It's Idiomatic

Monday, February 25, 2013

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, including and/or idiomatic phrases like "hue and cry" and "by hook or crook."

Tomorrow's Assignment: Use as many idiomatic phrases as you can in the space of a 100-word paragraph.    


Over the weekend, we posted three obscure idioms to Facebook and asked for guesses at their meaning, creativity encouraged.  Here are some of the postings on our mystery idioms:

What do you think the phrase "All Wool and a Yard Wide" means?

  • Andres: High quality and plenty of it?
  • Joe: never the twain shall meet
  • Rebecca: It must mean authentic, and trustworthy - as above, a reference to buying fabric from a bolt - exactly as it's advertised.
  • Mareh: I would imagine this would have originally described the quality of a bolt of fabric, and then moved forward as a description of one's character?
  • Tom: The real deal?
  • Rex: no gimmick
  • Alan: I think it means, for example, where a politician promises big things and falls short on them.
  • Heather: A person's words being an attempt to pull the wool over your eyes in addition to the person being trustworthy only as far as you can throw them.
  • Winter: An accomplishment, as in a really impressive sheep.
  • Holly: Sounds itchy and uncomfortable.
  • Louise: High quality
  • Siobhan: I think it means it's all BS & a far stretch at that, much like this guess, totally uninformed
  • Paula: I agree with the previous comment as well as Heather, above. A person who can really spin a yarn!
  • Christine: I think it means they look good, but aren't very substantive in mind. Like talking a good game. You know, a broad front but a narrow back?
  • Jeff: Probably a full bale of wool, no fillers etc, no BS
  • Stoney: Being a Texan, I like "All hat and no cattle".

What do you think the phrase "Beard The Lion" means?!

  • Christine: Getting the best of someone. Putting them out of commission.
  • Erika: It's from "beard the lion in his den". Sort of like belling the cat. I think.
  • Nathaniel: It is an obvious attempt to cover up the Magnolia Oil Party of 50 years ago yesterday, 2-22-63 in which Oswald, an alleged leftist who got the first EZ Pass [back from USSR as a Defector, and with money from the US State Department] is chillin with the farthest right wing volk in a town that is the farthest right wing on the face of the Earth, Dallas in 1963. Duh.
  • Yolande: Take on a challenging situation.
  • Francyne: take on danger
  • Edith: Help a gay lion pretend that he is straight?

Make your best guess - what does the phrase "Box the Compass" mean?

  • Joe: I'd say it's along the lines of "flying by the seat of [one's] pants."
  • Amy: Like "here we go" or "hold onto your hat"!
  • Edith: This one I have never heard of. Hmmm - forget about the usual & think outside the box? Loll. Thrown back on one's own intuition? The equivalent of 'flying without instruments'?
  • Lorraine: Be spontaneous and take a chance!
  • Debbie: Sounds like "visiting" all four corners of the earth.
  • Margaret: You've lost all hope, you're lost, and there's no sense in using the compass any more, so put it back in it's "box" and forget about it - you might as well just wait for the inevitable to happen...


Christine Ammer

Comments [1]

Peter Bengelsdorf from Port Washington, NY

Facing across-the-board cuts to the tune of $85 billion, Washington’s game of chicken has businesses hunkering down and employees waiting with bated breath. Pulling out all the stops like gangbusters to give each other a black eye, both sides are gung-ho to save face. With our backs to the wall, we need a different animal: behind-the-scenes horse trading, or the economy may go haywire and we’ll be left in the lurch. Drawing lines in the sand won’t cut the mustard. Washington, put your nose to the grindstone and think outside the box. God and the devil are in the details.

This is 100 words and 21 or 22 idiomatic phrases, depending on whether you count the last sentence as one or two idioms.
--Peter Bengelsdorf, author of "Idioms in the News" e-book and idiomsinthenews.com

Feb. 25 2013 05:06 PM

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