Idioms postings


AZBlog postings on idioms. The initial file was prepared by Kim Darnell.

9/30/09: Short shot #14: wet toes: Short shot #14: wet toes

How to classify the idiom get one’s toes wet? It’s probably not an eggcorn. It could be an variant of get one’s feet wet or a blend of that and another watery idiom: dip one’s toe(s) in the water.

11/2/09: a rat’s assa rat’s ass

English has a collection of negative-polarity idiom frames with minimal direct objects involving an assortment of conventionalized nouns. The fillers for the slots are mostly nouns referring to ‘small, valueless, or contemptible’ things, including the popular rat’s ass.

2/2/10: Child meets idiom: Child meets idiom

In response to her mother’s statement that, “(Dried apricots) will stick to your teeth something terrible,” AMZ’s granddaughter wondered, “What thing terrible?”

2/8/10: Going to something and ruin: Going to something and ruin

There are three entries in the OED for different items (go to) X and ruin, glossed roughly as “destruction,” in such examples: wrack, rack, and wreck.

5/5/10: Short shots #44: Money talks: Short shots #44: Money talks

Money can actually talk, at least according to Patricia Marx’s Shouts & Murmurs” column ‘The Money Whisperer’ in the May 3 New Yorker.

6/12/10: Deathly idioms: Deathly idioms

From Rhymes With Orange, vultures feasting on idioms related to death

6/25/10: Cartoons for the weekend: Cartoons for the weekend

Three language-related cartoons: a Zippy, a Zits, and a Bizarro.

[Ben Zimmer, On Language column in the NYT, 9/5/10: On Language column

idioms man up, cowboy upnut up, sack up, etc.]

11/24/10: Vernacular writing: Vernacular writing

Via the Language Log, a Dinosaur Comics cartoon with commentary by the cartoonist, entitled “WHAT ARE THE HAPS MY FRIENDS”. Of note are haps being as syntactically (as well as morphologically) plural and the lack of punctuation.

1/10/11: horses: horses

A Dinosaur Comics cartoon explores how challenging it would be to update idioms that feature horses, in part because there are so many.

1/26/11: a dime a dozen: a dime a dozen

The idiom (be) a dime a dozen‘ is used to mean “common, easy to  find, cheap, almost worthless.” What is especially odd is that it can be used with singular objects (e.g, “My hat is a dime a dozen).

3/29/11: Unable to help: Unable to help

The English idiom meaning “to be unable to do otherwise than” takes many forms, including could not help+ BSE, as well as cannot but, cannot help, and cannot help but, which also takes in variants with can’tcould not, and couldn’t in the first slot.

4/16/11: Wonderful spam: Wonderful spam

A humorous 1940s ad about getting up in the morning for Spam.

5/21/11: On the idiom watch: On the idiom watch

Regarding the wonderful French idiom chaud lapin ‘hot rabbit’, which builds on the belief that male rabbits are intensely driven to engage in sexual activity

6/22/11: It doesn’t always stay in Vegas: It doesn’t always stay in Vegas

When something is destined to end badly, it is sometimes said that It will (all) end in tears.

7/17/11: Idioms: got your back: Idioms: got your back

A stick figure cartoon of the idiom I got your back finds humor in taking the idiom literally.

7/17/11: More on idioms: More on idioms

Idiom-centered t-shirts from the mental_floss store

7/17/11: More on Google+: More on Google+

The webcomic Cyanide and Happiness leads to a discussion of the idiom everybody and his brother (is doing X), along with its variants

8/25/11: few and far in between: few and far in between

The idiom few and far between has a number of variants, including the somewhat eggcornish few and far in between.

9/5/11: Data points: idiom blends 9/24/11: Data points: idiom blends 9/24/11

From the television comedy Psych, the idiom blend dead as a bag of rocks, from dead as a rock and dumb as a bag of rocks.

10/5/11: Externalization of verbal inflection: Externalization of verbal inflection

Some verb + particle idioms (e.g., “double down,” “tick off”) are sometimes inflected by marking the particle, not the verb (e.g., “(he) double downs,” tick offed”).

11/11/11: The rumor mill: The rumor mill

A Zippy cartoon literalizes the metaphorical idiom rumor mill, with tidbits, hearsay, and buzz made concrete.

11/15/11: a long ago: a long ago

A long ago has emerged as a variant of long ago or as a blend of long ago and a long time ago.

11/21/11: Drifting as far as: Drifting as far as

The phrase as far as is now being used in a verbless, topic-restricting, prepositional manner, as in “It’s a wonderful place to be, as far as a creative person.”

12/28/11: sporting huge ironic wood: sporting huge ironic wood

Some cartoon fun from Scenes From a Multiverse, where sporting (huge, ironic) wood is used to indicate extreme, non-sexual excitement, rather than having an erection.

1/18/12: kicking fanny: kicking fanny

The euphemistic slang idiom kick fanny (for kick ass) sounds like an attempt to balance sociopolitical macho with appropriately conservative modesty.

3/8/12: Lunar matter: Lunar matters

About the Man (or Rabbit) in the Moon and the moon-related classic, That’s Amore.

4/12/12: Autistic literalism: Autistic literalism

Idioms, along with metaphors and other everyday expressions that require application of contextual knowledge, prove to be especially challenging for people on the autism spectrum.

4/24/12: doing X: doing X

Observations about the all-purpose verb do and its wide range of complements. The ten complements illustrated here — seven NPs, two AdjPs, and a quotation — are none of them established idioms with do, though they can all be seen as instances of a recent pattern.

6/14/12: Death at play: Death at play

Cartoons from Rhymes with Orange, Savage Chickens, and Bizarro feature the Grim Reaper and some playful takes on the responsibilities of the job.

