How long is that in dog years?
Posted Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 10:28 PM
Related entries: Animals

Just like the last entry, today's idiom is one I heard while watching an old Batman serial.  The phrase "coon's age" is used to describe a lengthy period of time.  According to The Straight Dope, its origin dates back to the 1800's when it was believed that racoons (or "coons") had very long lives.  Apparently the folks who used this phrase had never scientifically studied the average lifespan of a racoon, which is really only around 5 years in the wild.  Example:

"I was pleasantly surprised the other day to run into Rick in the supermarket; I hadn't seen him in a coon's age!"

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At least he makes good company
Posted Wednesday, Jul 06, 2005 11:29 PM
Related entries: Animals

Out of all the categories of idioms I have covered thus far, I would have to say the most underrepresented would have to be animals.  I wouldn't venture too far to guess why we have so many idioms dealing with animals, except to say that perhaps it is a result of the use of animals in every culture to represent certain human traits.  The tortoise and the hare, the sloth, the snake; all of these conjure up images of certain traits we either long for or abhor.  So, in case you haven't guessed already, today's idiom is animal-related.  The phrase "monkey on one's back" refers to an addiction, usually related to substance use.  As for the origin of the phrase, the Online Etymology Dictionary points to the Arabian tales of Sinbad the sailor.  In one of these tales, Sinbad is attacked by an ape who clings to his shoulders and refuses to let go.  Example:

"Luke has tried several times to quit smoking, but he's always been unsuccessful.  Perhaps he will never get rid of the monkey on his back."

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary

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Just shoot me
Posted Sunday, Jun 12, 2005 11:37 PM
Related entries: Animals

Today's idiom is "sitting duck."  This phrase refers to something or someone who leaves himself open to attack or to criticism.  I am not aware of a precise origin, but I'm fairly confident that the phrase refers to duck hunting and the relative ease of shooting a duck while it is sitting in the water, as opposed to trying to shoot a duck while it is flying.  Example:

"During yesterday's checkers match, Jack made a careless move by jumping his opponent's piece without realizing it was a trap, making his only king a sitting duck.  Needless to say, he lost the game."

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I think he may have broken the chair
Posted Sunday, Jun 05, 2005 1:52 AM
Related entries: Animals

Today's idiom is one that I thought about as I saw a new marketing poster at work one day, then heard later that day on TV, so I couldn't just ignore it.  The phrase "elephant in the room" is used to describe a rather large, well-known problem that is usually intentionally overlooked or ignored, often because of some embarrassing, egotistical, or emotional reason.  Just as an elephant present in a small room should be an obvious sign that something is out of place, such a sizable glaring problem should draw immediate attention.  Example:

"Everyone tried to be cheerful at Hank's birthday party, but it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room; Hank had just lost his job the day before, and everyone knew it."

Link: "The Elephant In The Room" by Terry Kettering (a poem)

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Giddyup
Posted Wednesday, Nov 24, 2004 2:27 PM
Related entries: Animals

Hello folks.  Today's the last work day of the week, so this will be the last idiom of this week.  That also means that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so those of you who are traveling, I hope you have a great trip and that you return safely.
 
Today's idiom is "straight from the horse's mouth."  The phrase refers to information that you know is accurate and has either come from the source or as close to the source as possible.  The phrase originates from the practice bettors used to use to judge a horse before a race.  Often it was difficult to tell a horse's age or physical fitness by just looking at the horse's body, so rather than trusting the owner of the horse for this information, the bettor would actually look in the horse's mouth; the reason for this is that condition of the horse's teeth is a good indicator of the horse's age.  Example:
 
"There have been quite a few rumors going around that Bob is going to quit his job, but I heard it straight from the horse's mouth; his last day is Tuesday."
 
A similar phrase is "never look a gift horse in the mouth."  The phrase is said when someone receives a gift, and means the receiver of a gift should trust the giver and not insult him by questioning the quality of the gift.  The phrase again comes from looking at a horse's mouth to judge the quality of the horse, but in this case, since someone is giving the horse as a gift, the receiver should not be so picky.
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You say you want an evolution
Posted Monday, Nov 15, 2004 4:36 PM
Related entries: Animals

In honor of the superfluity of primates which inhabits India and my fascination with that fact, today's idiom is "I'll be a monkey's uncle."  The phrase is used to show disbelief or surprise and originated some time after Charles Darwin's theories of evolution were first published.  His theory that man evolved from apes was so laughable and incredible to some that many people began using this phrase to show the absurdity of it.  (I'd like to note that there is a bit of irony in this idiom, since according to the theory of evolution, humans descended from apes, not the other way around; if I had been given the task of creating an idiom of this sort, I perhaps would have gone with the more chronologically accurate "I'll be a monkey's nephew" instead.  But I digress.)  Example:
 
"Well I'll be a monkey's uncle!  I would never have thought that chickens couldn't fly!"
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Woof woof!
Posted Monday, Oct 25, 2004 2:20 PM
Related entries: Animals

Today's idiom is "barking up the wrong tree."  This phrase is used to describe someone who is making an incorrect assumption or using the wrong methods to solve a problem.  The phrase comes from the situation where a dog is chasing another animal (i.e. a cat or a squirrel), and that animal climbs a tree to escape from the dog.  The dog doesn't see which tree the animal has climbed, so he just assumes it is a certain tree and starts barking up that tree, while the animal sits safely in the branches of another.  Example:
 
"If you're asking me for money, you're barking up the wrong tree; I'm broke and won't get paid until Friday."
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Idiometry
i-dE-'ä-m&-trE / noun: the act of making sense from nonsense.