Category Archives: Phrases

Amusing Musings on Language

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAs word lover Richard Lederer pointed out in one of his books, the English language is crazy. Lederer observes, “to explore the paradoxes and vagaries of English, we find that hot dogs can be cold, darkrooms can be lit, homework can be done in school, nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can take place at night, tomboys are girls and midwives can be men, hours — especially happy hours and rush hours — often last longer than sixty minutes, quicksand works very slowly, boxing rings are square, silverware and glasses can be made of plastic and tablecloths of paper… and most bathrooms don’t have any baths in them.” You get the idea.

Lederer’s book inspired Josh White Jr.’s song “English is Crazy” (most people are familiar with folk singer Pete Seeger’s version, plays on banjo). Of course, Lederer’s waggish observations are not lost on comedians who mine the vast English lexicon for words and phrases that make you scratch your head and utter “WTF.” Two of the most brilliant comedians who placed the English language under the comedy microscope are George Carlin and Stephen Wright. Here are some of the most amusing musings on the English language, many from Carlin and Wright.

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

How can a fat chance and slim chance be the same thing?

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where is the self-help section?” She said that if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

If a deaf kid swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?

If a turtle loses its shell is it naked or homeless?

If con is the opposite of pro, is congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so safe, why is the airport called ‘terminal’?

If people can have triplets and quadruplets why not singlets and doublets?

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

I went to a restaurant that “serves breakfast at any time” so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.

Is Atheism a non-prophet organization?

Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do “practice?”

I saw a sign that said “Coming soon — a 24-hour restaurant.” Why would they open and close it so quickly?

I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.

The reason the mainstream is thought of as a stream is because of its shallowness.

What’s another word for thesaurus?

Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all?”

Why are there braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?

Why is that when stars are out, they’re visible, but when the lights are out, they’re invisible?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Why are boxing rings square?

Why do we drive on a parkway but park in a driveway?

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?

Why don’t you ever see the headline, “Psychic Wins Lottery”?

Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t phonetics spelled phonetically?

Would a fly that loses its wings be called a “walk?”

Read related posts: The English Language is Crazy
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of George Carlin
Top Ten Puns

For further reading: Brain Droppings by George Carlin
Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Languageby Richard Lederer
Lederer on Language: A Celebration of English, Good Grammar, and Wordplay by Richard Lederer


What is a Malaphor?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA malaphor is a mixed idiom or mixed metaphor (or to use the more formal term, catachresis). It is a portmanteau word formed by combining malapropism (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding word; for example “butt naked” rather than “buck naked” or “for all intensive purposes” rather than “for all intents and purposes” ) and metaphor (a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable; for example: “walking on thin ice”). A malapropism is also known as an eggcorn, a word coined by Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist (based on the misuse of “egg corn” instead of “acorn”). Most often, people muddle idioms in speech and since spellcheckers don’t catch these pesky things, they slip into text and print. Here are some common malaphors sure to delight:

A loose tongue spoils the broth.

Don’t judge a book before it’s hatched.

Every cloud has a silver spoon in its mouth.

From now on, I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tuned comb.

Going to hell in a hen basket.

He is a little green behind the ears.

He received a decease and desist order.

He was watching me like I was a hawk.

He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.

He’s burning the midnight oil from both ends.

He’s like a duck out of water.

He’s not the one with his ass in a noose.

I can read him like the back of my book.

I have a lot of black sheep in my closet.

I hope he gets his curve ball straightened out.

I shot the wind out of his saddle.

It sticks out like a sore throat.

It will be a walk in the cake.

It’s all moth-eared.

It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.

It’s like looking for a needle in a hayride.

It’s not rocket surgery.

It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look him in the eye.

It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.

I wouldn’t be caught dead there with a ten-foot pole.

I wouldn’t eat that with a ten-foot pole.

I’ll get it by hook or ladder.

People are dying like hotcakes.

Take a flying hike.

That train has left the frying pan.

The crutch of the matter.

The fan is gonna hit the roof.

These hemorrhoids are a real pain in the neck.

They’re diabolically opposed.

Until the cows come home to roost.

Until the pigs freeze over.

We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.

We have to get all our ducks on the same page.

We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

You can’t change the spots on an old dog.

You can’t teach a leopard new spots.

You can’t go in there cold turkey with egg on your face.

You could have knocked me over with a fender.

