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Sunday, March 20, 2016

I Is For Idiom

Although I am several years out of the English Classroom, I have to admit that there are still many, many times that I have been saddened, frustrated, and Outright Irritated by the abuse of The Language. Most often, it is in print (especially egregious are the ever-lowering standards of my once-proud Cleveland Plain Dealer). But many times, while I am out and about in Society, I cannot help but overhear Terribly Substandard Usages of The Language. Lately, I am noticing more and more people who flog and flay simple, common Idioms.

Idioms, you remember, are common expressions that have a figurative or symbolic meaning. These expressions are ages-old and have been part of The Language for quite some time. For example, if you say, "I had no idea that Vern Sandwaddle kicked the bucket last year!", everyone pretty much knows you aren't talking about Vern's athletic prowess. Rather, it's high time you sent the Widow Sandwaddle your condolences.

Here are a few Idioms that I wish Everyday Speakers/Writers would use correctly:

1. Toe The Line NOT "Tow The Line." This idiom has to do with soldiers, probably, lining up precisely in formation. Imagine all the times that schoolchildren or athletes have to stand precisely at a certain mark. Makes more sense than having to haul a rope, which does not call for precision at all.

2. Cut And Dried NOT "Cut And Dry." I will never stop harping about this, and I mention it constantly. It really hurts me physically to see and hear this. I mean it. Why would anyone misuse this? It makes no sense to say, "The case was cut and dry." Every single time I hear it, I want to follow the person and, if not explain it to him/her, make the missing "D" sound. Can you imagine me following someone at the grocery store harping, "Duh, duh, duh! It's DRIED. DRIED. DRIED!"

3. Tide Me Over NOT "Tie Me Over." I not only saw this recently, but I heard it as well. Two ladies in Walgreens were discussing whether to buy two bags of spice-flavoured jellybeans or just one. "I think just the one," said Capris And Windbreaker. "It's enough to Tie Me Over till Sunday when Iris comes." I hope Iris comes armed not only with more spiced jellybeans, but this URL, explaining the origins of TIDE Me Over.

4. Tough Row To Hoe NOT "Tough Road To Hoe." Get ready to hear this one over and over again, not only with regard to The Politics, but also to Basketball, the Neverending Season. I heard it this morning. Why anyone gets this one wrong escapes me, but with so many oddities in dialect and substandard slang, I guess it is to be expected. The metaphor of farming and hoeing a row for planting is pretty self-explanatory here. An argument could be made that hoeing a road is tough as well, but..oh, shut up. (Why would anyone hoe a road?)

Sigh.  That's it.  Now I'm spent.  It is your turn, and do let's stick to Idioms.  (It is the Letter I Post, after all.)  If we wander off into other Language Atrocities, we'll ruin upcoming Posts; I just know it.


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25 comments:

  1. How about the misuse of "begs the question"? In the past week, I heard it misused on PBS and NPR and that stupid Channel 1 station that the kids have to watch. I'm sort of just thinking about giving up and letting it mean what it sounds like. But dammit, how hard is it to say, "That makes me question"???

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    1. TeacherPatti--You know, this particular Idiom is so blatantly and so routinely misused that I can't imagine why it's even around anymore. Seriously. It's quite archaic--an old debating term--and its very phrasing is why it is so abused.

      Of course you are 100% correct, however, and I share your irritation. here is a nice explanation by the NYT about it.

      Basically, Begs The Question = Circular Logic. And yes, just say, "Raises the question" or "It makes me question."

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  2. "I could care less." For one. I also cringe at 'decimate' used to mean a large number destroyed and am putting it in here because people use it as an idiom, the idiots. It is really wrong usage, says the former Latin scholar. Then ther ere the super cute take offs. Like "Mind your own beeswax".

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    1. Mary Gilmour--My, yes. Not strictly an Idiom, but is a Clear And Present Danger to The Language. I have harped on this so often as to have caused Damage to myself. (Jared and I are One in this.)

      And, dearest, I hate to say so as a Defender Of The Language, but Decimate is a Lost Cause to us all. Only the pickiest of the Pickiest will go on waging this battle. It is a One Percenter War, linguistically speaking. I'm not saying you have to wave your own white flag, but you may have to wear a little black armband.

      Mind Your Own Beeswax is one I've not heard in decades. It really has an edge of snark to it. I wonder if it is regional, or if it is more of a generational/time period thing. Perhaps one of my Dear and Astute Readers will assist.

