Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category

The diner and the definite article

March 31, 2014

Today’s Zippy:


Yes, the diner is just called The Diner. But it’s easy to find:


Triple play

March 30, 2014

Three varied cartoons fot the day: Rhymes With Orange, Pearls Before Swine, Dilbert.


Faint damns, faint praises

March 6, 2014

On Facebook on the 4th, this charming story from Sally Thomason:

Back in about 1964, when I was in graduate school at Yale, I was moaning and groaning during one of our regular tea-time gatherings about a test I thought I’d blown in Warren Cowgill’s Indo-European class. Warren listened fairly patiently for a bit and then starting saying almost inaudibly, “damn damn damn damn damn damn.” I stopped complaining and asked him what on earth he was doing. “I’m praising you with faint damns,” he said. — Fast forward to today: Rich [Thomason, Sally's husband] just showed me p. 206 of a fantasy novel he’s reading, Point of Hopes, by Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett: “That Rathe seemed to think well of him, or at least to praise him with faint damns, was something of a reassurance…”. Probably the authors weren’t plagiarizing from Warren, because I know they weren’t in the Linguistics tea room on the third floor of the Hall of Graduate Studies in 1964. (Probably Warren wasn’t the first person to have said this either, of course. But this is only the second time I’ve heard it.)

I noted this an inversion of damning with faint praise and suggested that it was older that Warren Cowgill’s use. (I also missed Warren, who died in 1985.) Now some details. (more…)

Commit to the bit

March 6, 2014

Today’s Zits:


There’s a lot of fun in there — I’m fond of Michisota, in particular, and the idea that Pierce’s fake ID has him as female — but here I’m looking at the rhyming slang idiom commit to the bit, which was new to me (hey, I’m an old man). From context, it seems to convey something like ‘embrace whole-heartedly’. But I’d welcome comments from native speakers.

Swamp Thing

March 1, 2014

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a pun and an inter-comic reference:


The pun is easy: lawn face / long face (based on the idiom have a long face ‘look sad’). Then there’s the cultural allusion to Swamp Thing.


by the each

January 31, 2014

Passed on by Ken Rudolph on Facebook, this image from the Bro My God website:


As Chris Ambidge noted on Facebook, by the each is something of a surprise, though it turns out that there are other examples in commercial settings. Normally you’d expect just each or apiece, or per item. At least one site suggests that it might be a calque on an idiom in another language.


More “How are you?”

January 25, 2014

Following up on my posting on “How are you?” (and the answer “(I’m) fine”): mail to the NYT. A response much like mine, but more detailed, from linguist Deborah Tannen, and another peeve about conventional idioms of social life. (more…)

“I’m fine”

January 22, 2014

In the NYT on the 20th, a piece ,”The ‘How Are You?’ Culture Clash” by Aline Simone, on a difference between Russian and American conversational patterns, having to do with the question “How are you?” and the answers it gets.


Invisible in Eureka

December 10, 2013

Today’s Zippy, with an invisible Zippy haunting Eureka CA (plus a note on the idiom bucket list):



More Pig literalism

November 30, 2013

Today’s Pearls Before Swine, in a long series:

Once again, Pig takes an expression (boots on the ground) literally.


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