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 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


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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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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