Read related posts: Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading: Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms by Robert Rubin
http://www.jimcarlton.com/my_favorite_mixed_metaphors.htm
http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/05/malaphors/?utm_source=Jun01-17&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=odo-newsletter&utm_content=malaphors-blogpost-toppanel


What is the Pinocchio Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThere are so many lies coming out of Washington D.C. — each day alternative facts, fake news, misrepresentations, and misstatements are colliding with one another at such a dizzying pace, like atoms colliding, resulting in a spectacular explosion of bullshit that blocks out even the tiniest glimpse of reality. Even seasoned White House correspondents are scrambling for different ways of referring to all this bullshit by using different euphemisms like balderdash, baloney, booty chatter, bull honky, bunk, canard, cock and bull story, codswallop, concoction, crock, falsehood, fib, fiction, fish story, flapdoodle, hogwash, hokum, hooey, horse manure, inveracity, jiggery-pokery, malarkey, misrepresentation, misstatement, moonshine, piffle, pish posh, poppycock, prevarication, prevarication, rubbish, stretcher, tall tale, twaddle, untruth, whopper. Whew! All of this lying would even make Pinocchio’s little wooden head spin.

Speaking of Pinocchio — when discussing lies and lying, psychologists refer to the Pinocchio effect. No, the Pinocchio effect does not refer to the lengthening of the nose described in the famous children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881) by Carlo Collodi (otherwise most politicians could not fit through standard doorways without turning sideways). In science, the Pinocchio effect describes the increase in temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the corner of the eye when a person lies. In a pioneering study conducted in 2012, researchers at the University of Granada, Emilio Gómez Milán and Elvira Salazar López, used thermographic cameras to measure temperature on the face of human subjects. When a person performs considerable mental effort (eg., being interrogated or lying), the overall temperature of his or her face drops (except around the nose and corner of the eyes); however, when a person experiences anxiety, overall face temperature rises. The researchers elaborate: “When we lie about our feelings, the temperature around our nose raises and a brain element called insula is activated. The insula is a component of the brain reward system, and it only activates when we experience real feelings (called qualias). The insula is involved in the detection and regulation of body temperature. Therefore, there is a strong negative correlation between insula activity and temperature increase: the more active the insule (the greater the feeling) the lower the temperature change, and vice versa.”

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
There’s A Word for That: Trumpery
Words Related to Trump
What are the Most Common Lies on Social Media?
What is the Big Lie?

For further reading: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203081834.htm
https://forsythstories.com/2017/01/28/36-euphemisms-for-lie-white-house-correspondents-can-use/


Phrases That Cannot Be Translated Literally

alex atkins bookshelf phrases“Most of the world’s languages have phrases or sentences that cannot be understood literally,” writes lexicographer Richard Spears. “Even if you know all the words in a phrase and understand all the grammar… the meaning may still be elusive. A phrase or sentence of this type is said to be idiomatic.” American English, being so idiomatic, causes a lot of confusion for second language learners. Imagine their horror when they hear that someone is “trying to bury the hatchet” with another person; or a person states “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” The actual meaning of those phrases is lost in translation; of course, English speakers know they have nothing to do with hatchets or horses. But how is an English language learner supposed to know that?

The English language, however, does not have a monopoly on phrases that when translated literally seem, well idiotic. Just ask the translators involved with the Open Translation Project, who translate TED Talks into over 100 languages. They were asked to share their favorite idiomatic phrases, or phrases that cannot be translated literally. Use at your own peril (idiom followed by literal translation, followed by actual meaning):

German Idioms
Idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Translated literally: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
Actual Meaning: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.”

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
“I only understand the train station.”
“I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.’”

Die Katze im Sack kaufen.
“To buy a cat in a sack.”
That a buyer purchased something without inspecting it first.

French Idioms 
Avaler des couleuvres.
“To swallow grass snakes.”
“It means being so insulted that you’re not able to reply.” 

Sauter du coq à l’âne.
“To jump from the cock to the donkey.”
“It means to keep changing topics without logic in a conversation.” 

Se regarder en chiens de faïence.
“To look at each other like earthenware dogs.”
“Basically, to look at each other coldly, with distrust.” 

Les carottes sont cuites!
“The carrots are cooked!”
“The situation can’t be changed.”

Swedish Idioms
Det är ingen ko på isen
“There’s no cow on the ice.”
“There’s no need to worry. 

Att glida in på en räkmacka
“To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.”
“somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.”

Det föll mellan stolarna
“It fell between chairs.”
“It’s an excuse you use when a person was supposed to do something, and forgot to do it.”

Russian Idioms
Галопом по Европам
“Galloping across Europe.”
“To do something hastily, haphazardly.”

