Idioms in Distress

December 11, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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I’m worried about the idioms.

They’ve been feeling neglected and, really, misunderstood. It’s not that people have stopped using them, no; they’ve been notably present in everyday speech. Rather, the problem is misuse. It is apparent that, as my mom used to say, American idiom use is becoming more and more “culturally illiterate.” Observe:

“Cooking for kids is something that hits very dear to me.”

One of the contestants on Top Chef All Stars uttered this mangled phrase, a dreary combination of “hits close to home” and “is very dear to me.” One idiom or the other, dude: YOU MUST CHOOSE.

“We were deep in the weeds trying to dig our own graves.”

While this example (from another reality show I have  now forgotten) does not Frankenstein two idioms together, it has ignored the common sense one-idiom-per-sentence rule that all speakers would be advised to follow. Again, you must choose: are you “deep in the weeds” OR “trying to dig your own graves”? You can’t be both—not in the same sentence at least.

Finally, a sports metaphor:

“[John Doe] has been a home run hitter for the Dallas Cowboys.”

Now, I’m sure the ESPN announcer who uttered this sentence is aware that the Cowboys play football, not baseball. This is not an example of sports confusion, but rather proof positive that the most potent sports metaphor seems to be a baseball metaphor: applicable anywhere, even when talking about other sports.


Idiom America

May 10, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Heard tonight on “Castle”:

This was the last draw.

Uh, fact checkers: making sure the details of your murders and police investigations are good and all, but you might want to add an idiom-ologist (me! me!) to your staff, because I think the phrase you’re looking for is “last straw.”

Taking some liberties with language

March 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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One of my pet peeves is when people misstate or mix-and-match their proverbs and idioms. Although I usually think of myself as inclined towards description rather than prescription, I don’t mess around when it comes to sayings: they are fixed for a reason! For example, David Brooks’s repeated misuse of “throw him under the bus” as “throw him under the truck” evoked some serious anger. Last week I heard the host of “Shear Genius” (Bravo’s Project-Runway-for-hair-stylists show) utter this butchered idiom:

“Slow down your horses!”

Clearly, she meant to say “hold your horses,” and while normally this would piss me off, I’m pretty sure Camila Alves speaks English as a second language, rendering her misuse kind of adorable.

The same ESL cuteness cannot be applied to Tyra Banks, however, and while what I’m about to tell you is by no means an idiomatic mistake, it is so ridiculous and contrived that it warrants mention. Tyra has decided that “plus-size model” is an inaccurate way to describe models larger than a size 2—aside from the negative connotation of the word, her main objection (if I understand correctly) is that it is incongruous with the fact that the average American woman wears a size 14. Tyra’s rebranding for “plus-size”?

Fiercely Real,” or “FR-size.”

I’m serious.

No, YOU ask Google!

December 10, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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I mean, it’s not like I expect much from Yahoo Answers to begin with—aside from hilarity, natch—but this answer is one of the best (and by best I mean worst, of course) that I have ever seen. I’m going to use caps, NickName, just to make sure you can hear me: WHY BOTHER SPENDING THE TIME TO TYPE AND SUBMIT AN ANSWER SUGGESTING A TASK THAT YOU WERE TOO LAZY TO DO YOURSELF?! And Chavez Che? Really?

[ image from Yahoo Answers ]

Best Line Heard on the Radio Today

August 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“The Fed has been sticking its fingers in the economic dyke…”

– some guy on “Marketplace,” KPBS

(perhaps even better was the reaction of the guy he was talking to: “Well, uh, I’ve never heard that metaphor before, but…”)


February 1, 2009 at 10:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(originally written January 21, 5:29 pm)

Pet peeve of the moment?

People who use “to grow” as a transitive verb.

see: “The goal is to grow the company.”



Scroll down for the win, kids

February 1, 2009 at 7:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written July 28, 12:18 am)

Brief notes on some articles, with more to come:

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, this line: “That is a very broad brush to tar the industry with…” Am I wrong, or is there anything you can do with a “broad brush” but “paint”?

