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How to retool your ailing lexicon
Where did you go wrong, and how can you retool your ailing lexicon? To increase your vocabulary with phrases you've heard but aren't quite sure how to use, read on.
1. "Cold turkey"
Definition: Refers to the physical state addicts are in when withdrawing from drug
addition, especially heroin. Their blood is directed to the internal organs, leaving
their skin white and goose bumpy like a Thanksgiving bird ready to go in the oven.
Mmmmm, junkie turkey.
Origin: The first usage of this phrase is unknown, but it has as many applications as
there are things to be addicted to.
Use it in a sentence: After coming down with a strange illness that turned his
eye-whites blue, Ozzy had to go cold turkey from biting the heads off live bats or
any other animals.
2. "Going Dutch"
Definition: To evenly split the cost of a group expense, like a meal.
Origin: The origin of the phrase is unknown, but there is one explanation. In the
17th century, the Dutch were hated commercial rivals of the British, and have been a
verbal target for them since. Anyone who "went Dutch" may have been considered a
tightwad. Not surprisingly, the Dutch don't seem to love this phrase.
Use it in a sentence: The last girl I went out with called me a superior patriarchal
misogynist who didn't respect her independence just because I offered to pick up the
tab. So last night I decided I'd play it safe and suggested to my date that we go
Dutch. She called me a cheap bastard!
3. "Sh*t hits the fan"
Definition: Refers to the commotion that can occur when a situation that was
previously secret is publicly revealed. Graphically illustrates the distinction
between fecal matter, which is not in itself such a problem, and fecal matter piling
up to the ceiling fan and then being sprayed everywhere, which pretty much sucks.
Origin: Depression-era America, when apparently excrement abounded.
Use it in a sentence: "I'm telling you, Bob, if we don't figure out how to get your
dad's pogo stick out of this tree, the sh*t's really gonna hit the fan. I mean, how's
he supposed to get to work?"
4. "Put a sock in it"
Definition: A terse request to be quiet.
Origin: Since early gramophones had no volume control knobs, playing them at anything
less than 11 ("my amp goes up to 11") required putting a sock in the amplification
Use it in a sentence:
Girl: "Why are you hesitating? You don't like it, do you? You think it makes me look
fat, right? Oh, I knew this would happen. I should never have gotten an orange
Guy: "Ah, put a sock in it."
5. "Son of a gun"
a) As an interjection, it means "gee whiz" or "well I'll be damned."
b) As a name to call someone, it's a euphemism for a phrase that's already pretty
tame: son of a bitch.
Origin: According to the Phrase Finder (www.phrases.shu.ac.uk), the expression
originated on sailing ships, where some women would have sex with sailors between the
cannons. The male progeny of such a dangerous liaison would then be called a son of a
gun. Nice pedigree.
Use it in a sentence:
a) "Son of a gun, who stole my toupee?"
b) "Bob, you old son of a gun. How's the prostate?"
6. "For all intents and purposes"
Definition: First of all, it ain't "for all intensive purposes." Think about it for a
minute. What the hell could that possibly mean? For all uses that are short but
really demanding? Like, oh, I don't know, midget arm-wrestling? No, "for all intents
and purposes" means "realistically speaking; practically; in almost every way."
Origin: Although its origin is unknown, the phrase used to be "to all intents and
purposes," which is still sometimes heard.
Use it in a sentence: Bob tried so hard to please Patty that he had long ago passed
the "whipped" phase and was now, for all intents and purposes, her love slave.
7. "Big cheese"
Definition: The most important person; the boss.
Origin: The Urdu word for thing is chiz. The British likened its sound to the word
"cheese" and, as cheese is so vital to the Brits that their pound currency was
actually pegged to the price of medium cheddar for almost two centuries, they
modified its meaning to "the main/best thing." The phrase crossed the Atlantic as
"the big cheese" in about 1890.
Use it in a sentence: The way he acted, you could tell Bob thought he was the big
cheese of the joint. But really, with his faux chains, hedge-like chest hair and
shiny zebra-striped shirt, he was just cheesy.
8. "Peeping Tom"
Definition: A peeping Tom is a voyeur.
Origin: It stems from an 11th century English legend in which Tom the tailor
unlawfully peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides on horseback naked through Coventry. As
a result, he was struck blind. Doh!
Use it in a sentence: To mess with the minds of any would-be peeping Toms in the high
rise across the street, every night Bob undressed in front of his window with all the
lights on, then looked out into the night and gave a big wave before retiring.
9. "Beat around the bush"
Definition: This old phrase means, well, you know, sort of to, like, stall and stuff,
or lie even, instead of, um -- hey look, that dog has a poofy tail! Sorry, it means
not to get to the point or the truth.
Origin: It comes from hunting, where hunters would carefully beat around bushes
hoping to drive out their prey instead of just going in after it.
Use it in a sentence:
Man #1: "Stop beating around the bush and ask the question already!"
Man #2: "Okay, fine. Can I borrow your girlfriend for, like, an hour?"
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