Cliché? Touché.

by D. D. Falvo on May 29, 2013 | @ddfalvo

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Thursday’s Children is a weekly blog hop,

 founded by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet & Kristen Perez

where writers share their inspirations.

 Inspired by ~ Idioms.

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In the movie War Games, hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is in the  hot seat after an autonomous supercomputer misinterprets his request to play an online game–and begins a real global thermonuclear war. The viewer is on pins and needles until Lightman levels the playing field, so our gooses aren’t cooked on a grand scale.

David’s backside isn’t really on fire. Sharp objects poke no one, no hoeing is involved, and we aren’t planning a poultry dinner.

But you still understand what I’m talking about, because idioms are as old as dirt, and as common as houseflies–there are over 25K in the English language. Those catchy, little phrases pop out of our mouths with surprising ease, ringing in our ears like our mother’s voices from a decade gone by.

Idiom  . . . a combination of words that has a figurative meaning, due to common usage. An idiom’s figurative meaning is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made. (Wikipedia)

These snippets are so well-ingrained in our brains that they often find their way into our work. But they aren’t original vehicles. Why bump along in a Little Tykes Cozy Coupe when you can customize your own sleek ride?

(cracks knuckles) Let’s do better.

The Proposal: Pick an idiom, any idiom, (flourishes a handful of choices, here and here ). I challenge you to rephrase any idiom in your own words, or make up an entirely new one–and put it in the comments. If you’re reading the comments, reply with what you think the original might have been. If your guess is already there, let ‘er ride.

Can you figure out which idiom I rewrote for the following excerpt from my WIP, Lumen?

Celeste huffed into clasped hands, and surveyed the horizon through rising breath clouds. To the left, the manmade glow of the imperial nation, Edo, pushed back the onset of Twilight. To the right, the WilderForest blurred into an amber maze of branches and shadow. She chewed her lip and eyed the crowd of trees, seeking the ancient oak. At this moment, finding it had all the pitfalls of sorting a diamond from a pile of broken glass.

“Where are you?” she cried.

The only answer was the low moan of creaking limbs, and the whoosh of a restless breeze.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhiann Wynn-Nolet May 30, 2013 at 12:34 am

I’m guessing “like finding a needle in a haystack”. As you know, I love old-fashioned idioms, much as they’re generally discouraged in YA writing. In fact, I think they “provide as much entertainment as a stream full of otters” ;)

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 12:36 am

Lol! I’ve got yours–ooh-ooh, ahh-ahh. (beats chest and scratches armpits) :P But I’ll let someone else name it.

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Vaughn Roycroft May 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’d say Rhiann’s is ‘Barrel of monkeys,’ but otters are so much more charming–so fitting for the author! :-D

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Give the man an ale and call him a winner. :D And I agree. Rhiann’s charm shows through in all she does.

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Rhiann Wynn-Nolet May 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Well, since I’m actually terrified of monkeys ANYTHING would be more fun than a barrel full of them – I could have said a basket of cobras or a crock of crocs (reptiles, not footwear though I do find crocs frighteningly ugly)…

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Wha-at? Maimouphobia? Well, no worries, we’ll just keep a lid on the barrel. :P Walking crocs are as ugly as a Chinese Crested (though I’m oddly attracted to the breed), but you can keep your crock of real crocs in NC. They give me the willies. Do you know how intelligent they are? They will remember meeting you, then hunt you down. (shivers)

Jeannette May 30, 2013 at 2:41 am

I have a post-it note beside my computer about this very thing, because I use them all the time and DON’T WANT TO. I will add to said post-it a few lines about changing old idioms up… great tip!

I’m definitely not witty enough to keep the chain going, but this would be a fun game!

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 3:30 am

Thanks, Jeanette–and I think you’re witty enough, but I understand. We have a lot of blogs to read and I’m asking peeps to tap their creative go-go juice up front. :P But when you come up with a new idiom b/c you want to put it in your MS, come back and share it. :)

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T.J. May 30, 2013 at 4:28 am

‘Bout time you blogged again.

I’m sure I use way too many, but the brain dead symptoms have returned with the lack of caffeine and chocolate.

Good point, and we need to watch those when editing. Of course, it takes me at least three good passes LOL

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Oh, heavens. I lose track of how many passes it takes me. :P I hear you on the need for caffeine, we have a lot of ground to cover for TC, but it’s definitely fun!

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Vaughn Roycroft May 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Because I write in a historical setting, I find myself doing this often. I have to take all traces of the modern out of my dialog, and it often amazes me how difficult it is. I never use ‘minutes’ but instead use ‘moments’ (no clocks yet). No inches or feet, but finger’s, hand’s width/length or paces. Sometimes they as easily as getting my helm knocked off. Other times I have to walk the extra league. Oh well, every Tiberian knows that Medicia wasn’t built in a day.

