Tag Archives: proverbs

Cliche Sunday

Another week has flown by! A rather wet week to be sure, but a week none the less. I guess that means we are on to U! I don’t think there are all that many clichés that start with U, but we shall see what we can find…..

under your hat: keep it secret. There was never anything to hide under one’s hat, although stories do abound about keeping gold or even spare arrow strings under an archer’s hat. Truly it simply means to keep information in your head, and share only as needed.  The phrase originated in the nineteenth century, most likely in Britain.

Thus, oh friendly readers, we see how every man in the world has his own private griefs and business… You and your wife have pressed the same pillow for forty years and fancy yourselves united. Psha, does she cry out when you have the gout, or do you lie awake when she has the toothache? … Ah, sir – a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine.
                                       The History of Pendennis, William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848

up the apples and pears: up the stairs. Another fun  example of cockney rhyming.  This type of slang is made when words are replaced by any words or phrases they rhyme with, although no relationship other than the rhyme is requires. Whether this  slang is meant to exclude outsiders, or simply be creative is unknown.

the usual suspects: most likely criminals in the area to have committed a crime, although whether they actually did it is of little consequence. This one has a clear history: the film Casablanca, 1942. Captain Louis Renault makes the statement after the main character Rick Blaine shot a Nazi, and the Captain tells the investigating police to “round up the usual suspects” instead of turning in Rick.


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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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Cliche Sunday

Today I thought I would tackle some proverbs. They have infiltrated our language,  and are as common as any cliche.  They tend to be uplifting, but occasionally preachy because of their origin as many come from religion. What exactly is considered a proverb?

“Proverbs are short and pithy sayings that express some traditionally held truth. They are usually metaphorical and often, for the sake of memorability, alliterative. And, as so many proverbs offer advice and uplift, many of them are religious in origin.”*

Keep in mind that almost every culture has their own proverbs, and some day I will get to them. Today, however, I am going to focus on the proverbs of the English language. There are more than a few.  And some were, hmmmm, appropriated from other languages and modified as well.

Words most used in English Proverbs, the two most common are ‘good’ and ‘never’.
They tend to be virtuous but negative:  the idea being of be good or bad things will happen!

a drowning man will clutch at a straws: take any way out of a bad situation, no matter how unlikely the solution may be. This proverb has changed over the centuries, not the idea behind it but how the straws came to occupy our hands. In the 1300s the  word ‘catch’ meant to obtain or achieve, and the proverb then was to “catch at a straw.” As our usage of ‘catch’ changed, so did the proverb. By the 1800s we were using ‘grasp,’ and now we ‘clutch.’

a cat may look at a king: an inferior is not restricted in every way of what they may do in the presence of a superior.  The origin of this proverb is not known, but it is found in this stanza from 1562:

Some hear and see him whom he heareth nor seeth not
But fields have eyes and woods have ears, ye wot
And also on my maids he is ever tooting.
Can ye judge a man, (quoth I), by his looking?
What, a cat may look on a king, ye know!
My cat’s leering look, (quoth she), at first show,
Showeth me that my cat goeth a caterwauling;
And specially by his manner of drawing
To Madge, my fair maid  –The Proverbs And Epigrams Of John Heywood

a miss is as a good as a mile: any miss is a good miss, whether it is near or wide of the mark.  Some think this is American in origin, particularly with its late entry into the proverbial arena, appearing in print for the first time in the 1700s.  But it is found all over the British Isles, especially in James Kelly’s A complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs:

An Inch of a miss is as good as a span –1721

a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: knowing one  thing may lead you to believe you are more expert than you are. This proverb can be interchanged with “a little learning can be a dangerous thing.”   The phrase seems to be a group effort, starting with Sir Francis Bacon in 1601. His phrase was a bit misquoted later on in 1698 by anonymous author known as “A B,” who was later misquoted in 1774 with the final incarnation:

Mr. Pope says, very truly, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”The monthly miscellany; or Gentleman and Lady’s Complete Magazine, Vol II

a rolling stone gathers no moss: those who don’t settle in one place rarely prosper. This idea is a very old, used by Eramus in his Adageia, 1508.  It then wended its way  through English, starting in 1546 with John Heywood.  By the 17 century a ‘rolling stone’ came to mean a wastrel, adding to the idea that a rolling stone would not prosper. In A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, the French word Rodeur was given this definition:

A vagabond, roamer, wanderer, street-walker, highway-beater; a rolling stone, one that does nought but runne here and there, trot up and downe, rogue all the country over –1611

Not a bad name for a rock band that has traveled the world for decades, although that Rolling Stone has definitely prospered!







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