На воре и шапка горит
“The thief has a burning hat.”
“He has an uneasy conscience that betrays itself.”

Хоть кол на голове теши
“You can sharpen with an ax on top of this head.”
“He’s a very stubborn person.”

The idiom: брать/взять себя в руки
“To take oneself in one’s hands.”
“to pull yourself together.”

Portuguese Idioms
Quem não se comunica se trumbica
“He who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.”
“He who doesn’t communicate gets into trouble.”’

Quem não tem cão caça com gato
“He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.”
“You make the most of what you’ve got.” Basically, you do what you need to do, with what the resources you have. 

Empurrar com a barriga
“To push something with your belly.”
“To keep postponing an important chore.”

Pagar o pato
“Pay the duck.”
“To take the blame for something you did not do.”

Polish Idioms
Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
“Did an elephant stomp on your ear?”
 “You have no ear for music.”

Bułka z masłem.
“It’s a roll with butter.”
“It’s really easy.”

Z choinki się urwałaś?
“Did you fall from a Christmas tree?”
“You are not well informed, and it shows.”

Read related posts: Words Related to Trump
Resume Euphemisms
What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels
The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations

For further reading: http://blog.ted.com/40-idioms-that-cant-be-translated-literally/


Euphemisms for Death

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere is so much death in Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps the Bard could have softened the blow of death by using something a bit lighter. What if Hamlet had said, “For in that sleep when thou hast been permanently out of print what dreams may come/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, \ Must give us pause.” Or “For in that sleep when thou art basting the formaldehyde turkey what dreams may come…” There are so many euphemisms for “death’ — surely the Bard could have used any of these colorful expressions:

Angels carried him/her away
Assume room temperature

Ate it
At peace

At rest
Baste the formaldehyde turkey
Become living-challenged
Beyond the grave

Beyond the veil
Bite the dust
Bite the big one
Blow someone’s brains out
Born asleep
Bought the farm

Breathe one’s last
Brown bread
Buy the farm
Cash in one’s chips
Candyman
Charon
Checking out the grass from underneath

Come to a sticky end
Counting worms
Croak
Crossed over

Crossed the Jordan
Crossing the river Styx

Curtains/final curtain
Dead as a dodo
Dead as a doornail
Death by Misadventure
Departed

Depart this life
Destroyed/to be destroyed
Die with one’s boots on
Didn’t make it
Done for
Drop dead
Drop like flies
Euthanasia
Expired

Exterminate
Fading away
Fall off one’s perch
Flatline

Food for worms
Free one’s horses
Genocide
Gave/give up the ghost
Go to a better place
Go over the Big Ridge
Go bung
Go for a Burton
Go to Davy Jones’s locker
Go to the big gig in the sky
Go home in a box
Go out with one’s boots on/with a bang/in style
Go to, or head for, the last roundup
Go to one’s reward
Go to one’s watery grave
Go to a Texas cakewalk
Go to the happy hunting ground

Go the way of all flesh
Go west
The Grim Reaper
Hand in one’s dinner pail
Have bought it
Have one foot in the grave
Hitching a ride in the hearse

Hop on the last rattler
Hop the twig
In Abraham’s bosom
Join the choir invisible
Join the great majority
Juggling halos

Justifiable Homicide
Kick/kicked the bucket
Kick the calendar
Killed In Action (KIA)
King of Terrors
Kiss that arse goodbye
Live on a farm (upstate)
Living impaired

Lose one’s life
Make the ultimate sacrifice
Matricide
Meet one’s maker
Murder Death Kill (MDK)
Night
Not long for this world
Not with us anymore
Off on a boat
Off the hooks
On one’s deathbed
On one’s last legs
One’s hour has come
One’s number is up
On the heavenly shores

Pass away
Pass in one’s alley
Patricide
Pay the ultimate price
Paying a debt to nature

Peg out
Permanently out of print

Pop one’s clogs
Promoted to Glory
Push up daisies
Put down/put to sleep
Put one to the sword
Rainbow Bridge
Ride the pale horse
Riding the hearse

Send one to Eternity or to the Promised Land
Sent/go to the farm
Shade
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Six feet under
Sleeps/sleeping with the fishes
Snuff it
Struck down
Suicide
Swimming with concrete shoes
Take/taking a dirt nap
Take a last bow
Take the last train to glory.
Take one’s life
Top yourself
Traded to the angels
Turn up one’s toes

