A Rave About Language, Both Colorful and Clichéd
Here in Ohio, as in many parts of the country, the nights have been pretty cold. The Engineer says such weather is “brass monkeys,” a shortened version of “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” I would call it “colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra.” And still others might say “It’s colder than a well-digger’s ass.”
Because these descriptions are colorful, if slightly vulgar, I would consider using any of them as part of a character’s dialogue. Employing such phrases can be used to illustrate part of that character’s personality. Clearly, anyone who compares the weather to a well-digger’s ass or a witch’s tit (either in or out of a brass bra) could hardly be — to employ an example of the opposite type of expression — a shrinking violet. In fact, that character would be considered — and here comes another cliché — bold as brass.
What’s wrong with shrinking violet and bold as brass, you ask? They are, dear reader, clichés, overused phrases that adds nothing new or creative to the mix.
Except now that I think about it, both “shrinking violet” and “bold as brass” have fallen enough out of favor that using them might make a character seem charmingly old-fashioned. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment and tell me.
But, back to those frigid, winter nights. I would certainly edit out any lazy writing which describes them as “cold as ice.” And I would do the same for a person I’ve characterized as “pure as the driven snow,” and anything I said was “black as night.” You’ll notice I said, “edit out,” not “would never write.” That’s because clichés are so ingrained they are impossible to avoid altogether.
Still, I like to try to channel my characters, creating new analogies that suit who they are and where they come from. I also look to old or regional expressions that may be less commonly known, and yet are somehow descriptive enough to get the idea across. Instead of having someone say, “Gosh, she sure is tall,” I might have them drawl (and the drawl part is important because this is a southern expression), “That girl is one tall glass of water.”
My West Virginia-born father used to say that (hopefully only about my mom), and it’s quite a compliment. And guess what else — I just looked it up, and it can also be used to describe a handsome man. Now I can drawl, “My husband is one tall glass of water.” 🙂
Sigh. I love that. But then, I’m such a word geek.
Here’s another one I like: “He’s not smart enough to pour piss out of a boot with a hole in the toe and instructions on the heel!” I can just picture some — cliché alert — bozo looking at the heel of an old cowboy boot, trying to figure out how to pour out the piss. Why there would be urine in a boot to begin with, I have no idea, but the expression makes me smile.
How about you? Are there certain expressions you’d like to expurgate (and what a great word that is!) from the English language? Any unusual phrases you’d like to share? Leave a comment and tell all!