8/2/12: Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin and Hobbes

Three Calvin and Hobbes strips on language-related topics, including literal vs. idiomatic understandings.

8/3/12: Taking things literally: Taking things literally

Idioms are challenging for children and some adults (e.g., those on the autism spectrum) to understand, because they require specialized knowledge, not literal understanding.

8/6/12: Caring less: Caring less

Although some sticklers will insist that I could care less, meaning “I don’t care,is wrong and should be I couldn’t care less, the linguistic evidence shows that both forms of the idiom are acceptable, with the former having been around for more than 60 years.

8/28/12: How so?: How so?

How so? is a perfectly ordinary, truncated form of How is that so? (or some variant thereof). But did you know it goes back to at least the 14th century?

8/30/12: to long grass: to long grass

Various examples of multiword phrases that have been verbed, including the conversion of kick X into the long grass becoming the verb to long grass X.

8/31/12: Deer in the headlights: Deer in the headlights

Zits’ Jeremy gives computer advice to his dad, who is a bit overwhelmed.

9/4/12: Begging to differ: Begging to differ

A Bizarro cartoon makes a pun on the phrase beg to differ ‘politely disagree’.

9/8/12: Take my wife: Take my wife

Reflections on the Henny Youngman’s famous take my wife” joke, which turns on the ambiguity of that phrase, with two very different uses of take.

9/14/12: until the eagle grins: until the eagle grins

On the phrase until the eagle grins, an idiom that will baffle many non-Americans (and some Americans as well)

11/7/12: Brief mention: toolbook: Brief mention: toolbook

An NBC news analyst, reporting on the U.S. Presidential election, generates the lexical blend toolbook from the (somewhat) idiomatic compounds toolbox and playbook.

12/1/12: Ab-vengersAb-vengers

About a pastiche of sexy, male superheroes that’s all about the abdominals, hence the regrettable portmanteau Ab-vengers (a substitution portmanteau combining abs and Avengers).

12/12/12: Commando no more: Commando no more

Comment and anecdotes related to the idiom go commando.

1/11/13: occasionaloccasional

One Big Happy has Ruthie coping with an ambiguity in the English adjective occasional.

3/21/13: dress left/right: dress left/right

Some thoughts on how men discuss where they put their penises when wearing pants, including opinions about what is “natural”.

3/26/13: Truncated what the fuck: Truncated what the fuck

A first encounter with the fuck as a truncated version of what the fuck rather than as an emphatic negative (e.g., The fuck I will ‘No I won’t!’)

4/3/13: eggs over easily: eggs over easily

Given that “easy” is an adjective, the expression eggs over easy is wrong, right?  It should be eggs over easily, right? Wrong.

4/8/13: Ralf König: Ralf König

Snippets from Ralf König’s comic book The Killer Condom lead to a discussion of the Duck Figure — If it looks like a duck and walks/quack/flies etc. like a duck, it is a duck— which started as a quotation but became an idiom.

4/9/13: An unfortunate mishearing: An unfortunate mishearing

A child’s mishearing of the idiom the whole wide world turns into a racist eggcorn.

4/23/13: Reduplicative compounds: Reduplicative compounds

Inspired by a Rhymes With Orange cartoon, thoughts on reduplicative compounds.

4/28/13: Orange and apple: Orange and apple

A photographic pun on Mandarin/mandarin (orange), and an allusion to the idiom comparing apples and oranges.

4/29/13: Nick Danger: an appreciation: Nick Danger: an appreciation

The 1960s radio show The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye” is packed full of playfulness, silliness, and absurdity, much of it linguistic.

4/30/13: A multiplicity of uses: A multiplicity of uses

Zippy reveals a variety of uses for the verb look, especially in combination with the particle up.

5/8/13: Brief mention: where … at: Brief mention: where … at

Beyond the red herring of the stranded preposition, the at in Where are you at? does have semantic motivation.

5/18/13: Idiomaticity: Idiomaticity

In Pearls Before Swine, Rat turns the idiom golden throat —’a widely admired singing or speaking voice’ — to his own ends

5/25/13: Possessive ambiguity: Possessive ambiguity

In another episode of Pearls Before Swine, Bill is both the cat’s meow and the dog’s ruff.

6/14/13: Innovations: Innovations

In most cases of innovations (of devices, products, or sociocultural practices), there’s a substantive innovation, plus a linguistic innovation, the choice of a name or label for it.

6/26/13: meet cute: meet cute

Zippy continues his fixation on Barbara Stanwyck movies and discusses the idiom meet cute.

6/26/13: Idiomatic meta-strips: Idiomatic meta-strips

An outrageous Pearls Before Swine and a silly Mother Goose and Grimm, both of them playing with idioms.

7/4/13: It’s been a slice: It’s been a slice

Inspired by Zits: It’s been a slice, as a way of saying ‘it’s been good; goodbye’, appears in a few recent dictionaries of American slang/idioms, but not more established sources like the OED; the earliest account comes from the late 1990s, and its origins are murky.

7/16/13: Turn-ons: Turn-ons

An episode of Zits embodies the popular idea that males are easily aroused — by almost anything — while females require very specific triggers. And it plays on the ambiguity of the V + Prt idioms turn on and turn off.

7/18/13: Taking idioms seriously: Taking idioms seriously

In Mother Goose and Grimm, Mother Goose wants Grimm not to reveal a secret — not to let the cat out of the bag. Grimm agrees that he won’t let the cat, Attila, out of the bag he has him in. A play on an ambiguity between literal and idiomatic (and figurative) readings.

