Monday, April 13, 2015

How Long Will Outdated Phrases Last?

What will replace once popular expressions or idioms that are used by the masses?

While reading a book that identified and explained the origins of hundreds of such phrases, Spilling The Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas by July Partinson, you can’t help but wonder how long many of these phrases will last given how irrelevant they are.

For instance, “strike when the iron is hot” is used in conversation today to indicate one should take advantage of the opportunity before them, but who knows from things like striking an iron?  Has anyone seen a blacksmith in action of late?

“Sleep tight” stems from when beds were made of rope and straw.

“Read the riot act” goes back to a 1715 British law.

“Have him over a barrel” is from the trenches of World War I.

“A feather in one’s cap” dates to ancient customs.

See a pattern here?  The meaning of the phrase holds relevance, but the actual phrase sounds outdated.

I’m sure new phrases will develop and last a bit, but maybe not as long.  Technology seems to drive our lives – professionally, socially, and entertainment.  Maybe we’ll come up with phrases to replace the old.

Phrases that may stick around would be ones that stem from the Bible.  But I find a lot of phrases come from sports and pop culture.  In fact, it seems our society is littered with references to characters and lines from movies, plays, TV shows, and books – even commercials and catchy advertisements.

Are these still worthy of usage?

“Pleased as punch”
“Paint the town red”
“In fine fettle”
“Dear John letter”
“Clutching at straws”
“What is good for the goose, is good for the gander”
“What the Dickens?”
“Three sheets to the wind”
“The 64,000-dollar question”
“The sands are running out”

Many phrases came to be because they referenced something natural, something common, and something seemingly true and powerful.  But we’ve replaced nature and references to it with factory, mass-produced gadgets and robots.  We’ve replaced the common experience with individualized, specialized, segmented ones.  Look at tonight and see people doing one of a hundred things.  No one is on the same page because we’re all reading different books – or no books at all.

But there are human traits and characteristics that we all share.  We know of emotions and of principles like honesty, love, and charity.  We may have a fragmented culture but we all know from the existence of major things such as sports, politics, crimes, wealth, etc.  Our phrases that will come to be will develop from the aspects of life that we each come to experience and understand.  A Latin girl who plays soccer may seem to be so far off from the Iraqi jihadist engaged in violence. Both may seem foreign to the American businessman or the Japanese intellect.  But they all know from life and death, family and food, and a thousand other common points.  It’s from those points that new idioms will sprout.

I’m okay with seeing “have a field day,” “save one’s bacon” and “thick as thieves” disappear from the lexicon but I hope their replacements only stick around for as long as they remain relevant.  The worst thing would be to keep using phrases that no longer are so obvious, timely, and reflective of the message that was being conveyed.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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