Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Why do we make a "beeline" for something? Why do we refuse to touch things with a "bargepole" instead of just a pole? Because it’s harder to give dramatic stress to a monosyllable. English vowels are clipped. We don’t eeeeeeeeelongate them for emphasis so we add a syllable instead. And of course they're all cliches.

acid test test
bargepole pole
beached whale whale
bedrock rock
birthright right
bombshell bomb
brickbats (thrown by critics) brick
end result result
epicentre centre
firebrand torch
grass roots roots
hand picked picked
head start start
kick start start
lifeblood blood
logjam jam
loophole hole
object lesson (from 19th century teachers basing a lesson on an object) lesson (We say "object lesson" when we mean "lesson in how not to do it".)
pipe dream dream
pitfall trap, snare, snag
plug-ugly ugly
pole/meat/fire axe axe
pole-axed stunned
postage stamp stamp
price tag price
quagmire swamp
ramrod poker
ring leader leader
road map map
role model model
route march march
scot free (scot means free) free
sea-change mutation
sheet anchor anchor
skyrocket rocket (What’s a skyrocket anyway? If you want to set off a firework, or visit outer space, it’s a rocket.)
sledgehammer hammer
soapbox crate
spearhead head
straw poll poll
trip hammer metronome
wellspring spring
whole heap/load heap/load
wildfire napalm

1 comment:

  1. I doubt some of those.

    I think 'bedrock' means the undelying rock stratum, as opposed to odds and ends of rock that might be lying about on top.

    'birthright' suggests either inheritance, or some sort of doctrine of 'natural rights'

    'sledgehammer' is a particularly heavy hammer, not the sort of dainty little thing you or I might use to hammer a nail into the skirting board.