Love the excerpt! Fun post, D! And a good exercise. Thanks!

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Yes! You struck that anvil with masterly precision. I have the same issues since my world is futuristic/limited, and in certain cultures also primitive. I’m always measuring height by hands, and peeps track points for a dicing game with fingers and toes, so the win is always capped at 20. :P Love all your original idioms. Your talent at this game makes you the guy to beat. Thanks so much for joining the fun. :D

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Jennifer LoBeth May 30, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Very nice excerpt. I’m going to try using a revamped idiom. I let you know how it goes:)

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Thanks, Jennifer. :) And please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your original idiom.

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Mia Celeste May 30, 2013 at 6:38 pm

I like that ” a diamond in a pile of glass” Very fun and as fresh. Thanks for sharing.

http://www.miaceleste.com/?p=341

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Thanks, Mia. :D

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Patty Petersen May 30, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Not to “hike off the trail” but this challenge reminds me of outsiders trying to understand and use our idioms and brings to mind an ESL dinner guest who meant to gracefully express she was full saying, “I’ve had it up to here with this food.”

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Ah-hahahaha! That’s great, Patty. :D Some of the best gaffs are come from well-intended gestures. Thanks for the add. :D

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Elaine Jeremiah May 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm

‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ – it’s very wet. Does that count? And nope not sure which idiom you had to rewrite.

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Anything that conveys the intent counts, Elaine. Rhiann guessed my idiom correctly. :D Thanks for coming by.

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Kate Michael May 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Oh, I’m SO guilty of using idioms, and then spend hours “banging my head against my keyboard” trying to come up with something unique and clever to replace them. I usually end up just deleting the whole thing. Awesome post! P.S. I love that movie :)

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D. D. Falvo May 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Me, too! Sometimes inspiration rears it’s whimsical head, other times I have to dance around it. Thanks, Kate. :) That movie was awesome in it’s “heyday”, but my kids had better “bells and whistles” to attract them. It’s sad how the cool factor devolves with age, moi included. :P

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Laura Oliva May 30, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I confess: I love idioms. I often have my characters use them -either when they’re speaking or thinking- because, hey, I use them when I’m speaking or thinking, and my characters are human too, right?

I think an idiom only becomes a bad thing when you try to use it in your narration. That’s when it turns into a *hiss* cliche.

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 3:54 am

I know! I love idioms too! And IMHO, it’s natural for characters–especially modern day type–to use idioms in a dialogue. I would never say *don’t use them, but as a guideline, it’s probably best to avoid them in a narrative if you can. :D That said, I believe each artist should follow what they feel is right for them. ;)

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Jo Eberhardt May 30, 2013 at 9:41 pm

I love the idea of rewriting an idiom. My writing (especially my current WIP) tends to be scattered with them — mind you, I’m writing a comic/satirical novel highlighting the way popular culture influences our thoughts and actions, whether or not we want it to.

It’s early here — too early to put my apron of awesome on and come up with a new idiom. Plus, I’m at least two cups of coffee short of a picnic.

But I love accidental idioms that join a family’s combined linguistic consciousness. Back when I was a teenager, my mum was racing around trying to get a heap of things done and my sister asked for a drink. “You’ll have to wait,” my mother said. “I’m already running around like a head with no chicken.” It’s been part of our family legacy every since. (My kids probably have no idea what the original idiom was — or even what the statement means.)

Right, better go get these children to school before I’m the one acting like a head with no chicken!

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:05 am

Agreed. Idioms are a natural part of popular culture–and now I’m making a mental note to check what T. Pratchett does with that. ;)
You always make me laugh, Jo–with or without coffee. Loved the story re: accidental idioms–”running around like a head with no chicken”! That’s precious. Like Jan O’Hara remarked in her recent WU post, linguistics are a vital piece of the family culture. It’s not an idiom, but I once misspoke “muffins and bagels” one very early morning so that it came out as “muffles and bagins”. That’s a permanent installment now.

I am visualizing your children driven to school by a headless chicken! It may keep me awake tonight–laughing.

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Nicole L. Bates May 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm

After living in Mississippi for a couple of years, this should be a slice of pie with strawberries on top! :) I’m not sure if this is technically an idiom, but one of my favorites is: “Good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:09 am

Your twist on piece of cake is so cute! And I adore “Good lord willing . . .” I’ve never heard that before, but it strikes a chord that feels very ‘salt of the earth’. ;) (Do think it counts as an idiom.)

