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Idioms for Idiots (Photo credit: petersejersen)

I inherited my love of reading from my mom. Books played a central role in my upbringing. When I was five or so, I asked my mom if I could spend the night at a friend’s house. Because it was a Sunday, she said no. Shocked by her utter disregard for my happiness, I ran away from home. Of course I was caught within minutes. My punishment? She refused to read a story to me at bedtime that night. In my five-year-old-book-loving brain, my sentence was cruel and unnecessarily harsh.

Mom also taught me to love a good turn of phrase. To me, writing is like playing with building blocks to make a beautifully structured story or paint a picture. Fitting words together is an art and when done well, the engineering behind the construction is transparent.

My mom is (or I should say was) a master at pulling out a pithy expression, or idiom, to fit the moment. Here are some classic mom-isms.

Now that is a Benny sent me.

She would say this whenever she needed a paperclip, pencil, or whatever, and found one right at her fingertips. I have no idea about the origins of this expression. Do any of you?


I was nervous as a pig on ice.

I’ve never seen a pig on ice, but I get the idea.


That is as handy as a pocket in a shirt.

Nothing is handier than a pocket when you need one.


I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole backwards.

Mom said this to me after we spent a long day with Dad when he was in the ICU.


He liked to play the spots off the cards.

This was said of my card-game-loving grandfather.


We made it by the skin of our teeth.

Barely made it by the hair on our chinny-chin-chin.


She marched off head up and tail up like a bedbug going to war.

Now that paints a picture.


Our friendship is like an old shoe.

Meaning comfortable, not smelly.


She was at sixes and sevens.

Meaning confused or unsure what to do next, like me most of the time.


You are barking up the wrong tree, buster.

You are wrong-o.


I have a hitch in my giddy-up.

Me too.

I love an old-fashioned idiom. But remember when we discussed overused and annoying phrases like, “it is what it is,” “at the end of the day,” and “it is all good?” Do you think today’s idioms are tomorrow’s quaint expressions?

Does your family have a colloquial expression you’d like to add to the list?

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