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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Fun idioms

   
Author Topic: Fun idioms
wetwilly
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Over in another thread, some of us have been brainstorming idioms for "out of money" that might be used in a future setting. (Started when everybody hated my use of "broke as a joke.") Lots of fun ideas have been getting kicked around over there.

I thought it might be fun to start a thread of interesting idioms/figures of speech we run across. Sort of like a repository of quirky sayings we hear that any of us could pull from.

For example, I'll start:

Overheard a couple days ago, Guy describing an old beater truck that still runs well.

"That thing'll run like a raped ape."

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extrinsic
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Simile:
Scared the kid like a mole stalked by a night owl.

The menhaden fleet clung to port as ticks hug a coon dog.

Metaphor:
She helicopter-hovered her love interest into therapy.

Metalepsis:
So broke I can't even pay attention.

Always look in the mouth of a Greek gift horse.

Metonymy:
The statehouse announced austerity measures aimed at tighter belts.

Synecdoche:
Big Tiny and the Alphabet Street gang whooped uptown's Banker Suite Suits.

Allegory:
Time wounds all heels.

[ June 18, 2015, 11:04 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Oh dear, quirky observations--and me Australian . . .

Flat out like a lizard drinking.

Dry as a dead dingo's d@#$

As dark as a wombat's a***hole.

All over, red rover.

As mad as a hatter. Hat-makers went mad from the toxic fumes of the glues and dyes they used.

He's got deep pockets and short arms.

I could go on interminably.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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"Poke the bear"...to directly address a sensitive topic that is likely to start a fight.
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wetwilly
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I enjoy "dry as a dead dingo's dick." And I've always liked "so broke I can't pay attention."
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Disgruntled Peony
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The group of friends I hang out with avoids a lot of the standard idioms in favor of things like D&D puns ("beauty is in the eye of the Beholder", ha ha, everyone dies laughing). I'm going to start paying more attention at home and at work, though, so I can throw fun phrases in.

What I've heard today: "Breakfast of champions", used playfully/sarcastically, to indicate the food being eaten is anything but.

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Grumpy old guy
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It's cold enough to freeze the nuts off a tractor!

It's hot enough to cook a stone chook! A chook is a chicken

No flies on him. Meaning he's quick on the uptake, smart. The opposite, a disparaging remark about a pompous intellectual, or an idiot, would be: There are no flies on him, just the marks where they've been. An allusion to fly-blown sheep; he's too stupid to keep flies off his arse.

Phil.

[ June 20, 2015, 08:17 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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extrinsic
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Perhaps a few insights into idiom development are warranted. Many idioms begin life as tropes: commonly metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, maybe metalepsis less commonly. Someone invented them originally. Next a trope may go through a trite phase, outworn, overused, misused, abused -- need I say probably deemed cliché? Continuing use then makes a trite trope into an idiom or one begins life as a trope and jumps past the trite phase or begins directly at the idiom stage.

Note that many of the above listed idioms are similes: use as or like and similar as if or as like, or as - verbal term or phrase - as (as silly as a hit loon), etc., to allusively connect two or more tangible terms of an intangible relationship: abstract. Other tropes could also serve idiom's functions: metaphor, litotes, metalepsis, synecdoche, metonymy, oxymoron, periphrasis, syllepsis, instances of irony, allegory, to name a few.

Simile idioms are easy to invent and easily flow off the tongue. Sublime idioms are other rhetorical figures and more challenging to invent. A function, though, of idiom invention exercise is mental muscle development.

A next consideration for idiom invention is the rhetorical situation. Rhetorical situation to mean persuasion situation; ideally emotionally charged, and a "telling" detail, or also known as motif mythology development, and the persuasion is intellectual, emotional, and imagination stimulation of readers and writers: logos, pathos, mythos, and mysticus (mystique). Those are idiom's functions for prose and probably life as well.

Say a person pejoratively comments about another person's wayward strays. The other person could respond "Oh no you didn't go there." An interjection part of speech, an idiom, a verbal irony, specifically a litotes figure of speech.

The use of the idiom "selfie" began life from less than noble origins though with connotations of self-gratification similar to its origins, is a metaphor for self-portraiture, a back-formation, and has entered mainstream social conversation as a conventional idiom.

The idiom of "A picture is worth a thousand words" has a noble origin and one of a non-rhetorical nature. Serial publications during the early days of commercial publication paid illustrators for "pictures" the equivalent of a writing of a thousand words. Users of the idiom often use the saying to less than persuasive effect when misused to mean a picture tells more detail than words could.

