Tag: idioms

The Solicitors’ Song and Dance


In 1987, when I was an eighth-grade transplant to America and knew nothing of fundraisers or soliciting, our small Christian school held an assembly that captured my attention. A white-haired man, whom I’ll call Don Reagan,* stood in front of the student body and held up a candy bar that he introduced as “World’s Finest Chocolate.” I realized that World’s Finest was actually the brand name, a boast that made me question the quality of the product.  He talked of selling the candy, “cases” of it, demonstrating the range of marvelous prizes we could earn.  Even one case would get us over the prize-winning threshold. The way Don Reagan talked about it, selling sounded easy. He gave several suggestions for how one could make the sale, even role-playing a scene on a public bus going home from school.  But I didn’t need any more convincing–I was in. I would go to the office after school to pick up my cases of chocolate and would soon be enjoying my prizes.

“Cases,” I soon found out, were long, weighty boxes emitting thick cocoa scents.  These could be split apart in the middle to make a kind of tote with handles. With the cardboard broken open along the dotted lines, I noted the stacks of bars–there were thirty-six of them, to be precise.  I was still convinced that I would make quick work of dispensing the product and collecting the cash. Then I would show up for the promised rewards. The individual bars, each silver-wrapped with white sleeve, red letters emblazoning the claim of global supremacy, were a dollar each. They smelled good and, although perhaps not quite living up to their name, had a flavor of rich, nutty chocolate.

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During this morning’s reading, I came upon the phrase, ‘all of a sudden.’ Perhaps because I had the time to ponder such things, it began to occur to me that ‘all of a sudden’ is a strange expression. Where did it come from? What is ‘a sudden’? Preview Open

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Over There, the Rain Beats Down Old Ladies with Ugly Sticks


In English, we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Explanations for why we say this are numerous, and all fairly dubious. In other lands, other stuff falls from the sky during heavy storms. In Croatia, axes; in Bosnia, crowbars (I’m sensing a pattern here); in France and Sweden, nails. In several countries, heavy rain falls like pestle onto mortar. In English, it may also rain like pitchforks or darning needles. While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god) may not be surprising, a few idioms kick it up a notch (so to speak), describing the rain as falling dung.

And then there are the old ladies falling out of skies. Sometimes with sticks, sometimes without. Sometimes old ladies beaten with ugly sticks. The Flemish say, het regent oude wijven — it’s raining old women. The Afrikaners, more savagely, arm the old women with clubs: ou vrouens met knopkieries reën. Yes, good ol’ knobkerries — ugly sticks, indeed! Afrikaners and the Flemish speak variants of Dutch, so it’s not surprising they share cataracts of crones, armed or not. Why the Welsh also share them is more of a mystery, but yn’ Gymraeg, again we find old ladies raining with sticks: mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn. Traveling to Norway, we find the outpouring of old ladies beaten with the ugly sticks: det regner trollkjerringer — it’s raining she-trolls.