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    2. Hands down, this is one thing that makes me a Crazy Person. If you COULD care less, I beg of you, go on and do it. This may be a deal breaker for me in any future Dating Situation.

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  3. We will never surrender!

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  4. There is a popular story that says back in the 18th and 19th centuries, women who suffered from disfiguring marks left by small pox used beeswax to smooth out their complexion. One suggested theory is that if someone got too close or was staring too long, a woman would say “mind your own beeswax,” as in, “stop staring at mine.” Another is that the beeswax would start to melt if a woman sat too close to the fire, and their companions would have to tell them to “mind their own beeswax” which was dripping off their chins.

    I have to go now. It's time to mop up my chin....

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    1. Nancy--I wondered if this old chestnut might get dragged out. It's simply not true. here's a nice debunking of it, and here is another. By the way, I get lost on the first site, just clicking around and reading things at random. It is one of my favourites.

      Always lovely to see you here, waxy visage or no. ;-)

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  5. The last two examples I agree with you on. But in grade school I was taught that it was: "tow the line." It referred to men who pulled ropes that were attached to canal boats that sometimes got stuck in the mud. The boats needed extra help moving along, so it meant to put extra effort into something as you followed the path.

    And as for "cut and dry" I don't think that I've ever heard anyone say "dried." Not that you aren't right, but why is it "dried?" That is, what is being cut that then cannot "dry?" Does that idiom come from harvesting?

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  6. Ally Bean--I never heard the canal boat story. But I am here to tell you that your teacher misled you sorely. Here is one nice explanation for Toe The Line, and here is another, complete with references.

    As for "cut and dried", they are parallel adjectives. If they are relaying the meaning that something is all said and done/settled and over with, they should both be in the same form, and should convey the meaning that these past actions have occurred. (And that is why there is presently nothing to settle.)

    The original idiom supposedly referred to the habit of cutting and drying herbs and hearkens back to the 1700s. It was found in an early sermon by one of my favourite fire-and-brimstone preachers, Jonathan Edwards, I think, and then again in one of my not-so-favourite writers, Jonathan Swift's poems.

    I'm sure that I am wearing a Black Armband for this one, a la Mary G for Decimate, above. We all have our crosses to bear.

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  7. each one worse than the LAST one, not "each one worse than the NEXT one"
    for all INTENTS AND purposes, not "for all INTENSIVE purposes"
    one AND the same, not "one IN the same"
    It's a MOOT point, not "It's a MUTE point"

    In WI there is an idiom "It's a horse apiece," meaning the same as "six of one, half dozen of the other." I've never heard it outside WI but it was very common there. Someone told me it had its origins in a dice game frequently played in the bars there. And there surely are plenty of bars there.

    "for all

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    1. I have no idea how the last "for all got stuck there. My laptop is doing strange things. I should preview before I publish.

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    2. NCmountainwoman--I've never heard "It's a horse apiece." Ever. I love when something is so specifically regional like that. Fascinating.

      If you use the search box feature at the top of this blog, you can type in Defender of The Language and bring up the posts in which I discussed a few of the above bugaboos. I share your healthy disdain for, especially, Intensive Purposes and Mute Point. Sigh. Of course, now I will hear them today. LOL.

      As to hitting Preview before you publish, please don't bother with that unless it truly eats away at your soul. We will probably puzzle a bit, but then chalk it up to Technical Difficulties in the end.

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  8. We used to say "none of your beeswax" - which sounds like someone mangling "none of your business" (probably on purpose - it was probably first used by Nick and/or Nora - ha!). I think I like that story enough that I'm not going to look up the real one :)

    Just the other day I was thinking that I needed to have a frank discussion with a Facebook friend about her misuse of some phrase or other, but I can't remember what it is. If I see it again, rest assured I'll come right back here & let you know. I do remember one thing she types all the time - Ole My (for oh my!). I've decided that I'm charmed by it.

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    1. Bug--Oh, yes. As snotty little kids, I think we said that, too, and if not to our siblings, to whichever neighborhood kid we felt like being a brat to at the moment.

      You are far more easily charmed than I am. Why anyone would think Oh My was actually "Ole My" is completely beyond me. That would get so far under my skin as to perhaps replace people who type "Walla" or "Walah" when they mean "Voila". That one...that one hurts me. So. Much.

