As a newbie author, we often find ourselves using cliché’s without realizing it—because they are comfortable. Familiar. Understandable. Relatable. The thing is, though our first reaction is to use them, do we understand them?
In last month’s post, I used “have a bee in my bonnet,” “jumping on bandwagons,” “everyone and their brother,” and “rest on your laurels.” What do those mean?
To have “a bee in one’s bonnet” signifies a level of agitation prompted by an obsession with an idea. We still say it, even though most of us don’t wear bonnets at any time or for any reason.
The word bandwagon was coined in the
in the mid-19th
century as the name for the wagon that carried a circus band. When
you “jump on the bandwagon” it means
you support a hobby, idea, or person after it has become popular or successful.
Seen a bandwagon lately? Me neither. USA
“Everyone and their brother” is obvious: it means pretty much everybody. This one is still relevant.
, laurel wreaths were symbols
of victory and status. In common modern usage it
refers to a victory. The expression “resting
on one's laurels” refers to someone relying entirely on long-past successes
for continued fame or recognition. But I would think resting on one’s gold
medal would be more 21st-Century. Or Oscar. Greece
How about “once in a blue moon”? This one is really interesting:
When the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded in 1883, its dust turned sunsets green and the moon blue all around the world for the best part of two years. Then in 1927, the Indian monsoons were late arriving and the extra-long dry season blew up enough dust for a blue moon. And moons in northeastern North America turned blue in 1951 when huge forest fires in western
threw smoke particles up into the sky. Canada
So, once in a blue moon refers to anything that rarely happens. At least that example was most recently within the last seventy years!
“Beat a dead horse” is pretty obvious as well: it’s a reference to something that is entirely pointless and cannot result in any productive end. God forbid anyone actually beats any animal – dead or alive. Yet we still say it.
“Take the cake” means either to carry off the prize, or is used as an expression of disbelief. However, calling something “a cake walk” indicates an absurdly or surprisingly easy task. Both refer to an event at a country fair where people try to win somebody’s home-baked cake in a musical chairs type scenario. No, I’ve never seen it done.
“Let the cat out of the bag” is problematic; there is no clear answer as to where this saying originated or why. Most likely it’s connected with the similarity between secrets and cats — once either is let out, they go wherever they want. Besides that, it does evoke a pretty amusing image, no matter what culture it’s used in!
Ever call “shotgun” when getting into a car? Do you know why? Because the guard holding the shotgun always sat beside the stagecoach driver, protecting what or who was inside.
So what becoming-archaic expressions are we using without thinking about them? How about “hang up” a phone from back in the day? That was fun when we were annoyed. It’s not nearly as satisfying to touch the END icon on a phone’s screen, no matter how hard you poke it…
“Typing” comes from typewriters, which placed one letter at a time on a sheet of paper, much like setting type in a print shop. We still say we are typing – but we do it on a keyboard. We never say we have to “keyboard” a document, though technically that would be more accurate. We aren’t even using paper as we keyboard!
I challenge you all to see if you can catch yourself using an expression which, if you think about it, hardly makes sense anymore. Post them here – I’d love to see what you come up with!