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Danecdotes: Sometimes, English is weird

Raining cats and dogs: Come on. Next. Same difference: Not so much an idiom as just a general expression, but I hate this one and need to talk about it. Hearing this phrase gets in my craw more than any other use of proper English.

As someone who writes for a living, I obviously need to have a decent understanding of the English language. I'll be the first to admit I'm a long way from having anything resembling a mastery of the language, but I like to think I do fairly well at telling stories or recapping events.

I try my best to use proper English, even when I text - much to the chagrin of my friends and family who have to read the paragraphs I send them - and I'm quick to correct myself in the event of improper grammar, even when speaking.

I was recently thinking about some of the strange things we English speakers say and realized that many of these expressions and idioms don't make a whole lot of sense in today's world. We usually try to avoid idioms and "cliches" in our stories anyway, but we and every English-speaking person on earth uses some of them at some point, myself included.

This past week, I tried to dig into a few semi-common expressions. In general, after a bit of research, I can confirm that I still don't get it.

Here are a few of those expressions:

Bob's your uncle: You don't hear this one very much in central Minnesota, but I've heard it enough and I don't care for it. For the record, "Bob's your uncle" means something along the lines of "and that's that." It's a phrase you put at the end of a description of something.

But why "Bob's your uncle?" I don't have a single uncle named Bob (admittedly, my grandpa was named Bob, but that's not the point).

Most of the origin stories point to this expression coming from a British prime minister named Robert Gascoyne-Cecil naming his nephew a chief secretary, but that's far from the only example of nepotism in political history. What's so special about Bob?

Cold turkey: Quitting something cold turkey usually means you quit something, usually a bad habit like smoking, by simply stopping that action without help or preparation. It seems like there are a few explanations for the phrase's origin, but they all seem a little ridiculous to me.

One of those compares the symptoms a withdrawing addict may experience to that of a cold, dead turkey. I have used this expression plenty in my life and will continue to do so, but when I stop and think about what is being said, it is just plain weird.

Under the weather: I actually enjoy the story behind this one - at least one of the stories behind it. "Under the weather," of course, refers to not feeling well. Back in the day, apparently, the number of sailors on a given ship getting sick would often exceed the space in the ship's log to list their names. When that happened, they would be forced to list their names under the "weather conditions" section of the log.

Therefore, their names were literally "under the weather." Fun, right?

Piece of cake: If a task is really easy, someone may say it is a piece of cake. What's easy about a piece of cake? Eating it? I suppose, but I can tell you right now making a cake would be a fairly difficult task for someone as culinarily impaired as I am. Anyone who ate the cake I prepared may find that action equally challenging.

Raining cats and dogs: Come on. Next.

Same difference: Not so much an idiom as just a general expression, but I hate this one and need to talk about it. Hearing this phrase gets in my craw more than any other use of proper English.

In my mind, "same" and "difference" are mutually exclusive and do not belong in the same sentence. It seems a perfectly acceptable phrase on one hand, but it also feels oxymoronic in a way I am unable to wrap my head around.

That's it for me. I looked into a few more - dead as a doornail, happy as a clam, etc. - but I'll hold onto those for a future column. Hopefully some of these make a bit more sense to you, but I remain a bit puzzled.

Dan Determan
Staff Writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper
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