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ANTHOLOGIES/STORIES


11-18 Magdalena Scott – Serendipity Surprises

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Archaic Clichés We Still Use

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 USA 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.

“Everyone and their brother” is obvious: it means pretty much everybody. This one is still relevant.

In ancient Greece, 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.

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 Canada threw smoke particles up into the sky.

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!

9 comments:

Alison E. Bruce said...

Very interesting post. I love language, especially word and phrase origins.

Speaking of phones, we still use the term "dial" for inputting a phone number.

A dial is a face of a clock, watch, or sundial that is marked to show units of time. This expanded to analog instruments that used a circular knobs marked with numbers for regulating speed, volume, or dialing a phone number. Dial also started being used as a verb in relation to operating dials. We still use it for digital adjustments or inputs, even though no circular devices are used.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

What a fun post, Kris! Gave me some food for thought :-)

Diana McCollum said...

Loved this post! Did you know the second full moon in a month is considered the blue moon? Because it happens so rarely.

Judith Ashley said...

And when we "hang up" from a cell phone call there isn't a "dial tone"...there's just silence. My editor caught the heroine listening to the dial tone when another character hung up - nope! Some of this is so ingrained as a habit it is hard to change. I now say I'm writing or working on my story instead of typing. Maybe reference 'new words' or something along those lines.

July has a Blue Moon - first full moon was 07/02 and the second one is 07/31.

Thanks for a thought provoking post, Kris.

Kris Tualla said...

Excellent example! Thanks for posting! :)

Kris Tualla said...

No, that didn't show up when I researched it. Thanks for sharing! :)

Kris Tualla said...

Thanks! ;)

Kris Tualla said...

I'm writing my first contemporary, so I'm really thinking about what my characters are thinking and saying. It's crazy what we still say!

Kris Tualla said...
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