Tuesday, April 30, 2013

cliché: beauty is only skin deep

Meaning: Appearances can be deceptive; physical beauty is superficial (definition).

Example: Her words not so gracious as her appearance, we learned her beauty is only skin deep.

Origins: First use attributed to Sir Thomas Overbury, 1613, 1856. (Source.)


  • beauty is a blemish of the skin
  • beauty doesn’t reach to the bone
  • beauty is a tattoo
  • grace is an outer garment only
  • once the skin breaks the beauty bleeds away
  • glamour is but a mask
  • loveliness is a linen few care to turn down
Discussion: Once again, we break this idiom down into its essential meaning to create its rewrites.

Monday, April 29, 2013

cliché: beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Meaning: Beauty (or ugliness) is subjective (definition).

Example: She says he’s handsome, I say he’s average; such is our notion of beauty, which is in the eye of the beholder.

Origins: In various forms, 3rd century BC Greek, 16th century AD Shakespeare and Lyly, but not in its current form until the 19th century AD. (Source.

  • in beauty, the beholder sets the gauge
  • beauty is subject to the jaundiced eye
  • glamour is an astigmatism true to the beholder
  • fairness favors the beholder
  • loveliness is the gift of the onlooker
  • charm is an artifact of the beguiled
  • grace is a spectator event
  • elegance is a biased view

Discussion: This rewrite took me a while. The trick here is to decide what to call “beauty” and then how to acknowledge its reception. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

cliché: beat the bushes

Meaning: seek something diligently; also, work hard to achieve something.

Example: Sales department knows, when earnings are down you beat the bushes for leads.

Origins: From hunting practice of flushing birds from hiding by hitting bushes with a stick.

Source for meaning and origins.

  • beat the flora
  • beat the shrubs                         
  • thrash the chaparral
  • whack the vegetation
  • jostle the low hanging fruit
  • wake the early birds

Discussion: I’ve attempted to address both the original wording and the nuances of meanings. See what you can do.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

cliché: beat around the bush

Meaning: addressing an issue in a round-about way (definition).

Example: When asked for details, she hemmed and hawed then beat around the bush.

Origins: Hunting during medieval times, flushing wild game out of the bushes at the risk of also flushing out more dangerous game. (Source.)

  • beat around the tall grass
  • send the lads into the bushes
  • make noises from the treetops
  • walk the edges of the crowd
  • drive around the traffic jam
  • get to the heart by way of the lungs
  • cross the river at the creek

Discussion: The key to this rewrite isn’t so much to duplicate the original as it is to restate its intent, which is to avoid the danger or inconvenience by taking other means.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

cliché: be there or be square

Meaning: direction to conform or be out of step with the cool people (definition).

Example: Dude, everybody who’s anybody will be at the party – be there or be square!

Origins: Its roots evolved over the last couple of centuries, but the cliché takes root in 1940s-50s with jazz as a reference to the square as something that followed an established order turned into one that was confined by that order and not “with it” or “cool.” (Source 1. Source 2.)

  • be there or be contraire
  • be there or lose your cool
  • be there or be drool
  • be there or be outta here
  • be there or never be here
  • be one of us or never be one of us
  • come along to get along

Discussion: There is a lot of room to work with here for a rewrite. There is the rhyme, coolness, conformity, inclusion – this cliché is rich with opportunity for rework.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

cliché: bats in the belfry

Meaning: crazy or eccentric behavior.

Example: Swerving across three lanes of busy traffic, he must have been navigating with bats in his belfry.

Origins: 1900s American authors of various genre.

Definition and Origins Source.

  • bats in the tower
  • squirrels in the attic
  • spiders in the crown
  • monkeys in the museum
  • gremlins in the observatory

Discussion: This is about erratic behavior, so a rewrite should be about erratic-acting animals in tall or stable places.

Friday, April 12, 2013

cliché: banging your head against a brick wall

Meaning: repetitively doing something that will result in no positive effect (definition).

Example: My son had already made up his mind, and trying to change his decision was like banging my head against a brick wall.

Origins: Could not find one.

  • hitting your head against a cement wall
  • yelling at a brick wall
  • sparring with a brick wall
  • having a staring contest with a masonry wall

Discussion: I was really surprised that I couldn’t find an origin for this one, but I suspect it’s buried in some English garden. The meaning is apparent, without an origin.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

cliché: a basket case

Meaning: One who is of a hopeless or useless physical or mental state (definition).

Example: He was so upset by the accident, he had become a mental basket case.

Origins: World War I, describing a soldier who returned from war having lost both arms and both legs. (Source.) Offensive slang. (Source.)

  • N/A

Discussion: I’m going to take the unusual step of suggesting we not rewrite this cliché but because of its offensive nature we discard it. Offensive why? Because it treats the physically or mentally disabled as “hopeless” and “useless” instead of as honored and hopeful members of society. Even in its original use, officials used the term to deny that such individuals even existed. I suggest we deny the offense and not describe anyone in these or similar terms.

Monday, April 08, 2013

cliché: a barn burner

Meaning: something that causes a lot of interest or excitement (definition).

Example: The championship game between the top two contenders was a real barn burner.

Origins: American 1835-45, reference to burning down a barn to get rid of rats and the attention it causes. (Source.)


  • a barn razer
  • a tower toppler
  • a bridge dropper
  • a roof collapser
  • a sky blazer
  • a river blocker

Discussion: While these don’t all have the same origins as a barn burning, they likely would all get public attention and acclaim.

Friday, April 05, 2013

cliché: baptism by fire

(also, baptism of fire)

Meaning: an ordeal, especially of martyrdom; soldier’s first battle experiences (definition).

Example: On his first day, the customer service rep faced a first rate consumer rage call, an epic baptism of fire.

Origins: First used in French to reference a soldier’s experience in battle, 1822. Also Biblical references. (Source.)


  • baptism by conflagration
  • blessing by bayonet
  • passion by ambush
  • ecstasy by battle
  • immersion by Armageddon
  • purification by scrabble

Discussion: There are a couple of different ways to go with this idiom. Be inventive.