Anyway, a process for idiom invention begins with realization of the rhetorical situation for which the idiom will be expressed. Emotional contexture of a circumstance is a foremost consideration: who, when, where; what, why, and how.

The short work fragment discussion that prompted wetwilly to start this thread brainstormed options that express a future-time of data addiction -- not too futuristic an idea and artfully ripe for contemporary social commentary -- and also a poverty of funds on hand for data acquisition satisfaction. "Broke as a joke" is the idiom of discussion. Other rhetorical situation considerations include what the saying expresses about the event, the setting, the character, and the complication, plus, of course, ease of reading and comprehension that does not disturb the fiction dream.

More challenging and essential for idiom invention -- suiting emphasis degree to the rhetorical situation. Word count is one emphasis metric; more word count, tangibly more emphasis; likewise, intangibly, ease of reading and meaning comprehension and appeal.

That's the rhetorical situation, from there, what type of rhetorical figure to use is a next consideration. The original is perhaps a simile, reads as a simile anyway. A longer verbal simile phrase emphasizes and clarifies meaning and strengthens the original: //as broke as a sick joke.//

At this juncture, the accentual rhythm of the above saying is worth notice: two feet of amphibrach-like meter. Prose's poetic rhythm uses iamb, dactyl, anapest, amphibrach, and perhaps spondee and trochee also, for accentual emphasis. The meter of the above example is amphibrach -- regular unstressed - stressed - unstressed for the first foot and an iamb foot and a single slightly stressed syllable last -- loose amphibrach.

"Broke as a joke" is trochee, iamb: stressed - unstressed, unstressed - stressed. A consideration for that, though, is the sing-song rhyme of two-syllable feet, problematic for prose in that rhyme could disturb the fiction dream. Three-syllable feet, common for prose, defuse rhyme somewhat. Also, too rigid a rhythm calls undue attention to the artifice of arrangement. On the other hand, a subtle rhythm propels fluent flow.

Note also that many of the idioms given above follow discernible though subtle rhythms. Rhythm matters for a rhetorical situation, in other words, mainly for forward fluent flow and emphasis as warranted.

Oh, and rhythm and rhyme's overt rhetorical situation and emphasis functions are inventor-creator-writer-speaker and readers' memorableness; idioms likewise.

[ June 20, 2015, 03:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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kmsf
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I'm so hungy I could eat the butt end of a skunk.

It's so flat, you can see the back of your head. (western Kansas)

Colder than a tin toilet seat in the Yukon.

I hesitate to use them in fiction for fear the writing would appear self-consciously folksy. I'd think there are appropriate times to use them, though.

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Scot
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quote:
More challenging and essential for idiom invention -- suiting emphasis degree to the rhetorical situation. Word count is one emphasis metric; more word count, tangibly more emphasis; likewise, intangibly, ease of reading and meaning comprehension and appeal.
Extrinsic, there's diminishing returns for word count. And actually I've heard from others and seen myself that fewer words are a mark of more emphatic phrases. That might be why the most common emphatic expressions--vulgarity--are usually single words.
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extrinsic
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Instances of emphatic expressions are situational, yes, the less word count, the stronger emphasis. Interjections, for example, which includes obscene-word expressions and numerous other words and interjection types.

However, emphasis for extended circumstances is longer word count length. How many words should a description of a setting take? A number that accomplishes the motif's function and signals whether the motif is a single dramatic appearance or will matter again later. If a single matter, less word count; if a dramatic matter again later, more word count. Likewise events and characters.

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MattLeo
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I once wrote a character who was what linguists call a "code switcher". She has two dialect registers, a hyper-formal Mid-Atlantic English for use with strangers, and a grammatically slovenly, cowboy idiom-laced dialect for her friends. As the protagonist (who is a foreigner) gets to know her he finds her initially term-paper perfect speech becoming increasingly incomprehensible. She herself is unaware of her code switching and often inadvertently telegraphs changes in her feelings this way.

Here are some Nellie-isms:

"Then that pack of skinned barber cats shinned it out of there to beat the Dutch!" A "barber's cat" is proverbially conceited, and there is also proverbially more than one way to skin a cat. A skinned cat would be in a sense naked, so by "skinned barber's cat" she means a proud person who was unexpectedly embarrassed. So she means the bad guys' plans were upset in a surprising way and they ran away like cowards.

“How do you think it feels, ridin' shank's mare all the time with you up there on your high horse?” "Shank's mare" is cowboy slang for walking on foot. Translation: the hero's friends sometimes find dealing with his pretentiously noble behavior humiliating.