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  9. Along the lines of 'six of one, half a dozen of the other', my FIL used to say, "Same six and four". Which makes exactly no sense to me, but now I find myself saying it sometimes.

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    1. J@jj--Hm. It's certainly shorter! Did you ever ask if it had a "longer version" or if it was a loose translation of an Indian expression?

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    2. No, regrettably I never did, and he died in '93. Ted's family is from Guyana, in South America, which is a melting pot of mostly Indians and Africans, with some Natives thrown in. It's very Carribian, culturally, though I've not heard anyone else use that expression. I'll see Ted's mom this weekend...I'll ask her if she has any idea if it came from somewhere else.

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  10. It makes me cringe when someone says "could of" or "should of" or "would of". HAVE, people. HAVE. You should have known that, and if you would have known it, you could have saved yourself from sounding like a moron. This is, of course, a little different than the idioms mentioned above, but if I didn't say something about it here, I would HAVE regretted it later.

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    1. Jared--Yes, not an idiom. Sigh.

      Hearing this is, for me, not as bad as SEEING it, in all its wrongheaded awfulness, because I can still imagine it being the contraction would've or could've or should've. But in writing, there is no graceful Imagining, for there it is, big and stupid and ugly and horrid. It automatically lessens the credibility of the writer in my eyes and makes him or her look dumber and more common. I'm sure that's not entirely fair, but I cannot help it. It does not mean that this person isn't kind or generous or isn't out there rescuing puppies or building low-cost housing for the poor on the weekends; it means that I am not going to listen to what he or she says with my full respect because I am too distracted by simple usage errors which make him appear to be ignorant.

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  11. Nance..Just today I heard a perfect example of what you are writing about.

    Two fellows were working for a landscaper who was hired to do a Spring Clean-up at my next door neighbor's house.

    One of the guys was not pleased with the other fellow's work and shouted "This job is not going to pass mustard with Jim and he's going to fire you."

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    1. Nancy--Hee hee. Like Gulden's, French's, or Grey Poupon. Sigh. Which reminds me that I actually do need some of the latter when I go to the grocery store today.

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  12. I struggle with this all the time: am I too judgy? Am I a language snob? My degrees are from land-grant state institutions, and I wasn't a Rhodes Scholar, but I still walk around in a constant state of shock at the level of Other People's Language Misuse and wonder if it's an occupational hazard of teaching language. I still remember cringing at a writing prompt that #2's 1st-grade teacher sent home with him, something to the tune of "I was walking down the street one afternoon after school, when, all of the sudden........" #2 is 19 now, and I still remember that paper with painful clarity. Ms. Teacher was a sweet little first-year thing full of energy and positivity and New Methods (and she did, in fact, go on to be an excellent teacher) and was all of 22 or 23. I anguished over what to do about that: leave it alone, or (gently and kindly) call her attention to it? I finally settled for middle of the road and had him include the correctly written prompt in his response. She didn't mark it wrong or correct it, so either she: a) didn't notice, b) noticed but didn't follow up on it, or c) noticed, looked it up, and realized she'd made a mistake, and committed it to memory. It's unlikely that c was the outcome, but you never know. I would have followed up on it if I'd been the one doing the correcting. In my online reading this morning, I ran across a new one that I chalk up to The Era of Ignorant Spellcheck and People Who Do Not Read: "I learned it by wrote." I did actually hang my head in sorrow over that one. It's in the same category as 'racked with grief' (vs 'wracked'). Sigh.

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    1. MsCaroline--Sigh. I know. I. KNOW. It's always a fine line with educators when one is an educator as well. And "all of THE sudden" kills me EVERY TIME. Billions of people say it. BILLIONS. And all of them, it seems, to me. You were wonderfully tactful, and I tried to think of what I would have done, being a practicing teacher at the time in the same system. I would hope that I would have handled it the same way.

      Your other examples are also Sadnesses. Unfortunately, they can be explained rather effectively using examples which seem to make sense (wrote = writing; racked = ancient torture device) even if they do not do so grammatically or in the original idiom.

      Again...SIGH.

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    2. Let me clarify my above comment a bit: "and I tried to think of what I would have done, being a practicing teacher at the time in the same system WHILE MY BOYS WERE ATTENDING GRADE SCHOOL."

      There. That's better!

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Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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