From the San Francisco Chronicle, serious sketchiness from Prop 8 supporters, who have resorted to using children to scare people into voting against gay marriage rights. Pathetic.

Also from the San Francisco Chronicle, an article about the passing of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch gives this choice quote from his mother, in how the way she would introduce him to friends kept him humble: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind that helps people.” I seriously hope someone introduces me this way someday.

From the Bakersfield Californian via the Modesto Bee, more questionable journalistic behavior: a commentary piece asking us to “kick some budget butt” in its title. Uh…

From the Orange County Register, an article about a murder suspect found seven years later in Arkansas spawned some disgusting, racist user-submitted comments about Mexican people. At this point, I was going to say that I disagree with the argument made in an article about reading online from today’s New York Times, which was that reading in an interactive medium (as opposed to traditional books & print newspapers) makes the literary experience more dynamic and rich. On the contrary, after reading the comments section—especially in papers that cover communities like the OC Register ‘s—I feel totally and utterly depressed for the future of our nation. HOWEVER, since I initially read this article last week, the Register ‘s website has seemed to have made good on its comment-section preamble to “take action against obscene or hateful material,” and removed the racist comments. Golf claps, OC!

And finally, from the New York Times, the. best. article. title. ever: “Hasbro Notches Triple-Word Score Against Scrabulous With ‘Lawsuit’.”

This is a no-huddle situation, people!

February 1, 2009 at 7:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written July 16, 8:29 pm)

It’s been a busy week in linguistic madness and mayhem, but due to  the fact that my summer school class and internship take up most of my lazy blogging time of yore, I’m going to have to log ’em all in list form (only this time, to mix it up, let’s use letters, shall we?):

A. A July 13th article in the LA Times entitled “The mystery of Prop. 98” discusses exactly that: the fact that the proposition’s guarantee for K-14 education funding in California employs such a ricockulous rubric that no one but John Mockler, the initiative’s author, can understand how the hell it works. The article is fairly straight-forward, but the line that really caught my eye (and merited its mention in this space) was the declaration that if Mockler “is ever so selfish as to die,” the state would be fucked, as it would have no remaining to soul to interpret and comprehend Prop. 98’s crucial formula. Um, it’s not like he’s one of the two guys who knows half of Coca-Cola’s formula or something. Are we really so idiotic as a state that only ONE GUY can figure out a math formula?? I mean, we’re not even talking Calculus B/C here or anything. Perhaps I’ll make it my life-time goal to understand this rubric. Hey, a gal can dream, right?

B. The same day produced an SF Chronicle article about San Francisco city’s open-enrollment public school system (whereby students from any neighborhood can choose to attend any school in the system) that contains, as its second paragraph, a single word:


Ehm. Is it EVER acceptable for a Professional. News. Article. to use the word “duh”?? Especially as its own paragraph. ESPECIALLY in an article about education. Seriously.

C. It wouldn’t be a well-rounded episode of Language Round-up without a sports metaphor, now would it? This one comes courtesy of the LA Times in an article called, “Judge dismisses home-schooling credentials case.” A case against a woman from Lynwood who home schools her eight kids (and was accused of mistreating some of them) sparked a legal ruling regarding all home schooling California, but this week the case against the Lynwood mom was dropped. Law folks now disagree whether this new development will make the state-wide ruling moot, or whether they are two separate animals. Santa Clara law professor Edward Steinman, however, is unambiguous in saying, “It should have no effect…But it became political football, and the [appellate] court may use this to say ‘let’s just punt.’ ” Okay, I guess I should concede the fact that this is one of the more deft sports metaphors that gets tossed around (heh). But, meh. It’s just suuuch old news—and a weaksauce out—to use a sports metaphor. Let’s get more creative, people!

