Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Buck Up

To buck up is to behave like a buck - in the sense of, a male deer - that is rutting, that is, in the midst of its mating cycle. This would be similar to a cat in heat, except it applies exclusively to males and represents aggressive male behavior, such as butting heads with other bucks (figuratively and very much literally), displays of antlers to female deer, and so forth.

This expression has evolved from a meaning similar to "dressing up" (that is, dressing in a snappier/ more vibrant manner that is pleasing to women) to the sense of "raise your spirits" and to become more enthusiastic. However, there is another connotation. Let's begin with an example.

Example: In reference to disappointed Democratic Party and left-wing political activists, Vice President Joe Biden revised an earlier comment in which he told people to "stop whining" with the following statement:
"And so those who don't get -- didn't get everything they wanted, it's time to just buck up here, understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward and -- but not yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything that we stand for in terms of the initiatives we put forward," Biden said on MSNBC.
However, in this sense, "buck up" is really telling people to "man up," to behave with a strong, male spirit, to show some backbone, and indeed, to grow a spine.

Thus, it is difficult to understand his comment as an attempt to tell Democratic activists to stop whining, just as he had done before. VP Biden simply used an older expression to convey an identical message without using the same words in the belief that people would find "buck up" to be less offensive than "stop whining," even while conveying the exact same message: that left-wing activists should rise up and vote for the Democratic Party in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Thus, it is a distinction without a difference. Indeed, younger activists may not even understand what "buck up" is intended to mean. Men in their late 60's who have been involved in politics for most of their lives certainly would know the term, however. We cannot know if those in the intended audience who are familiar with the term will understand the message as being any different (that is, less patronizing) than the earlier "stop whining" statement.

P.S. Telling any American adult to stop whining is to treat that person like a child and is normally considered rude to the extreme.

Show Some Backbone

The backbone is really just another word for spine. The form of this idiom is to "show" or "demonstrate" some backbone, meaning, to demonstrate to others that you are not a chicken (coward), but rather, a brave and vigorous person.

This version is considered less crude, and thus, is more often applied to the political arena in written English.

Example: "Activists expected the Obama Administration to show some backbone in dealing with Republican opposition, but many have been sorely disappointed in the administration's behavior."

This is not to pick sides; I am simply delivering context for the post that will follow this one. Stay tuned.

Have / Grow A Spine

The spine is the set of bones that is the body's pillar of support. The human body's muscles use the spine as the foundation for all firm, aggressive motion. Therefore, having a spine has become idiomatic for behaving in a courageous or vigorous manner, the opposite of behaving like a "chicken" (a coward).

To grow a spine is to begin behaving in a courageous or vigorous manner, while having a spine is to continue to behave in such a manner.

Example: "Don't tell me you can't get rid of one little spider! Grow a spine! How old are you?!"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Breathing Down Someone's Neck

In politics, as in horse races, to be breathing down someone's neck is to be very close behind that person in a race. 

Example: "But it was a surprise. Only one week after his upset victory over Rick Lazio in the Republican primary, Paladino is now breathing down Cuomo’s neck.
Only six points separate Cuomo and Paladino in the Quinnipiac University poll. Cuomo now leads 49-43, with a plus or minus error of 3.6."
(Source: CBSNewYork)

Front Runner Status

One of a variety of "horse race" political idioms, front runner status means the state of being in the lead.

The "race" is the campaign for political office.

Example: "Wednesday was supposed to be Cuomo’s day as he picked up the endorsement of New York City’s notoriously independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, in the race for governor.
But a new poll changed that because it turned Cuomo’s once comfortable front-runner status on its head. ...Only six points separate Cuomo and Paladino in the Quinnipiac University poll. Cuomo now leads 49-43, with a plus or minus error of 3.6."

Staring Down The Barrel Of....

When you are staring down the barrel of something, you are faced with an imminent danger (one which happens soon). 

This is used in a political context.

Example: "New York City is staring down the barrel of a $4 billion budget deficit next year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called on his city commissioners to look at their departments and slash a combined $800 million from the current budget and $1.2 billion from the next budget."

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Line (To Succeed)

When you are "in line" to succeed someone, you are part of a line of succession determining who, and in what order, will replace a leader if he/ she cannot continue to serve due to death, disability or other causes.

