Tag Archives: English expressions

If You MUST Use a Cliché

At least be certain you are using it correctly. Here are some clichés I’ve seen and heard that weren’t quite right:

Ellen burst the candle with both hands.

Brittany said it’s an error to be human.

Last night Rodney slept like a lark.

Taylor behaved like a bull in a china closet.

Zander is rotten to the cork.

The burglar struck Marlie, and she fell down with a thug.

Ramona never takes planes. She likes to be on terra cotta.

Jeremy sticks to his girlfriend like a leash.

That’s Donald’s whole story in a bombshell.

Obviously, your best bet is to avoid clichés like the plague.

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What Constitutes a Sea Change?

 

Signature of William Shakespeare from Page 3 o...

Signature of William Shakespeare from Page 3 of his Last Will and Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an undergraduate English major at UC Berkeley, it never occurred to me to be a STEM major. In fact, that acronym hadn’t been invented. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Word on the street today is that if you are not majoring in one of those areas, you might as well crawl into a cave with your literature, philosophy  and history books and be happy and useless away from society. I contend that liberal arts majors have much to offer, even in today’s STEM-heavy environment: they are well rounded and can think and write clearly and logically.

Which brings me to Shakespeare. As a senior, I took a Shakespeare seminar with the best professor I ever encountered—as an undergraduate, graduate student or as an English teacher myself. (I’m talking about you, Joseph Kramer.) He once made the statement that any three lines of Shakespeare could be read as a microcosm of the world, and went on to demonstrate that point repeatedly and brilliantly.

Which brings me to today’s jargon. Previously, I wrote about clichés and jargon that originated in Shakespeare’s plays. Of course they weren’t clichés at the time of their origin, but they did catch on. A prevalent cliché, a bit of jargon, these days is “sea change.” I see it everywhere; no simple “changes” exist any more. They are all monumental, life-altering “sea changes.” If the price of oil were to drop five dollars a barrel, that would be a sea change. If Donald Trump were to fix his comb-over to the right rather than to the left, that would be a sea change. (If he were to remove the small animal that lives atop his head, I would grant that truly would be a sea change.)

The phrase originated in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” Here is how he used it:

                                                    Full fathom five thy father lies,

                                                          Of his bones are coral made:

                                                   Those are pearls that were his eyes:

                                                          Nothing of him that doth fade,

                                                   But doth suffer a sea-change

                                                   Into something rich and strange.

We’ve lost the hyphen and also lost—or changed—the meaning. Until quite recently, “sea change” indicated an enormous transformation. Now, any old change will suffice. I wish the original meaning were still appreciated.  How long until someone writes about “an enormous sea change”?

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How Urgent?

In a post in my Next-door group, someone wrote about a topic she said was of the “upmost urgency.” I have to smile; it probably makes more sense to most people than the correct phrase, “utmost urgency.” “Utmost” means to the greatest extent; therefore, because “up” indicates an increase, “upmost” could mean the most effort or extent of interest in a topic.

This is how language changes, folks. Maybe “upmost” won’t be adopted this week, but check back with me in 50 years. (I might not be able to answer you, but I’ll try my upmost.)

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Sown Any Wild Oats Lately?

wild_oats11

This expression means to act dissolutely or foolishly. “Wild oats” refers to a type of grass called Avena fatua that grows so prolifically in Europe it is considered a weed. Therefore, if you were to plant (sow) these wild oats, you’d be acting foolishly and starting something that would be hard to stop later on.

Now you know.

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More Food Expressions

 

Apple pie

Apple pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cheesy and corny got me thinking about other food words we commonly use in expressions. Here are some I came up with. (Here are some up with which I came. See why it’s fine to end sentences with prepositions?)

Spill the beans

Full of piss and vinegar

Apple of my eye

Top banana

Toast of the town

Apple pie order

An apple a day keeps the doctor away (but so does a flu shot)

Brown as a berry (I have never seen a brown berry.)

Cool as a cucumber

Cut the mustard/cheese

Humble pie

Let them eat cake (thanks to Marie Antoinette)

Milk of human kindness

Not my cup of tea

Pie in the sky

 Salad days (thank you, Cleopatra, by way of Shakespeare)

Say cheese

Sour grapes

Bring home the bacon

One sandwich short of a picnic

Are you hungry yet?

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