It's Idiomatic

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Christine Ammer, author of more than three dozen reference books, including The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Second Edition, gets to the heart of American English idiomatic phrases and explains the listener-submitted idiom, "scared the daylights out of me."

Tomorrow's Assignment:  Update an idiom for the digital age.  What should "turning a new leaf" become, for example?  


More “Mystery Idioms” submitted to Facebook:

  • Bridget: Bold-faced or bald-faced?
  • Mike: "No strings attached".
  • Andrea: "For all intents and purposes" -- where did this come from? It's sort of awkward to be used (and misused) as commonly as it is.
  • Rex: Every time someone tells me to "break a leg" I want to respond with "I wont, but thanks?"
  • Danielle: Yeah, I'm a fairly literate person, and I didn't find out it wasn't "for all intensive purposes" until I was well out of college.
  • Tony: "the foreseeable future"
  • Tony: "for all intents and purposes," "each and every," and similar legal boilerplate date back to the early days of english common law when lawyers were paid by the word.
  • Jeff: "Down to the wire"
  • Nathan: champing or chomping at the bit?
  • Stephen: "Which begs the question ..." Even journalists misuse this phrase. It actually refers to a certain type of logical fallacy but is often used in place of more appropriate phrases such as "raises the question" or "suggests the question..."
  • Nicole: I like to make them up. Sometimes after listening to someone for awhile, I nod and say, "Well, the wooden fence is only knee-high." It makes no sense. Yet said with an expression of empathy, people seem to be comforted.
  • Meghan: I'd really love to know where the word "B'Jesus" came from (and, I suppose, how to actually spell it). As in "The cat scared the B'Jesus out of me this morning in the shower."
  • Caitlin: The dog's breakfast is one of my favorites.
  • Sharon: "Pure as the driven snow" means not pure, right? But usually used to mean very pure.
  • Jesse: Card SHARP (not shark)
  • Jeff: I like to make them up, too. "Gets along like cheese and butter." Makes your friends think harder about what you are saying:) plus, you could invent one that works.
  • Sharon: The one that drives me nuts is "six of one and half-dozen of the other" - isn't it easier to say "it's the same thing"?!?!?!
  • Frank: "Benefit of the doubt" has vexed me now and then..
  • Katie: I love when people mix idioms. I spoke to someone today who was in a rush to get an application in and she said, "Yeah, it's like time crunchin' numbers."
  • Alex: My English husband uses a phrase that I am assuming is English in origin. "And Bob's your uncle." This phrase seems akin to, "and there you have it."
  • Michelle: I thought for the longest time that it was "play it by year" not "play it by ear" makes more sense to me
  • Madelynn: Wreak havoc- I always thought it wreck havoc- what does it mean?
  • Robin: "Down to the wire" comes from horse racing. "Play it by ear" is to do something without written guidelines (music). Wreak is an old word meaning to inflict. "B'Jesus" is short for "By Jeus" which a good Irishman might say when startled. Isn't "6 of one and 1/2 a dozen of the other" so much more interesting and descriptive than "the same thing"? "At sixes and sevens" is a great phrase but I haven't been able to find a satisfactory origin. Another favorite is "what you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabout." "Three sheets to the wind" (stumbling drunk) is a sailing term that either means loose rope flapping or the pitching and rolling of a ship under full sail. …
  • John: Does this count? Always have trouble working out "the exception that proves the rule"
  • Eddie: "its just a dog and pony show" is my latest favorite..i am a gardener for the city and now understand it as sites are polished for events and then left unkempt the rest of the year. I like my slang with a circus flare.
  • Christine: Waste not want not.
  • Lauren: I've always wondered about bob's your uncle and the bees knees
  • Steven: …I recently learned that "You've got another thing coming" is actually, "You've got another think coming." Go figure. For that matter, is "go figure" a command, or is that short for something else?
  • Rebecca: “more than you can shake a stick at" : I feel like you could shake a stick at an infinite number of things...
  • Alexis: "The exception that proves the rule." Arrgh!! And: "Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth." I had to have my mom explain that last to me. (I was in my forties.)
  • Marie: Why do people say "laundry list"? Who ever makes a list of their laundry?
  • Jenny: Boiler plate