7/21/13: As the car drives: As the car drives

From Bizarro, a play on as the crow flies: as the car drives (i.e., on roads that follow complex and twisted routes).

7/21/13: take it as a given: take it as a given

In Pearls Before Swine, Pig misunderstands take it as a given ‘assume that it is true’, which he apparently hadn’t heard before.

7/29/13: be toast: be toast

In her NYT op-ed column The Cheney in Waiting,” Gail Collins treats the slang idiom be toast as the end-stage of the process of doom or (metaphorical) death, so that she can refer to earlier stages of the process as analogous to earlier stages of toasting. Cute.

8/11/13: man up!: man up!

From Pearls Before Swine, another demonstration of Pig’s ineptitude in using English via the idiom man up!

8/19/13: Almost-lost words: Almost-lost words

On verbal vestigia,” about words in English that seem to exist only in a single phrase,” such as “wend” in wend one’s way and “aspersions” in cast aspersions.

8/21/13: on the fritz: on the fritz

Exploring the origins of the idiom on the fritz “not working properly”

8/21/13: as good as: as good as

More reflections on the idiom as good as in “He as good as called me a liar” and “They’re as good as dead,” where goodness doesn’t figure in the matter at all.

8/22/13: clean someone’s clock: clean someone’s clock

In Pearls Before Swine, Pig struggles with the idiom clean X’s clock.

8/23/13: expecting: expecting

In Pearls Before Swine, Pig fails to recognize the idiomatic use of expecting (a baby), but does so in stages.

9/7/13: kick-ass news: kick-ass news

Two instances of avoiding the “ass” in kick ass ‘beat somebody up’ and ‘be forceful, aggressive, impressive’.

9/12/13: Ruthie v. English: Ruthie v. English

A set of One Big Happy strips in which Ruthie confronts a spectacular mondegreen, some other misunderstandings based on phonological similarity, and some troubles with idiomatic usages.

9/24/13: to clean up well/nicely: to clean up well/nicely

The idiom to clean up well/nicely is a reflexive/middle-voice” verbal that is roughly paraphrasable as I clean myself up well” or I can be cleaned up well/easily”.

9/25/13: getting pelvic: getting pelvic

Heard on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an instance of get pelvic (with someone) ‘have sex (with someone)’, a euphemistic idiom based on the image of the pelvis as the cradle of the genitals.

9/30/13: Up Your Alley: Up Your Alley

On the idiom (right) up ones alley, also sometimes used asdown one’s alley‘ to be well suited to one’s tastes, interests, or abilities’

10/5/13: Today’s fine eggcorn: Today’s fine eggcorn

From the Palo Alto Daily News, the eggcorn hen basket substituted for handbasket in the idiom go to Hell in a handbasket, making somewhat more sense of an opaque idiom whose only virtue appears to be its alliteration.

10/6/13: Sunday puns: Sunday puns

Pearls Before Swine rolls with a pun on the idiom/proverb to kill two birds with one stone and one on Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday”, by the Rolling Stones.

10/22/13: dirty tricks: dirty tricks

Inspired by an article in the NYT MagazineTricks”, an exploration of the expression dirty tricks, which seems to be only about 50 years old.

10/29/13: make sure: make sure

The idiom make sure with a (that) Clause complement has two interpretations: to ‘verify that Clause is true’ and ‘to cause it to come about that Clause is true’.

1/30/13: More Pig literalism: More Pig literalism

In Pearls Before Swine, Pig once again takes an idiom literally.  This time, it’s boots on the ground.

12/30/13: Invisible in Eureka: Invisible in Eureka

Zippy would mark being invisible in Eureka, CA, off his bucket list, if only he knew what a bucket list was…

1/22/14: I’m fine”: “I’m fine”

The question How are you?” is treated idiomatically in English and literally in Russian, which can sometimes cause misunderstandings among speakers of the two languages.

1/25/14: More How are you?”: More “How are you?”

A follow up to “I’m fine”, further examining how people react to idiomatic vs. literal use of certain expressions.

1/31/14: by the each: by the each

Items sold “by the each” — rather than just each, apiece, or per item — are a bit of a surprise.

3/1/14: Swamp Thing: Swamp Thing

Rhymes With Orange makesa pun on having a long face ‘being sad’ featuring the plant-based superhero Swamp Thing.

3/6/14: Commit to the bit: Commit to the bit

From Zits, Jeremy’s friend Pierce goes all in when he gets a fake ID, giving himself a new gender and an address in a non-existent state in addition to a fake name and age.

3/6/14: Faint damns, faint praises: Faint damns, faint praises

The phrase to damn with faint praise can be switched around to amusing effect — namely, to praise with faint damns — and apparently people have been doing this since around 1870.

3/30/14: Triple play: Triple play

Rhymes With Orange, Pearls Before Swine, and Dilbert take on different idioms and expressions, including to hear something through the grapevine and my gut tells me something.

3/31/14: The diner and the definite article: The diner and the definite article

Zippy visits a diner called The Diner and waxes poetic about a number of items on the menu, each of which is preceded by the definite article “the.” The idiom comes in with the last straw.

4/7/14: Zippy on figures of speech: Zippy on figures of speech

Zippy runs through an inventory of figures of speech, including ironyhyperbole, innuendo, euphemism, and pastiche.

4/13/14: On the lam at Lim’s: On the lam at Lim’s

Zippy goes on the lam at Lim’s Cafe, a Chinese restaurant/diner in Redding, CA.

5/4/14: Formulaic: Zippy, OBH: Formulaic: Zippy, OBH

Two cartoons touching on formulaic language: a Zippy with clichés, a One Big Happy with a familiar quotation in a German accent.