Until one’s dying day
Up and die
Wearing cement boots

Wearing a pine overcoat (i.e. a wooden coffin)
Wearing a toe tag

Winning one for the reaper
Wiped out…way up..
With one’s last breath
Worm food
Yield up the ghost

Read related posts: Synonyms for Said
Synonyms for Bullshit

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Best English Dictionary

For further reading: http://www.you-can-be-funny.com/Euphemisms-For-Death.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_expressions_related_to_death#cite_note-cambridge-1


Phrases and Idioms Related to Eggs

There are many phrases in English that use the literal and metaphorical concept of the egg. Everyone is familiar with the idiom “don’t put your eggs in one basket” — but don’t tell that to the editors of dictionaries (presumably all good eggs), who have literally put all their words into one dictionary. Eggsactly. Since you can’t make a list without turning some pages, here are some common and rare egg-related idioms phrases found by thumbing through the dictionary:

 

A bad egg: a bad or dishonest person

A curate’s egg: something that is partly good and bad

A good egg: an agreeable or pleasant person

As alike on eggs: synonym of “peas in a pod”; resembling one another

As sure as eggs is eggs (often shortened to “safe as eggs”): definitely

Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow: synonym of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” It is better to have a sure thing now rather than the possibility of more later

Butter-and-egg man: a prosperous businessman from a small town; a farmer who spends money lavishly when visiting the big city

Chicken and egg: a situation in which it is difficult or impossible to say which of two things existed first and which caused the other one

Egg on one’s face: humiliation; appearing ridiculous or foolish

Nest egg: money saved for an emergency or retirement

To egg on: to encourage

To kill the goose that lays the golden egg: to destroy the reliable source of one’s income

To lay an egg: to fail horribly, especially in front of an audience

To put all one’s eggs in one basket: to risk everything on the success of a single venture

Walk on eggshells: to walk, speak, or act very cautiously

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs: one cannot accomplish something without adverse effects elsewhere

Read related posts: Words Related to Trump
Resume Euphemisms
What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations

For further reading: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/10/egg-idioms/?utm_source=Mar10-17&utm_campaign=od-newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=eggs-blogpost-fourthpanel-right
http://www.dictionary.com


Words Related to Trump

atkins bookshelf wordsIn a short period of time, President Donald Trump and his daily tweets — many filled with ad hominem attacks, accusations, and alternative views and facts — has baffled, exasperated, and outraged both parties, political pundits, not to mention people across the nation and around the globe. But a review of all the Trump-related words leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the man is simply living up to his name. And even more interestingly (or disturbingly, depending on your point of view), Trump is trying to out trump Trump. Take a look at the list of trump words and you be the judge.

trump (noun): a trumpet or trumpet blast

trump (verb): to beat someone by doing or saying something

trumps: the suit having the rank above the others in a particular hand

trump card: a valuable resource that can only be used once, especially as a surprise, in order to gain a distinct advantage 

trump something up: to invent a false accusation

trumped-up: false or fabricated

trumpery: something that is of little worth or quality; something that is fraudulent

trumpet (noun): a brass musical instrument with a flared bell and a loud, penetrating tone

trumpet (verb): to proclaim loudly or widely

trumpet call: a rousing summons to take action

Individually or taken as a whole, the aforementioned words and phrases are apt descriptions of Trump. But there is something oddly familiar about Trump, as if he stepped out of a Dickens novel. Indeed, the man is so overwhelmingly Dickensian — a jumble of odd characteristics (the large frame with small hands, the jutting eyebrows, steely eyes, the pursed lips revealing clenched overbleached teeth, orange complexion, and the dramatic combover that turns into a golden jagged sail at the slightest breeze), idiosyncrasies, distinctive hand gestures, and cadence that provide great fodder for parody and ridicule by comedians, editorial cartoonists, and pundits. And just like some of Dickens’ greatest characters (think Fagin, Scrooge, Havisham, Marley, Pickwick, Podsnap, and Uriah Heep), Trump, through his actions and words, has unwittingly defined his own word — Trumpian. The word will undoubtedly endure far longer than his rocky and controversial administration.

Trumpian: resembling the the style, rhetoric, and philosophy of Donald Trump; a person who possesses some or all of the following traits: avaricious, belligerent, boastful, bombastic, capricious, demagogic, dictatorial, hypocritical, impulsive, intimidating, misogynistic, narcissistic, perfidious, petulant, pretentious, reckless, self-righteous, self-destructive, thin-skinned, undisciplined, untrustworthy, vain, and vengeful

Related words: Trumpish, Trumpesque

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Trumpery
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