A hefty helping of Internet Mash Potatoes

January 30, 2009 at 1:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written June 24, 7:42 pm)

A few more idioms—and idiomatic mistakes—noticed today:

  1. “Internet mash potatoes” – the one-and-only William Safire, in his May 25, 2008 NY Times “On Language” column regarding emoticons, describes today’s “television couch potatoes and Internet mash potatoes.” Google tells me that this phrase is Safire’s own invention, but I kind of love it. The implication that surfing the internet is even more passive and brainless than watching the tube is, in my opinion, false, but these clever coordinated clauses still win a place in my heart.
  2. long in the tooth” – [what’s with all the dentistry-related idioms these days??] to be very old. Seen in the NY Times magazine article “Shelby Lynne’s Dusty Trail” article from January 13, 2008: Lynne’s age of thirty-nine is described as “a little long in the tooth to be looking for your first big hit.” This phrase just sounds creepy and weird to me; I’m pretty skeeved out by the idea of one giant tooth in a normal-sized mouth. On that note, why is it the singular “tooth” rather than the plural “teeth”? Is this a coke tooth we’re talking about here or something? Weird. As such, do not expect it to be incorporated into my vernacular any time soon.

And finally, a misuse: in the same May 25th NY Times magazine as Safire’s emoticon column, Deborah Solomon (love her) interviews David Iglesias, a former U.S. attorney for New Mexico. When asked if he worked for the C.I.A., he replied, “No, I would love to work for the C.I.A., but that ship has already left. Um, apparently idioms involving modes of transportation are more difficult to remember than the rest, no? Sorry, David, I don’t mean to throw you under the bus or anything, but the phrase is “that ship has sailed.” Not “left,” “sailed.” *Sigh* Will this battle never end??

P.S. My mom called people who mess up idioms “illiterate.” It’s clear where I come from 🙂

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that, and I quote, “it is tough to be one who is pointing out the mistakes of others, especially with regard to mistakes in copy editing, unless you are perfect yourself”—and I, of course, am far from it. So I shall be careful not to be the the pot calling the kettle (Ikea?) black, nor the gal living in a glass house and throwing (grenades?) stones. Hopefully Google Pages will keep me spelling error free, but that’s no guarantee (see, I would have just misspelled “guarantee” if not for the red squiggly line!) In conclusion, I am not pointing out the errors of others to be self-righteous or arrogant, but rather with the simple intent of monitoring a trend that seems increasingly widespread and visible, and, in the process, I’ll do my best to exude less “pretentious asshole” and more “concerned linguist” as often as I can.


David, David, David…

January 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written June 23, 11:35 pm)

[ from the New York Times ]

I’ve been thinking about idioms a lot lately, specifically about their use, and especially about their misuse. This stream of thought was probably provoked by one Mr. David Brooks and his June 20th op-ed “The Two Obamas.” It wasn’t the content that angered me so, but rather Brooks’ seemingly flagrant butchering of a common idiom: “throw under the bus.” In Brooks’ hands, this became “under the truck.” And it wasn’t just used once, or twice. Six times I cringed as I watched a perfectly useful (not to mention commonly-used) phrase be crippled by someone lucky—and presumably smart—enough to be writing for The. New. York. Times. *Sigh*

It wasn’t enough that Brooks (nor any of his copy editors, apparently) could be bothered to Google the phrase “under the truck”—if they had (as I did, natch) they would have seen that the only use of the phrase that doesn’t involve actual bodily harm was Brooks’ own. No, it was more than that. It was the fact that, just a year and a half ago, a piece had been printed in his OWN PUBLICATION regarding the correct use of the very phrase. The lovely William Safire, author of Sunday’s “On Language,” devoted half a column to “throw under the bus,” and not once was there any discussion of other permissible vehicles under which the victim could be chucked. None. Put that in your (exhaust?) pipe and smoke it, David Brooks!

And so, since this truck debacle last week, I seem to have had an especially keen eye for idiomatic phrases in print. The two that caught my attention today are:

  1. “to the teeth” – completely, lacking nothing. Seen in the NY Times article “So Young, and So Gadgeted” today: a mother of three from New Jersey claims that the family computer is “in my sight, and protected to the teeth.” Am I the only person to whom this phrase is entirely new??
  2. parenthetically” – uh, in parenthesis. Seen in the NY Times article “What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer” today: the defense lawyer in a case that is using Google search trends to gauge community obscenity standards in Florida states that the Google data “can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed.” This word caught my eye not because its meaning was unclear from context (duh), but because, as someone who favors stating her punctuation choices in conversation (“Let’s do it…exclamation point!”), I am intrigued and enthralled by further forays into verbalized punctuation.

Now that I’ve set up the pattern, expect further musings on language use and misuse in print. Woo!

[ image from the New York Times ]

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