Gleanings: Waiting with Bated Breath

Small glass bottles are ideal for filling with water and a bit of food coloring.  You can play around until you find colors you like.  Today I created the moss green color and the turquoise.  The bottles sit on my table where I can see them and smile as I walk by.


My second sharing is about idioms.  How often do you find yourself accepting a trite expression without examination?  I do it all the time.  But every once in a while I wonder what is the story behind that image.  If you look for it there is a picture behind every word we use and behind each idiom.

I’m reading an old Zane Grey favorite, The Riders of the Purple Sage.  There is a tense scene in which the main character waits “with bated breath.”  Not baited as the word is often written.  That’s an error.  I looked it up.  But before I got as far as the dictionary entry,  I thought, “bated” as in “abated,” meaning “lessened.”  Yup.  The New Oxford American Dictionary says “bated” means, “in great suspense, very anxiously or excitedly.”  In the sixteenth century “bate” meant “restrain.”  Makes sense.

Sometimes I go through my own writing to make sure I have not let an error like that slip by or used a worn cliche without being aware of the image it evoked when it was fresh and new.  If I want to say something was completed in the nick of time, I try to at very least stop and think what nick would mean.  We know what we mean by the phrase but if it doesn’t give us a vivid picture, we may not get the same sharp idea the writer intended.  According to wikipedia, “nick” once meant a small notch marking the exact point.

I found a lovely list of cliches on this cite.

Making up one’s own images is, I think, a bit harder these days than in former times.  Our ancestors had nature and farm animals to refer to when they spoke.  When her children quarreled at chores, my mother would say, “Quit your pull-hauling.”  Anyone who had ever seen a team of oxen that refused to pull together would understand that image.  The disgusted farmer would say, “First one pulls and then the other hauls.”  Today we have driving images and those related to computers, the internet, and our many devices.  One joke has it that when a waitress slipped on some water and fell, a customer said, “Our server is down.”  Then there is the question how Bill Gates gets into his house when he forgets his key.  He uses a window.  When we use images related to computers and the internet, most people get the picture right away.

Still, I like the old images best.  But if I use them, I know I have to explain.  If I say “cock of the walk” I will add something to freshen it up or change it a bit: “he thinks he’s the cock of the barnyard fence” will do.

Here are more:

Sly as a fox looking for a break in the chicken coop wall.

Let’s hightail it outta here like heifers running from the cattle truck with their tails lifted high.

She’s growing like a weed, taller than a tomato plant and sturdier than kale.

Play with color.  Play with words.  The pictures behind the expressions we use are vivid and telling.  And don’t follow anyone’s guidance unless it’s as much fun as a barrel of piglets let lose in the barnyard.

If you find any worn cliches in my books, be so kind as to let me know.  Grin.




Author: Patricia Mitchell Lapidus

Anyone may walk down the road wondering who we are, how we are supposed to live, and what happens when we die. Some folks like traditional answers. Some folks don't want to spent their time thinking too much. I felt called upon to search these questions in depth and in some surprising places. Each of my books is a story or group of stories about what I found during a wide-ranging journey. My home state of Maine was a hard place to leave. But I knew I had to go. And if I didn't make it back home to Maine except to visit, I did find home in the comfort and joy of discoveries that washed away the pain that had started me on my travels.

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