"I don't know you from Adam's off ox, so don't you take no offense." The "off ox" on a team is the one who is diagonally across (i.e., farthest away) from the driver. Adam lived a long time ago, so Adam's farthest away ox is something nobody alive today could be very familiar with. Translation: she doesn't know the protagonist well enough to have any motive for deliberately offending him.

"if she wants to ride off to Jericho with some sweet talkin' pretty boy, that ain't none of my funeral." "Jericho" was the name of the estate where King Henry VIII liked to dally with his mistresses. The protagonist has basically no chance of understanding this reference but it's clear she's telling him that while he's no great catch it's none of her business what he gets up to with her friend.

"I just wondered where a four-flusher like you takes a gal for a hog-killin' time." Four cards of the same suit don't make a flush in poker, so a "four flusher" is someone who ostentatiously bluffs with what is in fact a weak hand. A "hog killing time" is a celebration -- the gentile equivalent of slaughtering the fatted calf. Again the protagonist has no chance of decoding this, but since he's just tricked her into going out on a date her contemptuous meaning is clear.

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wetwilly
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"I was ridin' the log." A distance runner describing how she was running and needed to poop but just clenched those posterior muscles and kept running.
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MattLeo
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Oh, if we're going to do potty idioms we can probably keep this going for wees.
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extrinsic
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According to Hoyle -- an idiom itself, to mean according to accepted behavior -- proverbially, odds of a four-card flush are slimmer than a two-card pair. A four-card flush hand beats a pair of jacks or better, though not next-higher-in-odds rank a two-pair hand.

However, the four-flush hand has been scoffed at since the game's invention, though pre-World War II poker rule books contain the hand in odds sequence and label the hand an option that players must agree about before play starts. A four-card flush livens opening bid action for five-card stud and also optionally may be an eligible openers bid draw though not be accepted as a winning hand.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Please don't do potty idioms. (I bet you all knew I was going to say that, didn't you?)
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extrinsic
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"Lower the boom" traditionally means to sweep unwanted crew overboard. The idiom originates from the age of sail, specifically fore-and-aft rigs, Lateen sails and square-rigged vessels had no boom to lower; lateens and leg-of-mutton rigs, a sprit pole, and square-riggers, a top cross spar. Otherwise, they were loose-footed sails -- no boom.

A working sailboat "Shanghaied" idle crew from port grog shops: slipped a knockout mickey or a swift sap to the head. Aboard and recovered of their senses, they were told their station assignments, the work and duration, and their percentage shares of the float revenue, depending on their skills and expertise. One share per able mariner, half share per landlubber. Maintenance and repair of a vessel and gear was half of a total trip revenue taken off the top, spent at an owner's discretion. Master's -- or captain's -- received two shares; mates and bosuns, also two shares.

Anyway, the float completed and the holds full or empty, as the work may be, the time came to pay off the supercargo crew -- the temps. Within an easy distance wade to shore, in case the liberty crew couldn't swim, the master ordered the boom lowered and the now-extraneous crew assembled on the afterdeck to receive payoff. The master turned the tiller abruptly such that the hull turned off the tack line. Wind carried the boom across the deck and the unwanted crew were swept overboard. This is called paid off before the boom. Masters shared the spoils with mates and bosuns.

Navy ships of the era practiced a similar staffing activity called pressing or impressment. Idle grog shop mariners were pressed into service by masters-at-arms and shore patrols. Also called impressed. Although impressed mariners were paid their wages and kept on crew as long as practical, not swept overboard.

Aye, me cack-hasped mateys, lower the boom.

[ June 25, 2015, 07:03 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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A worthy entry from our own KDW:

"I am very tired of looking at the mess of pulped tissue that was a dead horse days ago and now just stinks and oozes."

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JSchuler
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Found one recently in Japanese: "Duck carries a leek to you," for when someone does something stupid to your benefit.
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wetwilly
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From German: Did a louse run across your liver? Means you look unwell, like "green around the gills."
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MattLeo
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quote:
Slipshod
"Slipshod" is a dead metaphor idiom; it literally meant "shod in slippers", which apparently was considered a slovenly habit.

Why?

Well, one of the things I think most writers of historical and fantasy fiction often neglect to mention is what a filthy business walking around a town would be in the era before motor vehicles and public sanitation. In fact up until the end of he 19th C town dwellers used to strap on a kind of wooden overshoe or clog called a "patten", and the click of pattens was so familiar it was the basis of a common idiom:
quote:
his tongue runs on pattens
.

