Category: idioms

Talking the hind legs off a donkey: How idioms originate

Last night while watching an excellent wildlife programme, I saw an antelope give birth, apparently a two-hour stint, to get the eager youngster out.

While I was engrossed in the final minutes, a friend called and took away my attention. She was complaining about her friend who talks the hind legs off a donkey. While doing that, she was guilty of the same offence – and I wanted to get back to ‘my’ antelope.

Last roll of the dice: how idioms are used

It’s all fair in love and war and friendship too.

I felt I was losing ground with a friend and that we would soon be going our own separate ways, so I asked her to do something for me which would require her to commit to making an effort in a very specific way.

A new take on money laundering

This week while editing an academic text, my hawkish eyes fell upon the phrase money laundry. The esteemed professor had made a typographical error. I smiled quietly to myself as images of ‘money laundry’ flooded my imagination.

Of Sackcloth and Ashes: How idioms originate

Chinese mourners wear sackcloth

This week I discovered a ‘delightful’ idiom in the novel Sophie’s Bakery for the Broken Hearted by New York Times Best Selling Author, Lolly Winston – sackcloth and ashes. I’ve read too far ahead to give you the context, but I made a mental note to make it the subject of my blog.

 

All the research indicates that wearing sackcloth and ashes is a sign of mourning, contrition or remorse – repentance for something you feel badly about.

Sackcloth and ashes defined by:

The Free Dictionary:  a display of extreme remorse or repentance or grief

Collins: – a public display of extreme grief, remorse, or repentance

Merriam Webster: to publicly express or show sorrow or regret for having done something wrong

And its origins? According to pharases.org.uk, “It was an ancient Hebrew custom to wear sackcloth dusted with or accompanied by ashes as a sign of humbleness in religious ceremonies.” From “The Dictionary of Cliches” by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

Gotquestions.com explains: “Sackcloth and ashes were used in Old Testament times as a symbol of debasement, mourning, and/or repentance. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and put ashes on top of his head. Sackcloth was a coarse material usually made of black goat’s hair, making it quite uncomfortable to wear. The ashes signified desolation and ruin.

“When someone died, the act of putting on sackcloth showed heartfelt sorrow for the loss of that person. We see an example of this when David mourned the death of Abner, the commander of Saul’s army (2 Samuel 3:31). Jacob also demonstrated his grief by wearing sackcloth when he thought his son Joseph had been killed (Genesis 37:34). These instances of mourning for the dead mention sackcloth but not ashes.

Daily Bible Study provides the quotes:

“Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.” (Genesis 37:34 RSV) (see Coat Of Many Colors)

“Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Rend your clothes, and gird on sackcloth, and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier.” (2 Samuel 3:31 RSV)

In modern usage, the phrase is used more loosely. For example, Richard has been seen in nothing but sackcloth and ashes since his wife left him, which describes his emotional state.

For me, the meaning is literal. Sackcloth and ashes are all I’ll be able to afford if I continue to work for free and underquote my services!

A pig in a poke

Pig out
Picture credit: Suzanne Tucker

Should you be interested in investments to the point that you  start reading books about them, don’t be surprised to find the term ‘a pig in a poke’.

When you see this idiom, you could think that the author is referring to something that occurred that was not quite to his liking or something that did not quite measure up to his expectations.

Know how to use rain, rein and reign

woman wearing black long sleeved blazer on white horse
Photo by Laila Klinsmann on Pexels.com

It’s spring in South Africa and in the season’s first flush, we had a smattering of rain.

That’s the stuff of celebration.

What’s not to celebrate is the state of our country’s newspapers.

No leg to stand on: How idioms originate

 

 

 

 

 

Having suffered a leg injury in December I could not walk and could not drive. I was practically immobile. In my static state I had plenty of time to think. I was reminded that everything that happens in the body is a result of what is happening in the mind.

After and Before: Disruptors are the new cool

Team work is bliss

Today I invite you to look at a piece of work I did some years ago.

In the spirit of disruption an after and before. Have you noticed how disruptors are the new cool? Anything or anyone who disrupts the normal way of doing things gets the kudos, the fan base and the stand-up-and-take-a-look response that is expected. Now let’s dispense with tradition and turn it upside down.

So this is how it’s going to go.

Take the log out of your eye and other idioms

I was recently at an Editing for Inclusivity workshop which aimed to address racial, gender and all other kinds of stereotyping that fills our communication to an embarrassing extent.

 

This applies in both written and verbal exchanges, only easier to forget and forgive when stated verbally.

 

In an effort to make workshop attendants better editors, in one exercise, we scrutinised a blog ‘The pot calling the kettle black’

In the racially charged environment, such that South Africa presents, it was considered extremely bad taste.   The essence of the blog, was the current president accusing the former president of something he failed to address, the author stating that the current president had done no better.

Suffice to say, use of the word ‘black’ stirred racial angst and the blog drew more than its fair share of flak. Some even said all idioms referencing colour should be dropped from the English language.

I would not like to see that happen. But what I can suggest is that writers avoid the use of insensitive idioms that could offend certain groups, and opt for others that mean the same thing. The English language has a vast array of idioms and finding an alternative cannot be that difficult.

