I was going through an old pile of paper in my office recently and encountered a set of note cards I’d accumulated years ago, back in the very small, scrappy, it-definitely-might-not-make-it startup stage. Most of the cards contained miscellaneous reminders, todos, or ideas I thought worthy of further exploration.

A few of the cards, though, had the record of an idiom mixing game my colleagues and I played back in the day (I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with strongly multi-disciplinary and linguistically inclined geeks).

At its basic level, the game produced comprehensible phrases that amusingly combined two familiar idioms, such as “there are other fish to skin”, or “there are other cats in the sea”.

These are good for a chuckle, but not fundamentally anything more than language slapstick. Some combined idioms of similar intent in ways that made more vibrant images than did the originals, such as

“that opens up a whole new can of monkeys”

(A “can of worms” is one thing, but monkeys make everything funnier.) Rather than just “getting ducks in a row” or having things “fall in line”, we had

“all the ducks are falling in line”

Other are amusing but confusing, and almost seem as if they mean something, at least until you actually think about them. Example:

“Happier than a clam in pigsh*t”

The pinnacle of our mixed idiom game, though, were those hard to find combinations whose meanings were a novel blend of the original idioms. Most of these tended to mockingly riff on various elements of commonly accepted corporate-speak.

“I’m just putting them on the table as I see them”

for example, takes the casual (if sometimes cowardly) innocence of the defensive verbal communication standby “I’m just calling them as I see them” with the trite business-ese of “putting something on the table” to create an all-new description of an impetuous laziness thrust upon others.

Better still, in my opinion, is the lighthearted cynical foreshadowing of:

“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”

But my favorite, by far, is a sadly apt commentary on organizational politics gone awry:

“I dropped the ball in your court”

Have more? Oh yes you do … comment away!

  3 Responses to “mixed idiom”

  1. Heard another one recently: “that’s right up our sweet spot”

  2. I invented this one for my dissertation:

    It’s a wise invention that knows its own mother.

  3. rub salt into the fire

    someone in the Guardian comments today (June 30.09)said he would “add salt to the fire” — a little shy of the mark, but inspiring

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