5/18/14: Five for Friday: Five for Friday

Five items, several of which lead to more complex topics: a Harry Bliss cartoon; a Zippy on art forgery; a One Big Happy with a kid eggcorn; a Zits with alliteration and rhyme (and the sexual marketplace); and a Rhymes With Orange on consonants and vowels.

5/24/14: Three more diverse: Three more diverse

A Bizarro with language play turning on ambiguity; a Scenes From a Multiverse with metacommentary by the characters; and another classic Watergate Doonesbury, from 1974, with the denominal verb to stonewall.

6/15/14: Fathers Day Five: Fathers Day Five

A Rhymes With Orange on stereotypes about men’s tastes, a Zits with the stereotype of chatty teenage girls, a Mother Goose and Grimm on Yoda’s syntax, a Zippy on synonyms for disapproving, and a Bizarro on the extension of metaphors to simulacra.

7/1/14: Anemone pun: Anemone pun

In Mother Goose and Grimm, mistaken anemone is swapped out for mistaken identity. Phonologically distant, but interpretable, because mistaken identity is an idiom, a formulaic expression, which is, moreover, appropriate to the context of the cartoon.

7/18/14: Elephants: Elephants

Zippy visits the Elephant carwash in Seattle, WA, and talks about gun violence.

7/22/14: hash browns, home fries: hash browns, home fries

Two potato preparations often offered as alternative side dishes for breakfasts in American diners and the like: hash browns and home fries.

9/4/14: Three from New Scientist: Three from New Scientist

Three stories, including one with a novel piece of technical terminology and two with some language play that’s characteristic of much science writing.

11/10/14: Monday quartet: Monday quartet

Four varied cartoons including a Zits on address terms, a Scenes From a Multiverse on symbols, a Rhymes With Orange on case-marking of pronouns with than, and a Zippy reviving Doggie Diner

11/24/14: Ask AMZ: Ask AMZ

Two recent usage queries: one on uses of the noun doxy, and one on two informal idioms (i.e., the whole shooting match and wham, bam, thank you ma’am).

11/26/14: Annals of etymythology: to pass for: Annals of etymythology: to pass for

On the etymythology of passing when used in the context of a member of a minority passing for a member of the majority.

11/27/14: Ask AMZ: two queries: Ask AMZ: two queries

On “trickle treat”, for trick or treat and on gangbang and gangbanger.

12/14/14: Idioms: Idioms

Two Wrong Hands cartoons featuring idioms and word play.

12/31/14: No problem: No problem

Mother Goose, of Mother Goose and Grimm, objects to (what she sees as) an innovation in politeness routines, seeing it as recent (and characteristic of kids) and especially associated with serving people.

1/10/15: Weak heel: Weak heel

A cartoon with a complex pun on the idiom Achilles’ heel.

2/9/15: Hash Brown Built-In”: “Hash Brown Built-In”

On treating hash browns as a count noun, with the singular hash brown.

3/12/15: Notes on malnegation: Notes on malnegation

An account of the historical source is not the same thing as an account of the current system of the language. This is just a warning against the Etymological Fallacy for simple words, carried over to the case of larger patterns. Things are as they are, not (necessarily) as they used to be.

4/6/15: snit: snit

Once again, Ruthie from One Big Happy copes with vocabulary she doesn’t know — in this case, the word snit in in a snit, where she has to figure out which of the many senses of the preposition in is at play here.

4/10/15: Malaphors, aka idiom blends: Malaphors, aka idiom blends

Malaphors are idiom blends, like That’s the way the cookie bounces or It’s not rocket surgery.

4/22/15: Mind the Gap: Mind the Gap

The verb to mind has a variety of complex syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic uses.

5/2/15: On the pleonasm watch: On the pleonasm watch

The idiom one and only is a pleonasm, or a phrase that involves semantic redundancy. What many people who resist such expressions fail to understand is that the redundancy often highlights unique aspects of meaning.

5/2/15: Annals of idiomaticity; Annals of idiomaticity

Although some take issue with one of the only as being illogical, it’s genuinely not the same as one of the few.The former focuses on limitation.  The latter focuses on small quantity.

5/8/2015: L’eggo my Eggo!: L’eggo my Eggo!

Beyond being a familiar tagline for a popular breakfast food, L’eggo my Eggo! reflects a variety of interesting linguistic phenomena.

5/16/15: Light in the loafers: Light in the loafers

Light in the loafers as been used as derision against gay male since about 1955, but it is also used as a euphemism by gay men themselves, as in “We’d say, ‘Is he musical?’ Never gay…. Sometimes ‘Light in the loafers.’”

5/20/15: Fig time: Fig time

Some figgy idioms and expressions, including the fig leaf of modesty, figgy pudding, Fig Newtons, and the negative polarity item care/give a fig.

5/21/15: The literalist: The literalist

In Mother Goose and Grimm, a literalist Ralph tries to cope with Grimm’s could care less.

5/22/15: Or what?: Or what?

Two cartoons by Meg Biddle, including one that provides an unusual answer to “Is this a great country or what?” and one that introduces us to a “goose whisperer.”

5/25/16: Two political cartoonists: Two political cartoonists

Some notes on political / editorial cartoonists Pat Oliphant and Jim Borgman, along with some examples of their work.

5/27/15: Sources and saucers: Sources and saucers

Ruthie from One Big Happy, with struggles with the difference between sources and saucers.

6/4/15: A truncated idiom: A truncated idiom

British and American English have a number of differences, one of which is what idioms can truncated and still sound “right” to native speakers.  One example: To have your work cut out (for you).

7/1/15: the old college try: the old college try

Calvin and Hobbes explores what it means to give something the old college try.