D. Last but not least is a gem from the Sacramento Bee that takes extended metaphor to a whole new level. An article about the still-unpassed California budget finds Schwarzenegger contrasting the fact that “he has always turned in his spending proposal on time” to the Legislature’s extreme budgetary tardiness. “I can only get the horse to water,” the governor tells us, “but I can’t make it drink.” A Republican senator named Dave Codgill (who, God willing, heard the preceding quote before coming up with this idiocy) retorted, “We’re not going to drink any tax increases.” Oh, Mr. Cogdill. Really? REALLY? Is that the best you could come up with??? I wish I could say that it was his sentiment and not his semantics that bugged me so much, but no. I can’t hide behind politics on this one. Gah.

“I’ll be the pig in your poke…” “Wait, what?”

January 30, 2009 at 2:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written July 8, 12:05 am)

As someone who enjoys recreational politicking, I try to keep myself informed by reading a decent number of political articles online each week—a number that has increased in the past two weeks due to my summer internship for a local assemblywoman and the subsequent emails listing the day’s biggest political headlines that I receive each day. Nevertheless, one aspect of these political pieces that I did not expect to discover is the fact that the people they quote tend to spout the most hilarious phrases!

An article by Carolyn Lochhead in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about “Obamacons”—neocons who’ve endorsed Obama for the general election—was seriously chock-full of wtf phrases. My three favorites:

1. “When he leaves the room, everybody thinks he just agreed with them… We don’t know if you’re really buying a pig in a poke here.” >> Apparently this means “to make a risky purchase without inspecting the item beforehand.” This is a seriously bizarre expression, especially since no one uses the word “poke” to refer to a bag anymore. While I can’t imagine myself using this phrase in conversation ever, I think it’s quite appropriate in this context. Well played, Michael Greve. Well played.

2. “I think he’s the right person at the right time to re-establish principles of constitutional governance that have been ill treated by the current administration, and to free us from the tar paper that we know is Iraq.” >> So the reference here is clear, at least: we are stuck in Iraq like flies get stuck in tar paper. Still, something’s weird here. I guess it’s just the semantics that annoy me, the cheeky word order that puts the metaphoric source before its target.

3. “The Republicans have left the libertarian baby on the doorstep, but Democrats won’t open the door.” >> First of all, am I the only person who sees ‘librarian’ each time she reads the word ‘libertarian’? (to which my Libertarian boyfriend says, “Well, we do love books!”) In any case, this, I feel, is the most ridiculous phrase of the three. That’s all I have to say about it, really. Ridiculous. (Side note: in searching for the definition of this phrase, I found this really interesting article about literally leaving babies on doorsteps.)

The other notable aspect of that article was the fact that it brings my little blogette full circle by referencing everyone’s favorite David Brooks, a so-called “intellectual leader” for neoconservatives. Meh.

Language, etc.

January 30, 2009 at 1:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written July 1, 1:18 am)

A certain man in my life who was (unfortunately?) on the receiving end of my rant about Brooks a few weeks ago alerted me to a Slate article by Ron Rosenbaum called, appropriately, “Which catchphrases should be ‘thrown under the bus’?” that discusses catchphrases, “throw under the bus,” and Brooks’ op-ed in particular. Rosenbaum theorizes that Brooks used “truck” intentionally, to be simultaneously on board (arrg transportation metaphors!) with the trendy catchphrase and poke fun at its pervasive overuse. (I’m not inclined to give Brooks such benefit of the doubt.) I love the line about “transportation-related terms of abandonment,” including “threw her off the sled” (eh?) and something about wolves…

In other news…

1. A book I ordered off of Amazon came today! Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms by Paul Dickson (recommended by the language guru William Safire himself, which the back book jacket doesn’t fail to mention), this gem is a really extensive, painfully brief dictionary organized by theme. Talk about your light summer reading!

2. I have this (ill-advised?) habit of always wanting to portmanteau paired words that have some semblance of a sound in common, and the man in my life seems to be catching on: “I saw a man walking slowly with an odd gait and dragging his feet, and I decided to dub him a ‘meander-thal’.” I LOVE IT! Apparently it already exists in some form, but I applaud his ingenuity nonetheless.

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