fly could indeed spoil an entire batch. The first reference to it is from Ecclesiastes 10:1:
        Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and           honour.
Later, as the became popular in our everyday lexicon, John Norris directly references that phrase:
    ‘Tis that dead fly in the ointment of the Apothecary–1707

a house divided against itself cannot stand: no beating around the bush here, this phrase means literally what it says. And I admit, it is most familiar to me from being said by Lincoln in the second “Night at the Museum” movie. So it is interesting to learn that it is actually from the bible; Matthew 12:25, to be precise.
          And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided           against itself shall not stand

a leopard cannot change its spots: a person cannot change who they are.  I feel that people can change, however, I don’t see a leopard rearranging its spots!
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Jeremiah 13:23

as white as snow: pure, as a layer of fresh, white snow yet to be trod upon is pure. This one was stolen by Shakespeare; his phrasing was “pure as the driven snow” in Macbeth. Chaucer and several others have used this expression as well to indicate purity in their characters.  Before they stole it, however, Michael Drayton used it in 1593:
   Her skin as soft as Lemster wooll, As white as snow on peakish hill, Or Swanne that swims in Trent
And the original:
      I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure     wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire–Daniel, 7:9 

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Sunday Cliche is Back!

Were we all going through withdrawal? How did we ever make it two weeks not knowing where our over-used phrases came from? This week’s edition is brought to you from my medical terminology class and is all about…..gambling?

I was amused to discover that the name of talus, one of seven bones in our ankles, comes from Latin for its shape like a die. The talus bones were in fact used as a game piece in ancient times. Just who decided to use a bone as a game piece anyway? Were they just sitting there bored and said “hey, Joe’s foot bone could be used to play a game if we only put a few markings on it?” One only hopes that Joe had already passed away.

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