This idiom means meaning to chatter incessantly. By the mid 20th C the patten was so thoroughly forgotten that one scholarly guide to Elizabethan drama mis-translates "to run on pattens" as "to run on wheels."

As long as I'm on the topic of obsolete idioms, one of the great, long-standing mysteries of word buffs is the origins of the phrase
quote:
"independent as a hog on ice."
The OED describes the phrase as "denoting independence, awkwardness, or insecurity," and certainly it was used that way by the mid 20th C, but in fact early uses of the phrase I have found have the opposite denotation: securely independent, cocky.

I believe the origin of the phrase is a straightforward metaphor. Imagine a 250 lb. hog gets loose and runs out onto a frozen lake. Getting that hog back to its pen would be no enviable task. In any case this idiom was very common in the late 19th and early 20th C. but has now fallen into disuse.

Here's another that was very common in the mid 20th C but you don't hear any longer:
quote:
Take a message to Garcia.
This idiom refers to an event in the 1898 Spanish American war in which Captain Andrew Rowan made contact with the Cuban rebel leader Calixto Garcia who was hiding in the mountains of Cuba. It is used as an exhortation, particularly to young people, to distinguish themselves through displays of resourcefulness and determination.
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extrinsic
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The verb to run is an idiom, for any connotation except denotative for rapid ambulation. Pat ran diagnostics. Mary will run the register. Andre runs the concession stand. Applewhite had run the badminton squad. Epidry was supposed to run the meeting. Etc. And largely a static verb.

"Close enough for hand-grenades and horseshoes" to mean close enough to impart an influence, explosive violence and game play scoring, respectively. "Close enough for government work" is similar though a matter of meeting below-minimum expectations.

"Close but no cigar" is from not winning a carnival midway's contest prize.

"Catch the brass ring" is about a brass ring mounted on a pole or a wall beside a merry-go-round, the ring tantalizing seeming within reach though impossible to catch. The idiom is also, like similar others, about chasing impossible pipe dreams and too-good-to-be-true prizes and schemes. Though the meaning as well is its opposite, by context, the event of exceptional success against impossible odds.

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Grumpy old guy
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"Hoist by your own petard."

A petard was an early explosive demolition device attached to the stone walls of fortifications and detonated by a 'short' fuse. Timing was everything. If the device detonated early, you were definitely 'hoisted'!

Phil.

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MattLeo
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"To cotton on to something."

This has (as you might expect) nothing to do with the cotton plan; it comes from the Welsh cytuno, "to consent or agree." A common 17th C. idiom was "this gear cotton", meaning "this prospers well."

"grass widow"

Woman separated from her husband (aka "California Widow" during the Gold Rush), or sometimes a divorced woman.

"barking up the wrong tree"

Pursuing the wrong course of action; from hunting with dogs when the dog mistakenly thinks it has treed the quarry.

"to knock (something) galley-west"

To throw something into disarray. This is a Mark Twainism; it may be related to a British idiom "It's all along o' collyweston", which means something has gone wrong.

"At first blush"

"Blush in early modern English meant "glance", and for some reason this sense of the word only survived in this idiom.

"A month of Sundays"

Back in the days when worldly enjoyments and pursuits were banned on the sabbath, a single Sunday could drag on. "A month of Sundays" is an interminable period.

"To give it a lick and a promise"

To do a half-hearted job of something, for example instead of cleaning and polishing something thoroughly you might give it a "lick and a promise".

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Robert Nowall
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I'm fond of one phrase, which takes a little backstory:

The British rock group The Yardbirds evolved over a number of years, with many members coming and going, getting down to four guys, and then in the late sixties breaking up.

But a month or so after, they reformed, with the same four guys, and started recording a new album under the name New Yardbirds.

At some point one of 'em told their plans to the late Keith Moon, drummer for The Who. He said, "That'll go over like a lead zeppelin."

And the rest is history.

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Grumpy old guy
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Our Prime Minister is a panic merchant.

No explanation needed I would think.

Phil.

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Scot
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I want to chime in, but I'm lazy like a fox:

http://www.learnenglishfeelgood.com/americanidioms/

If you're into more current and less polite slang:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/

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Grumpy old guy
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This surfaced from the deep, dark recesses of my mind and I have no recollection of where I heard it first.

Well bless my socks and trouser buttons, cut off me legs and call me shorty.

Phil

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wetwilly
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If somebody offers you a helping hand, you better take it and shake it and walk with 'em.
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