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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Apr 7 2015

“Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

To choose between two, in some way equally problematic, situations.

Hmmm. To be face down Old Nick himself, evil incarnate, on one hand, or, on the other hand, the endless danger of the fathomless, roiling sea… sounds harrowing. But actually the choices represented by this idiom are pretty mild, and the phrase is usually used in the spirit of fun or for dramatic effect.

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Mar 30 2015

“All the Tea in China”

An extravagant exaggeration, signifying that which is of uncountable and inestimable value. The phrase is used in a comparison to indicate someone or something that is of even greater worth.

“That’s Bess, over there. She’s the best and I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China.”

“You could give me all the tea in China and I still wouldn’t leave Brooklyn.”

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Mar 28 2015


… is an internationally recognized distress call, sent out by aircraft or ships in life-threatening emergencies.

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Apr 22 2014

“To Kick the Bucket”

To kick the bucket means, quite simply, to die.

It’s a totally informal expression; a mildly disrespectful, slightly humorous euphemistic slang term that at least in my experience is used to take some of the sting out of death.
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Apr 2 2014

“Rich as Croesus” “Eureka!” It’s All Greek to Me, Part 2

If you’ve read my earlier blog entry It’s All Greek to Me, Part 1, you’ll see that a handful of figures of speech still in use refer to Ancient Greek culture, history, arts, writings and mythology.

But what I was lamenting in Part 1 was that fewer and fewer Americans know the backstory of these idioms. And without that knowledge, eventually these expressions, rich in culture and history, will fade away.

Which is too bad, because not only will we lose some really fascinating figures of speech, it also means that before that happens a lot of us will have already lost a valuable part of our cultural heritage.

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Mar 29 2014

“Opening Pandora’s Box” “The Midas Touch” … It’s All Greek to Me, Part 1

I dunno. When I was a kid, maybe five years old, my parents gave me an illustrated children’s book of Greek mythology.

Famous Myths of the Golden Age - 1958.

Famous Myths of the Golden Age – 1958.

And it was all there – Apollo in his golden chariot, Prometheus chained to a rock, Icarus falling into the sea, Jason, Medusa, the Golden Fleece, even tales of the brave Odysseus. And I ate it up with a spoon. I loved every page.

But today, how many people do you think really have had any direct exposure to the history, ideas, art, and culture of Ancient Greece, except maybe having once attended a toga party at a Greek fraternity in college?

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