Thursday, January 31, 2013

cliché: at the end of my rope

Meaning: out of options or alternatives (definition).

Example: My cell phone was locked in the car with my keys and wallet - I was at the end of my rope.

Origins: A rope thrown to someone for help or provided as a resource. (Sources. OED [b])

  • at the loose end of an untethered rope (rescue)
  • grabbed the short end of a shrinking rope (resource)
  • ran out of ladder
  • reduced to pennies and pocket lint
  • bailing with a bottomless pail
  • at the mercy of a slippery rope with no grip
  • on the last strand of an unraveling rope
  • watched the rescue party pass me by

Discussion: Different from “at the end of my tether” (see OED [a] above for distinction. Also sometimes thought to mean “I can’t take anymore.” I didn't address those here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

cliché: at the eleventh hour

Meaning: at the last possible moment (definition).

Example: They averted a strike reaching an agreement at the 11th hour. (Examples.)

Origins: The Bible – the last hour of sunlight before darkness sets in at the 11th hour. (Sources.)

  • a quarter to too late
  • at the moment of last resort
  • with time only to utter the final word
  • with the clock showing just shy of “too late”
  • between 1 and 0 in the final countdown

Discussion: I struggled to find a closer revision of the actual words “the 11th hour” but it was a toughie. What ideas do you have?

Friday, January 25, 2013

cliché: at the crack of dawn

Meaning: When the light of day first appears (definition).

Example: The stars begin to disappear at the crack of dawn. (Examples.)

Origins: Old English, “crack” means “moment”, thus “moment of dawn.” (Sources.)

  • at the smack of dawn
  • at break of day
  • as light of day peeps
  • as the sun wakens
  • as night calls it a day

Discussion: This one was harder to rewrite than I thought it would be. What other metaphors have you created?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

cliché: asleep at the wheel

Meaning: Inattentive or literally asleep while on duty (definition).

Example: He nearly missed his exit because he was “asleep at the wheel.”

Origins: 19th century American railroading. (Origins.)

  • Dozing at the wheel
  • Asleep at the keyboard
  • Napping while knitting
  • At rest in the guard tower
  • Tuning the horn with some Z’s
  • Monitoring the meter with half-open eyes
  • Driving with another pair of eyes

Discussion: In this rewrite, I tried to come up with parallel idioms for the original, then I tried to recast it a little to approach the idea with similar metaphors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

cliché: as plain as the nose on your face

Meaning: Very obvious (definition).

Example: The sore on his lip was as plain as the nose on your face. (Source.)

Origins: Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Thomas Hardy’s Pair Blue Eyes, 1873. (Origins.)

  • as plain as the snout on a sow
  • as obvious as the horn on a rhino
  • as evident as a turret on a tank
  • as patent as whiskers on a chin
  • as sure as cute on a kitten

Discussion: Although the idiom is mostly about everyday obviousness, you might also read it to be about plainness and certainty.

Friday, January 18, 2013

cliché: apple of my eye, the

Meaning: The focus of my eye; someone or something cherished above others.

Example: Of all the young ladies at the dance, I couldn't take my eye off of her. She was the apple of my eye.

Origins: AD 885 from an Old English work attributed to King Aelfred the Great and The Bible: Deuteronomy 32:10 and Zechoriah 2:8. More lately by Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott.

(Definition and origins.)

  • The red delicious of my eye
  • The apple of my joy
  • The fruit of my appreciation
  • The joy of my focus

Discussion: In the first rewrite, use the species of apple of your choice, any would probably work, although the more notable the variety the better the metaphor works.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

cliché: any port in a storm

Meaning: help accepted from any source (definition).

Example: Another night with the in-laws beats an overnight at the airport - any port in a storm! (Examples.)

Origins: Sea travel when any port, even those normally not sought out, would offer safety from storms or battles. (Source.)

  • any harbor in a gale
  • any shelter in a blizzard
  • any inside when the outside gets wild
  • anywhere the weather can’t get to me

Discussion: Although I kept these rewrites to weather, there are plenty of opportunities to recast for other  situations when safety is sought. How might you rewrite for them? 

Monday, January 14, 2013

cliché: always a bridesmaid, never a bride

Meaning: Never the most important person in a group (source); never fulfill ambitions (source).

Origins: 1924 Listerine ad (source). 

Example: I finally make president of the firm and they bring in a CEO - as usual, always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

  • always a groomsman, never a groom
  • always a stable pony, never a thoroughbred
  • always an assistant, never a department head
  • always a supporting actor,  never a leading role
  • always a seat warmer, never a celeb
  • always a caterpillar, never a butterfly
  • always a raindrop, never a snowflake
  • always a nominee, never one who accepts the statue
  • always a rivet, never a Bedazzler

Discussion: This ad tagline is rife with opportunities for rewrites and recasts. I would love to see what you can come up with. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

cliché: Achilles’ heel

Meaning: vulnerability (definition and example).

Example: His lack of attention to detail was his Achilles’ heel.

Origins: Greek mythology. First cited in literature by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1810. (Source.)

  • Achilles’ weak spot
  • Thor's mind
  • Samson’s locks
  • Kal-El’s kryptonite
  • Spiderman’s Mary Jane
  • Death Star’s thermal exhaust port

Discussion: Some of these you have to know the story to get the vulnerability and so they may not work as instantaneously as the original. Others may break through right away, depending on your audience.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

cliché: all that glitters is not gold

Meaning: A proverb: All that appears expensive and genuine isn't so.

Example: That minted coin looks like a good deal, but all that glitters is not gold.

Origins: In various forms dates before the 12th century, perhaps even before Aesop, but in modern usage dates back to Shakespeare’s The Merchants of Venice.

Meaning, origins, and exampleMore examples.

  • all that sparkles is not diamonds
  • all that shines is not silver
  • gold and brass glitter alike
  • much glitter is as good as the gutter
  • fool's gold fools many fools

Discussion: I tried to stay true to the precious metals and gems roots of the saying, but can you imagine a recasting of this proverb in terms of flashy brands and gadgets?

Monday, January 07, 2013

cliché: all ears

Meaning: eagerly listening (definition).

Examples: Speak up, I'm all ears. (Some examples.)

Origins: Literal sense of the ears as instruments of hearing and eagerness to listen (source).

  • listening with both ears
  • eardrums are piqued
  • ears are tuned
  • that hush is for you
  • you can’t speak too low for me!

Discussion: Originally, I went much wider in rewriting these but found I was taking the idiom beyond its original meaning. There is plenty of opportunity to rewrite using ears or hearing or speaking as extended metaphors and staying true to the heart of its idea.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

cliché: after my own heart

Meaning: Someone who thinks as I do (definition).

Example: Comparing favorite movies, I found she was a woman after my own heart. (Example in song lyrics.)

Origins: The Bible, Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22 (source).


  • shares my heartbeat
  • whose pulse beats with mine
  • has similar vibes
  • is tuned into my wavelength

Discussion: It's someone who shares your heart, your sympathies, your beat, your senses... these are just the beginning of ways you can redefine what is a lovely but limited expression of oneness with another person.

I'm changing the format trying to share more research and help you do more with the sentiment behind the idiom. Let me know what you think about the changes.