She (the blogger) could have gone with “Take the log out of your eye before you look to take the speck out of mine.”

This has seen many incarnations with the ‘log’ being substituted with beam, etc

Here are some:

  • English Standard Version

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

  • Berean Study Bible

You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

  • Berean Literal Bible

Hypocrite! First cast out the beam from your eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter from the eye of your brother.

  • King James Bible

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

More

 

This idiom means that people are quick to see faults in others that they fail to see in themselves.

Isn’t this a human failing many of us are guilty of? And yet the blogger was trying to say the president is a hypocrite for failing to see the error of his own ways, while quick to point out the failings of the former man at the helm.

When all else fails, drop the idiom and use the phrase as you intend it to be understood. Better safe than sorry.

How to keep your powder dry in the 21st century. Idioms from the military

Do horses eat loose fern? A statement on reporting standards

Why is the world your oyster?

 

 

 

How to keep your powder dry in the 21st century. Idioms from the military

Keeping one’s options open, is an overused phrase in today’s demanding lifestyle. But its non-committal tone, sounds like its primary use would be by people suffering from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.

 

I was staggered then, when my husband referred to his military training while discussing our travel plans. He said, “I’m trying to work out how to keep my powder dry.” I gave him that ‘lost the plot’ look as I’m the literary part of this coupling and he, the practical.  But when he explained its origin to gun powder I had to sit up and take note.

Hence, Wikipedia enlightens: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry. … “Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is a maxim attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but which first appeared in 1834 in the poem “Oliver’s Advice” by William Blacker with the words “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!”

The Phrase Finder says the idiom means to be prepared and save your resources until they are needed.

Its origin is from the allusion to gunpowder which soldiers had to keep dry to be ready to fight when required. This advice reputedly originated with Oliver Cromwell during his campaign in Ireland. In Ballads of Ireland, 1856, Edward Hayes wrote:

“There is a well-authenticated anecdote of Cromwell. On a certain occasion, when his troops were about crossing a river to attack the enemy, he concluded an address, couched in the usual fanatic terms in use among them, with these words – ‘put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry’.”

19th century citations of the phrase invariably give the full version – trust in God and keep your powder dry. This emphasises that ‘keep your powder dry’ was seen only as an additional insurance. This is made clear in a piece from The Times Literary Supplement, 1908:

“In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/217500.html

Finedictionary.com says it means ‘to remain cautious and ready for a possible emergency.’

The dictionary has a list of examples of its use in literature but does not provide dates in all instances.

  • We’ll crouch against the wall, Ned, and keep our rifles, powder and ourselves as dry as possible.” The Texan Star” by Joseph A. Altsheler
  • Keep your powder dry, and trust in Providence, is the motto of the wise. “The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow” by Jerome K. Jerome
  • So long as the enemy sticks to the wood all we can do is to wait and keep our powder dry.” In the Field (1914-1915)” by Marcel Dupont. http://www.finedictionary.com/Keep%20the%20powder%20dry.html

Now I’m glad I have a military reference for the next time I have to be indecisive and weigh up my options before making a commitment.

Can you meet me at Wednesday at 3pm? “Well, I’m keeping my powder dry and I can only confirm on Wednesday morning,” I’ll say.

Keeping one’s options open, is an overused phrase in today’s demanding lifestyle. But its non-committal tone, sounds like its primary use would be by people suffering from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.

I was staggered then, when my husband referred to his military training while discussing our travel plans. He said, “I’m trying to work out how to keep my powder dry.” I gave him that ‘lost the plot’ look as I’m the literary part of this coupling and he, the practical.  But when he explained its origin to gun powder I had to sit up and take note.

Hence, Wikipedia enlightens: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry. … “Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is a maxim attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but which first appeared in 1834 in the poem “Oliver’s Advice” by William Blacker with the words “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!”

The Phrase Finder says the idiom means to be prepared and save your resources until they are needed.

Its origin is from the allusion to gunpowder which soldiers had to keep dry to be ready to fight when required. This advice reputedly originated with Oliver Cromwell during his campaign in Ireland. In Ballads of Ireland, 1856, Edward Hayes wrote:

“There is a well-authenticated anecdote of Cromwell. On a certain occasion, when his troops were about crossing a river to attack the enemy, he concluded an address, couched in the usual fanatic terms in use among them, with these words – ‘put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry’.”

19th century citations of the phrase invariably give the full version – trust in God and keep your powder dry. This emphasises that ‘keep your powder dry’ was seen only as an additional insurance. This is made clear in a piece from The Times Literary Supplement, 1908:

“In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/217500.html

Finedictionary.com says it means ‘to remain cautious and ready for a possible emergency.’

The dictionary has a list of examples of its use in literature but does not provide dates in all instances.

  • We’ll crouch against the wall, Ned, and keep our rifles, powder and ourselves as dry as possible.” The Texan Star” by Joseph A. Altsheler
  • Keep your powder dry, and trust in Providence, is the motto of the wise. “The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow” by Jerome K. Jerome

Now I’m glad I have a military reference for the next time I have to be indecisive and weigh up my options before making a commitment.

Can you meet me at Wednesday at 3pm? “Well, I’m keeping my powder dry and I can only confirm on Wednesday morning,” I’ll say.