Aug 11 2016

Peachy Keen

The idiom peachy keen was originally used to signify that something, someone, some situation, or event were superlative in the coolest, funniest way.

As a grade-schooler in the late 1950s, I remember being delighted by this idiom, sometimes adding jelly bean at the end as an intensifier (Peachy keen, jelly bean!). Continue reading

May 17 2016

“Bury the Hatchet” … “Hatchet Man” … “Hatchet Job” …

The three idiomatic expressions above – one Native American in origin, one Chinese-American, and one associated with the practices of American politics – have absolutely nothing to do with the story of George Washington, his little hatchet, a cherry tree, and not telling lies. Or, for that matter, of the tale of Carrie A. Nation’s hatchet-swinging, tavern-busting antics. Continue reading

May 8 2016

“A Loose Cannon”

This is an idiom that appears a lot during the course of elections, and the beginning of the 2016 presidential election campaign is no exception.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides a succinct definition, saying that a loose cannon is “… a dangerously uncontrollable person or thing,” which nails it, all right. Continue reading

Mar 31 2016

“Saved by the Bell!”

Billy: Wow, that was close. Just when I thought the cops would see us, they got distracted by the sound of the bell on Margo’s cat’s collar.

Tom: Yeah, we were saved by the bell. Literally.

The idiom saved by the bell expresses the idea that someone or something is rescued from a dire outcome by a timely occurrence, generally speaking, at the last possible moment, i.e., in the nick of time. A close shave. Continue reading

Dec 15 2015

“Close, But No Cigar!”

I remember plenty of family picnics in the 1950s. After the eating was over the adult male relatives would gather round the picnic table, break out frosty bottles of Schlitz beer, light up cigars, and commence to play penny ante poker.

But seriously, how many people smoke cigars today? Nevertheless, “Close, but no cigar!” is an idiom that still has currency today and is as instantly understood in the way as it has been for more than a century. Continue reading

Oct 30 2015

“Wet Blanket”

How would somebody describe a “wet blanket?” Usually it is a person, although sometimes it can be a thing (such as a philosophy, organization, or an entire community or environment) that can always be counted on to spoil the fun or dampen the enjoyment of others.

In other words, a party-pooper, a spoilsport, a killjoy, a “Debbie Downer,” or a real “pill” (an expression my wife picked up in the course of her East Coast childhood).

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Oct 29 2015

“Keystone Cops”

They’re wild, they’re zany. They are more than a hundred years old. They come from a time before women had the right to vote and cars had to be hand-cranked to start. And yet the Keystone Cops live on, at least as a figure of speech.

The Keystone Cops

The Keystone Cops.

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May 11 2015

“The Third Degree”

To give someone the “third degree” is to subject a person to an intensive and prolonged police interrogation that could include the use of physical force and/or mental torture for the purpose of obtaining confessions, testimonies, and other information.
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May 3 2015

“Small Fry”

The slang term “small fry” is used to denote a person or thing as juvenile, somebody who is not fully developed, or is insignificant.

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Apr 11 2015

“23 Skidoo”

… Like “amscray,” “cheese it,” or “beat it,” “23 skidoo” is an American slang phrase dating from the early part of the 20th century that is associated with leaving a difficult, dangerous, or tricky situation quickly.

For example: ”Let’s 23 skidoo before the cops come!” Or: “Hey, youse two … 23 skidoo! I don’t wanna see yer mugs in this saloon no more.”

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