7/20/15: Setting up a pun: Setting up a pun

One Big Happy sets up a pun on the idiom level playing field.

8/25/15: All things shark: All things shark

From the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week to the idiom jumping the shark, it’s all things featuring the work “shark” that have shown up in AMZ’s blog.

9/13/15: Caring: Caring

Thoughts on the contrast between couldn’t care less and could care less, which are generally intended to mean the same thing.

10/9/15: Two New Yorker cartoons: Two New Yorker cartoons

Two recent cartoons from the New Yorker: a Zach Kanin on the male body in cartoons and a Liam Francis Walsh on social media.

10/13/15: Morning: the call of nature: Morning: the call of nature

On the euphemistic phrase the call of nature, lexical gaps in English for discussing the elimination of bodily wastes, and the fiber-type laxative Serutan.

11/6/15: cowboy up!: cowboy up!

The idiom cowboy up here seems to be man up on steroids.

11/23/15: motion-goal BE: motion-goal BE

Pennsylvania Dutch is one of the dialects of American English where one can say both, “I was to the store today” as well as “I’ve been to the store today.” In most cases, however, motion-goal BE is restricted to the perfect.

11/30/15: Rhyme or reason: Rhyme or reason

From Bizarro, an idiom without rhyme or reason — and a nursery rhyme — “Humpty Dumpty”.

12/1/15: Like Father, Like Son: Like Father, Like Son

About the gay porn flick Like Father, Like Son,which focuses on intergenerational sex between men.

12/24/15: Unintended: Unintended

Heard in a tv commercial for Scratch-Aide: “Let’s face it: if you’ve got wood, you’ve got scratches.” The use of the ambiguous got wood, which can literally mean ‘ to have wood’ and idiomatically mean ‘to have an erection’ (of the penis), seems unintentional.

1/20/16: butt/booty, dial/call: butt/booty, dial/call

The nouns butt and booty overlap in their uses, and so do the verbs dial and call. However… the compound forms butt dial and booty call are both slang idioms, and they aren’t at all interchangeable.

3/10/16: Ruthie v. idioms: Ruthie v. idioms

One Big Happy’s Ruthie wrestles with being out of sorts.

3/16/16: Your money’s no good here: Your money’s no good here

Your money’s no good here has a use as a pragmatic idiom, conventionally conveying that the services or goods the money is being offered for are being supplied for free. In this Bizarro, however, the phrase is intended literally: Monopoly money is not legal tender.

4/1/16: Look who’s talking!: Look who’s talking!

The perception verb phrases look + IQ and look at + IQ, though close, are subtly different in meaning, in ways that aren’t easy to tease out.

4/5/16: Ain’t it the truth?: Ain’t it the truth?

From One Big Happy, Ruthie’s mother playfully uses the widespread non-standardism Ain’t it the truth? even though she is very unlikely to use ain’t in other contexts.

5/15/16: Punch in the presence of the passenjare: Punch in the presence of the passenjare

On several incarnations of punch, including the British humo(u)r magazine Punch, Punch and Judy, fruit punch, the punch line of jokes, and the verb to punch (i.e., to strike something with one’s fist).

5/16/16: Monday language comics: Monday language comics

A Calvin and Hobbes with an unfortunate ambiguity (pitch the tent), and a Zits with a portmanteau for a combo sport (dodgebowl).

7/5/16: The 31-room elephant in the room: The 31-room elephant in the room

Zippy struggles with some 19th-century novelty architecture: the Elephant Hotel of Coney Island, NY.

8/7/16: Fixed expressions: Fixed expressions

Two cartoons turning on fixed, compound expressions: Rhymes With Orange (working girl) and a One Big Happy (fine-toothed comb).

9/4/2016: Two OBHs: Two OBHs

Two One Big Happy strips, one with Joe updating theThree Blind Mice nursery rhyme and one with Ruthie misinterpreting the ambiguous phrase horse-drawn carriage.

9/5/16: A Minneapolis fling: A Minneapolis fling

Zippy makes a pun onlane(in a bowling alley vs. in the metaphorical idiom down memory lane ‘in your memory of the pleasures of past events’).

9/5/16: How’s that coming?: How’s that coming?

From the New Yorker, a cartoon that plays with the parallel between a steak on the grill and a book in progress, authorial anxiety over writing on something and completing it, and the pragmatics of the idioms in how’s it going? and how’s it coming?

9/17/16: Taking the job description literally: Taking the job description literally

Two Dilbert cartoons turning on how quality assurance specialist Alan fails to understand that his job is to ensure quality in the product, not assure others that the product is one of quality.

10/7/16: the Vegas idea: the Vegas idea

One Big Happy’s Ruthie struggles with the idiom (do not) have the vaguest idea by interpreting vaguest as a more familiar, phonologically close item: Vegas, short for Las Vegas.

10/24/16: Naked boys playing at liberty: Naked boys playing at liberty

About male photography featuring naked men horsing around together, mostly at the beach. There are points about sexuality, about social practices involving the body (notably, horseplay), and about the use of on leave and at liberty.

10/25/16: tail in the air: tail in the air

On different interpretations of the phrase have one’s tail in the air, including one related to cat body language and one alluding to sexual receptivity signals in female mammals.

10/26/16: Idiom blends, with wine and roses: Idiom blends, with wine and roses

From Doonesbury, idiom blends: march to a different kettle of fish, have both sails in the water, play with a full house of cards.

10/27/16: Two poignant cartoons: Two poignant cartoons

A mildly poignant Zippy, in which things have come to the point where Griffy almost misses Richard Nixon. And another deeply poignant episode in the Doonesbury account of Lacey and Jeremy’s adventures in senior dating.

