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Idioms, words or phrases that aren’t meant to be taken literally, have been covered extensively in this corner over the past several weeks. While it’s been fun, I promise this will be the last installment on the subject for a while.
This list includes some of the more bizarre examples, the kind generally used because a person can’t come up with a better or more dramatic way of expressing himself.
Examples of idioms not yet mentioned include “He’s never worked a day in his life,” “has never been sick a day in his life, “would give you the shirt off his back,” “has the first dime he ever earned” and “never met anyone he didn’t like.”
Among those involving time, distance and speed, we have “a thousand miles from nowhere,” “until the end of time,” “faster than the speed of light, “taller than the Empire State Building,” “you couldn’t do that again in a million years,” “I waited all day for the light to change” and “we went to kingdom come and back.”
According to Google, “kingdom come” is an expression meaning “the next world,” thought to have come from “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer.
“I haven’t seen you in blue blazes.” What in blue blazes does blue blazes mean?
According to an online dictionary, blue blazes is a term used as an intensifier after a question word to express extreme confusion, surprise or aggravation.
Examples are “How in blue blazes am I supposed to do that,” “Where in blue blazes did you find it?” and “Who in blue blazes is making all that noise?”
Money-related uses are “not worth a nickel,” “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it,” “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that I could retire/ I’d have a million dollars,” etc. and “he has more money than he knows what to do with/more money than sense /more money than Carter has liver pills.”
“If you hadn’t asked me, I could have told you.”
Logically, as is the case with many idioms, this reference makes little sense. Why would anyone answer a question first before the question is asked?
For example, if you were to approach someone and say, without any prior discussion, “at a place outside of Raleigh” to which he then asks “Where did you get your new car?” the whole situation would sound foolish.
The temperature category includes “we nearly froze to death,” “feel just like I walked in off the surface of the sun” and “hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.”
Since some people do freeze to death, this one is somewhat realistic. Dealing with the 10,000-plus-degree temperatures found on the sun’s surface is not.
When Bill Nye, TV’s “Science Guy” tested the egg-frying theory several years ago, he found the minimum temperature to cook an egg on a stove was 130 degrees. That one is also feasible.
For age we have “as old as Methuselah,” a biblical figure said to have lived for 969 years, or “you haven’t aged a day since high school.”
In baseball there are “he hit that one nine miles,” “sent that one into orbit” and “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”
Others include “ffighting fire with fire,” “knee high to a grasshopper,” “luckiest person on earth,” “my dog dug a hole to China burying his bone,” “cut off your nose to spite your face,” “it was right on the tip of my tongue” and “if you ever do that again I’m gonna beat the tar/snot/devil/crap/mess/(expletive)/living daylights out of you.”
“Don’t let your guard down” is an overworked idiom tossed about during the last days of a major storm by weather forecasters who have run out of things to say they deem as cool or relevant.
For me it prompts a question: How does one actually let his guard down?
I can picture someone, maybe Jim Cantore, or just a regular person, standing out in his front yard in the wind and rain, looking toward the heavens with clenched fists held high shouting “All right, weather, you’ve won — I’m letting my guard down.”
Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.