19 Feb 2010
I was thinking about metaphors on the journey into work this morning. And that’s because practically every single segment on the radio used a metaphor at some point.
Metaphors make a comparison between two things that are basically different but have something in common. So
Arsene Wenger was boiling mad over Porto’s dodgy goal
Bankers’ bonuses are difficult to swallow
The ball rocketed into the net
His recollection of events was foggy
London is a melting pot
He’s a rock
Of course the ball didn’t literally go like a rocket. But it did go very fast, like a rocket would. And London isn’t literally a melting pot. But it is full of all types of people, things, smells and colours. And some bloke isn’t literally a rock. But he is strong and sturdy. You get the drift.
And then I started thinking about similes, idioms and clichés. (Yeah, thank goodness it’s only a 15 minute drive.)
So what are similes? Similes are when two things are compared to each other and are said to be like or as something.
She felt as free as a bird
It fitted like a glove
That joke is as old as the hills
She was as thin as a rake
They were as scarce as hen’s teeth
He was as tough as old boots
Life is like a box of chocolates
How about idioms? An idiom is a common expression which is part of every day speech and often breaks all rules on grammar and meaning. In fact, the word idiom comes from the Greek idios meaning ‘one’s own, peculiar, or strange’.
The histories of some idioms such as skate on thin ice are obvious. Some are not. Here are a few of my favourite idioms.
Gone for a burton
Sleep on a clothes line
Give the cold shoulder
Not my cup of tea
Fly off the handle
Go the whole hog
Keeping up with the Joneses
Don’t mince your words
In a pickle
Get the sack
Back to square one
Storm in a teacup
Many idioms are metaphors such as bed of roses and on the back burner. Some idioms such as like a bear with a sore head and bald as a coot are similes. Some idioms are dyads – pairs of words joined by and – such as airs and graces, beer and skittles, and above and beyond.
Which brings us on to clichés.
Clichés are like their close relative idioms. But unfortunately, clichés have gone round the block once too often and have become overused and tired. Avoid them like the plague.
Move the goalposts
Another day another dollar
The ball is in your court
Laugh all the way to the bank
Blood, sweat and tears
Chomping at the bit
On time and on budget
Blast from the past
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Got any favourite idioms that you love to death? Or any clichés that you avoid at all costs? Let us know in the comments.