11/21/16: You can’t judge a story by its title: You can’t judge a story by its title

In One Big Happy, Joe was assigned to read The Princess and the Pea”, but didn’t.  With only the title to work with, he mistakenly opts to interpret the /pi/ in the title as urine, and writes his book report accordingly.

12/9/16: The eyes reject: The eyes reject

On being woke, giving side eye, and making stink eye — all descriptions from African American Vernacular English that have made it into mainstream American English.

12/12/16: Batty stuff: Batty stuff

The association in English between bats and insanity, as in the slang adjective batty ‘crazy’ and the idiom (have) bats in the belfry seems to be originally American and relatively recent.

1/5/17: Gay men on the new subway walls: Gay men on the new subway walls

About Vik Muniz’s mural in the 96th St. station of the NYC subway that portrays a gay male couple holding hands.

1/18/17: Meaty matters: Meaty matters

Two joking uses of meat: “animal flesh as food” and “the body as a sexual object”.

2/22/17: Understanding the comics: Understanding the comics

A Rhymes With Orange and a Bizarro in which understanding requires that you supply a word or phrase that isn’t in the text of the cartoon.

2/22/17: Playing for laughs: Playing for laughs

Regarding the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which Neil Patrick Harris plays the villain for laughs and Patrick Warburton plays the quirky and pessimistic author-narrator, Lemony Snicket.

3/6/17: No whey in hell: No whey in hell

A Dan Thompson cartoon that involves a classic nursery rhyme, the homophony (or near-homophony) of whey and way, and the idiom no way in Hell.

3/9/17: pain in the X: pain in the X

A One Big Happy features the two families of pain in the idioms are high vs. low on the body and high vs. low in tone.

4/9/2017: The trophy boys park the beef bus in tuches town: The trophy boys park the beef bus in tuches town

On trophy boys, the underwear they might wear to advertise their wares, and a bit of Yiddish.

4/13/17: Three more Reapings: Three more Reapings

Three cartoons featuring the Grim Reaper, one featuring Peter Piper, and one featuring a monkey doing what monkeys are (sort of) wont to do.

4/15/17: New Yorker artwork 4/17/17: New Yorker artwork 4/17/17

From this issue: a Flatiron Building cover by Harry Bliss; a Rob Leighton cartoon on the Dear John letter, nit-picking, and self-awareness; and a Will McPhail cartoon about duck hunters.

5/1/17: Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit: three cartoons for the 1st: Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit: three cartoons for the 1st

Three cartoons from various sources: a Bizarro that plays on Pepsi ad exploiting protestor-police interactions, a Mother Goose and Grimm with an outrageous bit of language play, and a Calvin and Hobbes reflection on the meaning of the verb read.

5/19/17: Ruthie faces the unfamiliar, again: Ruthie faces the unfamiliar, again

One Big Happy’s Ruthie misunderstands a reference to the Rockefeller family and their wealth.

5/20/17: Squid Pro Quo:Squid Pro Quo

A Non Sequitur cartoon plays on squid as a source of ink and as a food.

5/27/17: Rodeos and sword dances: Rodeos and sword dances

When Rex Tillerson referred to a trip to Saudi Arabia asnot (his) first sword dance,” he was alluding to the metaphorical idiom not be someone’s first rodeo (or not be someone’s first time at the rodeo), with the negation realized as is not, isn’t, or (most commonly) ain’t.

6/2/17: Macho Muffler Man vs. the elite geek: Macho Muffler Man vs. the elite geek

A Zippy pits Griffy against a familiar figure in the strip, a Muffler Man roadside fiberglass figure selling tires. The Muffler Man dismisses Griffy with the imperative idiom of the form taste NP, AddressNominal!, similar to Bart Simpson’s Eat my shorts!

6/7/17: The word came down on Pentecost: The word came down on Pentecost

Four language-related strips, including one each from One Big Happy, Rhymes Wth Orange, Zits, and xkcd.

6/8/17: An old resultative joke: An old resultative joke

A pun based on the soft drink slogan Drink Canada Dry.

6/11/17: You can dress a fox in hen’s clothing, but…: You can dress a fox in hen’s clothing, but…

Rhymes With Orange notes that you can dress a fox in hen’s clothing, but it isn’t quite as effective as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

6/26/17: Put a sock on it in parade season: Put a sock on it in parade season

On various forms of sock-like coverings for penises.

7/13/17: Today’s idiom blend: Today’s idiom blend

One cannot know which came first, the horse or the egg, but one can be reasonably sure it is a bad plan to put the cart before the chicken.

7/15/17: Ostentatious euphemisms: Ostentatious euphemisms

Ostentatious euphemisms are a subtype of ostentatious taboo avoidance, in which the point is to show off the taboo vocabulary — to draw attention to a commercial product through naughty talk, or just to talk naughty for fun without actually uttering the taboo words.

7/19/17: On offer at Daily Jocks: On offer at Daily Jocks

The Supawear firm likes to play on its name — as here, with the play on AmE slang ‘sup, bro?, short for whassup, bro?, a casual-speech variant of what’s up, bro?, combining the informal idiomatic query what’s up? with the address term bro.

7/31/17: Today’s comic comprehension test: Today’s comic comprehension test

From Wayno. To understand this cartoon, one must recognize that the characters are stranded on the idiom desert island, and that the sweet treats all around them are desserts.

8/4/17: A stay in medical Antarctica: A stay in medical Antarctica

Among a variety of other things, a discussion of the idiom All hat and no cattle and its more playful variant All hat and no cowboy.

9/2/17: Bosco 3: Bosco 3

On various things associated with the Italian family name Bosco, including the Boscobel Estate in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Boscobel House in Shropshire, bosky dells, and Bosco Ramos, the dog who was elected honorary mayor of Sunol, CA.

