Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category

motion-goal BE

November 23, 2015

Overheard at lunch a few days ago:

(1) We’re going to Puerto Rico for the holidays; I’ve never been.

My first interpretation of the (elliptical) second clause was as

(2) I’ve never been to Puerto Rico.

with what I’ll call “motion-goal BE” in the pattern:

(3) HAVE been [PP to PLACE ]

where the lexical item BE is a motion verb, roughly glossable as ‘go’, so that (3) conveys ‘HAVE gone to PLACE’. Think of Charlene singing

(4) Ooh I’ve been to Georgia and California, and, anywhere I could run
…  I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me

(I’ll get to Charlene in a while. Meanwhile, you can hear her singing “I’ve Never Been to Me” by going to this YouTube site. Note: opinions about this song are strongly polarized: many people think it’s one of the world’s worst songs, while others think it provides wonderful advice about attending to your feelings. Please: I am not soliciting opinions here.)

Or with past perfect rather than present perfect:

(5) I realized that I’d been to Georgia and not eaten a single peach.

There’s a lot to be said about motion-goal BE, beyond its having BE as a motion verb.


cowboy up!

November 6, 2015

Recently run across by accident, a reference to a Kindle “book” (apparently a self-published manuscript) entitled “How to cowboy up and stop being such a pussy” by “Max Powerz”. The author’s description:

A much needed guide for many men who have evolved into being unable to change a tire, cook a steak, kill a rodent, or God forbid, say a naughty word..

And the cover:


Note the pink panties, a symbol of what happens to the man who doesn’t cowboy up. The dreaded specter of feminization.

The idiom cowboy up here seems to be man up on steroids. (On man up, see this posting of 8/11/13.)


Morning: the call of nature

October 13, 2015

Yesterday’s morning expression on awakening (with a need to answer the call of nature) was not exactly a name, but, well, the NP the call of nature. That led to the product Serutan — that is a name — and, in another direction, to the PP against nature, which I’ll reserve for another day.

Basic dictionary work. From NOAD2:

call of nature  used euphemistically to refer to a need to urinate or defecate.

and AHD5:

A need to urinate or defecate. Often used with answer: He left the room to answer the call of nature.

Idiom dictions are roughly similar, and some offer nature’s call as an alternative.


Two New Yorker cartoons

October 9, 2015

Two recent cartoons: a Zach Kanin on the male body in cartoons (in the 9/28 issue), a Liam Francis Walsh on social media (in the 10/5 issue):





September 13, 2015

On the 11th, Mark Liberman returned to the expression could care less on Language Log, thanks to an xkcd cartoon that day, which I reproduce here:

He uses the expression as an implicitly negative idiom, conveying something like couldn’t care less, but a bit more compactly. She peeves at him, he analyzes what she might be doing with her peeve, and eventually he uses the idiom to her.


All things shark

August 24, 2015

Heavy advertisement on cable tv for the summer-end event Shweekend (Shark Weekend — somehow, sharks provoke portmanteaus) on the Discovery Channel.


(The poster plays on the film title Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!)


Setting up a pun

July 20, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, with a setup for a pun on the idiom level playing field:

Hard to believe that Ruthie would have come to this on her own; she’s just serving as a channel for the cartoonist’s language play.

the old college try

July 1, 2015

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes:

As on other occasions, Calvin asks his father an information question and gets a less than useful response. In this case, the meaning of the old college try is clear, but its history is not quite so clear.


A truncated idiom

June 4, 2015

From the 5/30 Economist, in “Republicans in name aussi” on Nicolas Sarkozy:

Even if the relaunch succeeds, however, Mr Sarkozy will have his work cut out.

Pretty clearly, the intention here is to convey ‘will have his work cut out for him’, that is ‘will have difficulty completing his work’, with the idiom have one’s work cut out for one, but here in a truncated variant. The shorter variant is simply not possible for me, though I can figure it out. It turns out that the shorter variant is specifically British. (Remember that the Economist is a British publication.)


Sources and saucers

May 27, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, with Ruthie once again rummaging in her mental lexicon:

The homey and familiar saucers takes over for the rarer sources, in the idiom have one’s sources.


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