Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Phrasing Pioneer

I’ve mentioned my interest in the origins of words, so it’s probably not surprising that I’m also curious about popular phrases.

According to family legend, my grandfather coined “Get off my back” during World War II. The validity of this assertion can, I’m sure, be challenged. But, the fact is that at some point in the past someone strung some words together and everyone else eventually decided, You know that really sums up my feelings perfectly. I’m going to start saying that too.

And a phrase was born.

I happen to know a gentleman who seems to be trying very hard to become one of those phrasing pioneers. Once, when describing how another individual was going to react to something, he said, “He’ll be happy as….straw….or whatever…..or grass.”

“Happy as a clam” just didn’t cut it for this fella. Which I kind of get. Why should clams have the monopoly on happiness? I bet both straw and grass are just as joyful on any given day.

Anyway, that particular phrase didn’t quite land, but he hasn’t given up. Even better than that is that he acts as though the things he says are already commonly known. For instance, when people looked at him strangely after he said, “It’s like a lobster dip,” he didn’t balk. Instead he just went on to say, “You should only take bites, not eat the whole thing,” as if everyone else was ridiculous for not immediately understanding that. And no, the conversation that sparked this observation had nothing to do with food.

This guy hasn’t struck gold yet in his endeavors to coin the next awesome phrase, but you have to respect the effort. Because as ridiculous as all these things might sound, all those years ago, someone was probably thinking, What the hell does that mean? Get off my back. I’m not on his back. Clearly. I’m all the way over here. That guy’s so weird. Acting like I should know what he’s talking about. What a clown.

So if you find yourself discontent with the current array of phrases at your disposal, go ahead and try to make one up yourself. Will they all be winners? Absolutely not. But, odds are someone is eventually going to say something that one hundred years down the line is just part of the accepted common vernacular. And why can't it be you? Until you find the perfect phrase though, you can just take the bits work from your trashed phrases and leave the rest behind.

When you really think about it, the whole phrasing process? It's kinda like a lobster dip.*

*You know, unless you're like me and would totally just eat the whole thing.

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