9/16/17: Rubber ducks, by the bag; Rubber ducks, by the bag

Rubber duck and rubber ducky have become fixed idiomatic expressions. In at least some of their occurrences, these expressions no longer refer to rubber as a material, thus allowing vinyl rubber ducks, which would otherwise be as oxymoronic as plastic glass bowl.

9/16/17: Steak bombs: Steak bombs

Zippy discovers steak bombs —  steak sandwiches that are (as usual) torpedo-shaped. The point of the name is probably to assert that it is in fact the/da bomb: the best of all possible steak sandwiches, because it has everything.

9/28/17: From marbles and barbats to challah: From marbles and barbats to challah

A Zippyesque journeyto the Parthenon Diner Restaurant in Old Saybrook, CT, involving the idiom having/losing all of one’s marbles, different meanings of the word barbat, and challah.

10/2/17: One-hit grinders: One-hit grinders

Zippy features Mary’s Coffee Shop, which offers grinders, and plays on several senses of grind, plus the idiom one-hit wonder.

10/6/17: Noodling with formulaic language: Noodling with formulaic language

Some recent noodling with formulaic expressions in the comics: One Big Happy (checkered past), Rhymes With Orange (more fun than a barrel of monkeys), and Mother Goose and Grimm (beggars can’t be choosers).

10/13/17: Swords up on Friday the 13th: Swords up on Friday the 13th

For Friday the 13th, a reference to the classic horror film of the same name and the idiom get lucky.

10/13/17: Political wagyu: Political wagyu

If wagyu beef is the primest of beef, and beef is the reddest of meat, metaphorical wagyu is the freshest, most inspiring, or most inflammatory topics or information: really, really red meat — stuff that will turn readers/listeners into slavering beasts.

10/21/17: Household gifts: Household gifts

A little festival of household furnishings and English N + N compounds: A penguin tea towel and a purple plant mister flanked by two hand-blown flared glasses. Also, the metaphorical idiom march to one’s own beat/march to the beat of one’s own drum.

10/22/17: Revisiting 9: ¡-ola!: Revisiting 9: ¡-ola!

Regarding the idiom (not) know shit from Shinola and uses of -ola to make diminutives, trade names, and humorous or dismissive formations (e.g., payola, crapola).

11/4/17: Can you say cat”? Can you spell cat?: Can you say “cat”? Can you spell “cat”?

From two recent One Big Happy strips. First, Grandpa turns to the Mr. Rogers’ trope Can you say X? ‘Say X’, to which Ruthie responds with a form of the idiom go/get (all) X on Y. Second, Ruthie confuses the Spanish word sí ‘yes’ and the English letter C /si/.

11/12/17: Food rebellion: Food rebellion

Children resist a variety of different foods.  A famous New Yorker cartoon cartoon captures their sentiment: Mother: “It’s broccoli, dear.” Daughter: “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.”

11/15/17: Wet words: Wet words

In a Law & Order episode, a character explains that he’s going inside his house because he has to tap a kid — short for the idiom tap a/my kidney ‘urinate’, with kidney clipped to kid.  This is somewhat similar in meaning to the euphemism “I have to see a man about a dog.”

11/21/17: ??That is aliens for you.: ??That is aliens for you.

That’s NP for you meaning ‘That’s characteristic of NP’, ‘That’s the way NP is/are’ seems completely normal, but is it acceptable to make this type of construction without the contraction, as in ??That is NP for you?

11/29/17: Talking to the hand: Talking to the hand

The idiom talk to the hand (because the face ain’t listening) entered common American English parlance beginning in the 1990s and quickly spread in popularity to other English speaking countries.

12/29/17: George Booth at 90: elephants and holidays: George Booth at 90: elephants and holidays

A variety of New Yorker covers drawn by George Booth, including a series celebrating the Christmas holiday.

1/4/18: tooken by the senses taker: tooken by the senses taker

From One Big Happy, Ruthie engages in some more of her “familiarifications”, including reshaping census as senses and taken as tooken — although the latter is less odd than one might think given how PSPs in English are formed.

3/13/18: Mistakes in avian medicine: Mistakes in avian medicine

Various plays on the notion of “crow’s feet”.

3/14/18: Adventures in antonymy: Adventures in antonymy

A Bizarro/Wayno collaboration in which a vanity plate is really a modesty plate.

3/20/18: without a care in the world: without a care in the world

Zippy considers the idioms without a care in the world and carefree and is unsettled.

3/24/18: Three Saturday lingtoons: Three Saturday lingtoons

From Zippy, Bizarro, and Mother Goose and Grimm, several points of linguistic interest, including portmanteau (fishwich), a perfect pun (on the lam / lamb), an imperfect pun (bar / bark mitzvah).

3/27/18: An idiom comes to life: An idiom comes to life

Inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, a discussion of the idiom have a frog in one’s throat.

3/27/18: V-headed compounds: V-headed compounds

On V-headed compounds like snowblow, showrun, drone strike, and course-correct, and why we create them when we have a viable syntactic alternative.

4/3/18: Ruthie confronts idiomaticity: Ruthie confronts idiomaticity

One Big Happy’s Ruthie doesn’t know which expressions are conventionalized (and have to be reproduced exactly) and which are fresh creations (possibly metaphorical, but made up on the spot) — whose parts can be varied by substitution.

4/7/18: Water source of questionable information: Water source of questionable information

A New Scientist cartoon presents five nominals of the form N1 of Mod N2. The first panel has the model for the other four: the metaphorical idiom family fount of all N2, where N2 refers to a kind of information. The last four are somewhat snide plays on this original.