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Raewyn Hewitt May 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm

What an awesome post! ‘You struck that anvil with masterly precision’ – very clever – must try and drop that into conversation sometime this week… Although why is it all my favourite idioms seem to come from Blackadder…? The pressure to come up with my own… nope the inspirational waterhole has evaporated.

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:13 am

Haha! Please come back and let me know how the ‘struck anvil’ works for you this weekend. :P You made me Google Blackadder–that looks awesome, I adore period serials. And I saw what you did there–very witty, and I like it a lot. :D

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Jo Eberhardt May 31, 2013 at 7:51 am

If you haven’t seen Blackadder, you are seriously missing out. High-larious stuff. :D

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Ooooo! Another vote for the series. Finding a great show after the episodes air is a treasure trove waiting to be plundered. :D Thanks for the heads up. (Idiom count +2) :P

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Rhiann Wynn-Nolet May 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Oh yeah, Rowan Atkins is a genius. I’m also a closet Mr. Bean fan – well, not all that much in the closet really, I had a clip of him dancing to Gangnam Style on my Got an Agent post….

Lara Schiffbauer May 31, 2013 at 12:32 am

Super-clever, but I knew you are! I use cliches in everyday language way, way too much, but it’s so much easier than trying to say it myself. You are so right that twisting an idiom is a much more interesting way to get our point across. I just wish it didn’t take me forever to think of any updates, so I could play today!

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:20 am

Aw, thanks. :D We all use idioms without even thinking about it much of the time. You’re so clever, your super-conscience will be thinking of new ones over the weekend. I’m know you’ve been working hard at your FFP–looking forward to that tomorrow. <3

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jessika fleck May 31, 2013 at 4:20 am

Great post, wonderful excerpt! I was thinking ‘needle in the haystack’, but I’m obviously much too late (that Rhiann is always so on top of things!)! And I love the concept of taking old idioms and giving them a new spin – definitely going to try that out!

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 4:27 am

Thanks, Jessika! :D Rhiann is always on top of things–but you still got it on your own. ;) Loved your yellow pics today. They were very inspiring.

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D. D. Falvo May 31, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Comments won’t let me reply directly, Rhiann–so I’ll put it here: Eeee! Can’t wait to check out Blackadder (I have loved the BBC since their audio version of LOTR). :D Mr Bean? He. Is. Awesome. Capitol A. Apropos clip for the got-my-agent-dance.

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Karen lee June 2, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Funny. One of the chapters in my middle-grade is called Your Goose Is Cooked. My father was a bellowing bear of cliches. I wish I could remember more of them–didn’t actually grow up with him. But when we visited I think he used those cliches to support him with some type of knowledge that might show us he was wise. Or something. Stumped on your cliche hint. I’d guess what Rhiann said. Bet I could come back at some point and give you one I’ve made up. I’m in the mountains using my phone. And it’s glitching. Agh. Nice meeting you! :)

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D. D. Falvo June 3, 2013 at 1:53 am

Hi Karen! Great title for a chapter, loved the tongue-in-cheek humor–unless you are truly cooking geese, then my condolences. :P Your dad sounds awesome, and I believe there’s data somewhere that claims an idiom a day does indeed make you wise . . . or was that an apple? Gosh, someone call the doctor, the idioms are melting my brain.

Rhiann called it correctly. :D And I think your idiom for “Bellowing Bear” is a perfect original, but if you come up with any others and your phone works–come on back and share. :D

So nice to meet you too.

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Michaele Stoughton June 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I don’t use idioms a lot in life. I think because, like jokes, I tend to screw them up. lol. “Don’t put all your birds in one basket, leave two in the bush.” But it seems like a lot of people mess them up. Just the other day I heard a conversation between my daughter and her boyfriend.
Her: But everyone else was…
Him: Oh, so, if everyone else jumped off the curb, you would too?

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D. D. Falvo June 3, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Hi Michaele! Love your comment ~ especially the “leaving two birds in a bush” part. Peeps mix up idioms all the time! A guy I once worked for once said this ~
Him: I had a terrible time! That guy drank like a chimney, and his wife smoked like a fish all night.

Seriously.
He was actually a very intelligent guy, but, um, I guess he never watched a fish swim–or visited a chimney outdoors.
But he made me laugh so hard that day that I still smile over it. Which is the whole point of a good joke–so it works out regardless. :P

Thanks for the visit.

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Cassandra H Griffin June 17, 2013 at 7:01 am

How about a different take on ‘icing on the cake’…
I imagine it could go a little something like this:

“Well, by Golly! Isn’t that just the soya sauce on your sushi roll?”

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D. D. Falvo June 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Cassandra, I love it. You made me laugh this morning. :D Thanks!

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