4/17/18: New idioms: New idioms asked several linguists, including AMZ, if we create new idioms.  Of course, the answer was YES!

4/24/18: POP POP: POP POP

Zippy gets caught up in a thick matrix of allusions pointing in many directions, including Robert Mueller, the 23rd Psalm, Noam Chomsky, and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

5/10/18: slide in(to) (y)our DM’s: slide in(to) (y)our DM’s

Daily Jocks asked potential new models to slide into our DMs, encouraging young men to send them photos while making a pun on different brandnames of underwear with the initials DM.

6/6/18: Proper nouns: Proper nouns

In One Big Happy, Ruthie falls into the pit of use and mention: There’s an adjective proper as defined by Ruthie’s mother. Then there’s the adjective proper in the idiomatic nominals proper noun / name. And that’s just the beginning of the problem.

6/26/18: Deterrence, lessons, and examples: pour encourager les autres: Deterrence, lessons, and examples: pour encourager les autres

Making an example of someone — punishing them in a severe way in order to discourage others from committing the same offense — is one strategy for preventing crimes, and one that the current administration is especially fond of.

7/29/18: Motherhood and stupid PAP: Motherhood and stupid PAP

Detangling the complex anaphoric references in the headline This mother took her children’s phones and shot them to teach them a lesson!

7/30/18: Mud, shit, and chocolate: Mud, shit, and chocolate

In recent years, the euphemism mud sandwich has emerged as a more palatable an alternative to shit sandwich.

8/8/18: The elephant in therapy: The elephant in therapy

Rhymes With Orange combines two cartoon memes: the psychotherapist with a patient on the sofa and an (unnoticed) elephant in the room. Several related cartoons are also discussed.


End of the original file. Entries below are further addtions.

9/11/18: The cartoon milkman: The cartoon milkman
the idiom throw oneself on the mercy of the court

10/1/18: Sexual faces: Sexual faces
the idioms to knit / furrow one’s brow(s)

10/8/18: Fly formulaicity: Fly formulaicity
idioms off the wall, fly on the wall, fly in the buttermilk, fly in the ointment, fly-by-night

10/15/18: Piñata under the gun: Piñata under the gun
idiom under the gun

10/17/18: PUMP!ing it up: PUMP!ing it up
idioms pump up, pumped (up)

10/23/18: Use skate in a sentence: Use skate in a sentence
idiom cheapskate

10/27/18: The holidays of our lives: The holidays of our lives
idiom/proverb make one’s bed and lie in it

2/13/19: Allusions to titles past: Allusions to titles past
idiom over to you

2/17/19: Eat it! The oral humiliation you deserve: Eat it!
just deserts; eat crow, eat humble pie, eat one’s words; eat it, eat it!; beat it; eat shit

2/22/19: In the land of supertitles: Land of supertitles
spit nails

2/27/19: Inhaling pop culture: Inhaling pop culture
horse around, horseplay; egg someone on

3/3/19: The MetaCat: The MetaCat
(well,) I’ll be!

3/14/19: Caribou with a pair: Caribou with a pair
balls, ballsy, pair (of balls)

3/27/19: Two cents, common sense, incense, and peppermints: Two cents, common sense
common sense, horse sense, nonsense, (one’s) two cents

4/4/19: Ed (the) Ped: Ed (the) Ped
catchphrases/slogans we are everywhere; we are legion / our name is legion

4/28/19: A standout in his shorts: A standout in his shorts
Mexican standoff

5/18/19: Ostentatiously playful allusions: Ostentatiously playful allusions
the speech-act idiom Does a bear shit in the woods and other’sarcastic interrogative affirmatives and negatives’

5/22/19: What a piece of work is Miss Lucille: A piece of work
a piece of work

6/21/19: Mickey gets stuffed for Pride Day: Mickey gets stuffed
get stuffed, plush toy, bless your heart

6/22/19: Over the edge with formulaic language: Over the edge with formulaic language
locked and loded, cocked and loaded

8/1/19: Understanding the bull: Understanding the bull
bull in a china shop

11/1/19: Bears in the woods: Bears in the woods
Does a bear shit in the woods? and its variants

11/22/19: On the rubber fowl beat: On the rubber fowl beat
rubber chicken dinner

12/29/19: The time of mildly debasing yourself: Mildly debasing yourself
butterflies (in the stomach)

2/2/02: Another Super Bowl Sunday: Another Super Bowl Sunday
take one for the team

8/5/20: Caterpillars spinning platters: Caterpillars spinning platters
disc jockey

9/20/20: gone to seed: gone to seed
the idiom go to see

9/25/20: Parallelism, metaphor, chiasmus: Parallelism, metaphor, chiasmus
idioms has come a long way, have a long way to go

9/29/20: wazoo: wazoo
degree adverbial up/out the wazoo

10/15/20: No offense (intended): No offense

10/23/20: A New Yorker trio: New Yorker trio
jelly bean

2/7/21: The bull validates Peter’s family: 3 Bizarros
bull in a china shop; parking validation

3/11/21: By their consumer products you shall know them: By their consumer products
wolf in sheep’s clothing

7/14/21: proofreading: proofreading
proof and prove idioms

8/16/21: Exit, pursued by a board: pursued by a board
various vulgar dismissive idioms: eat my shorts! etc.

8/31/21: A stone solid pro: A stone solid pro
complex idiom with pay my bills as its center

9/9/21: Not a non-event: Not a non-event
((work) with) no net

9/20/21: Powerfully eruptive, yet respectful of his anatomy: Powerfully eruptive
go south; non-literal come in one’s pants

9/26/21: Death on the couch: Death on the couch
skeleton in the closet