Bad Example: U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden has apparently stated, incorrectly, "I'm second in line to be President!" If this was true, someone else would be first in line to succeed President Obama should any misfortune befall him. This is not correct.

Good Example: The Vice-President is first in line to succeed the President. The second in line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Incidentally, a "Bidenism" is an incorrect statement made in a moment of loose mental concentration by Vice-President (and former Senator) Joe Biden. VP Biden has a history of statements that veer off in unexpected and unplanned directions.

Up For Grabs

When something is up for grabs, it is available; it can be obtained freely without stealing from someone else. 

This is often used in electoral politics, but has other applications.

Example: (Context: United States) "In the mid-term Congressional election this November, all House seats and one third of Senate seats are up for grabs."

Barring special elections, which can occur as a result of deaths of members serving in office, all House seats and one third of Senate seats are up for grabs every two years, but American news articles will write as in the above example. A reader unfamiliar with the American political system might think that this situation is somehow exceptional.

House members serve for two year terms; Senate members serve for six, and their elections are staggered so that a third of all seats are subject to election every two years (so that one vote is held for both houses of Congress). We call these elections "mid-term" because they occur in the middle of the Presidential term of office (four years).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Band-Aid Solution

A band-aid is a small covering placed over small cuts to protect an injured area, limit bleeding, and speed healing. Properly speaking, Band-Aid is a brand name, but is so widely known that it has become an idiom in itself.

A band-aid solution is a quick fix incapable of dealing with problems of a large scale, providing temporary relief only, and usually, inadequate temporary relief at that.

Example: "Education is in crisis. What we need is comprehensive reform, not band-aid solutions that won't work and only delay the inevitable!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Blip

Unlike a wave, "a blip" is a reference to a signal given off by radar (originally an acronym, now treated as a noun) indicating the presence of a real object at a given moment in time.

In trends, a figurative "blip" means a temporary event that is not, or is not yet known to be, part of a larger trend.

Example: "Today's upswing in national employment figures is believed to be a blip caused by a one-time event, and is not expected to be sustained until consumer confidence improves."

This is to say, the positive change is temporary, and not a trend... according to this statement, at least.

A Wave

In idioms, "a wave" is any significant, sustained change. This can be positive, but is often used in a negative manner.

Example: "The slumping economy has produced another wave of bankruptcies among small American businesses."

This means, a significant, sustained change, though not a permanent one.

A Tsunami/ A Tidal Wave

In nature, a tsunami (Japanese term) is a giant wave. Properly speaking, "a tidal wave," used as the equivalent of tsunami, is incorrect; a wave created by a tide can be very, very tiny.

In politics, as well as other settings, "a tsunami" or "a tidal wave" (such as a tidal wave of support) means a powerful trend that, temporarily at least, changes the proverbial landscape.

Example: "(Party X), deeply unpopular in the polls, faces a potential tsunami at the next election, sweeping it out of power."

The phrasing may vary, but this is the general idea.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Method To One's Madness

Proverbially, when there is said to be a method to someone's madness, this expresses that what at first appears to be madness, that is, random, illogical behavior, has a real purpose. It is in fact a method to achieve a tangible goal, with actual thought behind it. 

Example: "Mr. Jones talks about the craziest things to people, but there's a method to his madness. People loosen up around him and tell him things they'd never tell most people because they don't take him seriously."

There are surely many, many other examples, but it is best to view the idiom in practice to learn how people employ it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Crowning Achievement

A "crowning achievement" is a great success worthy of much praise and respect.

Example: In video games, a "jobs" system allows role-playing game characters to learn different skills suitable for different "jobs" (role-playing professions), such as knight, wizard, priest, thief, and so forth. While this type of role-playing game feature truly began with the Dragon Warrior series (Dragon Quest in Japan), this was adopted, and greatly expanded upon, by the "Final Fantasy" series of video games. Popular with gamers, the "jobs system" is often considered the crowning achievement of the series, giving players a deep personal connection to their fictional alter-egos.

This is to say, it is considered a great success worthy of giving great praise.

A crown is not only a physical treasure; "the crown" of something is its peak, its highest point, its pinnacle. (i.e. "the crown of the head," "the crown of a tooth") These words are easily used as metaphors for success.

(This post is based on the first paragraph from http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3181309 .)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Easier Said Than Done

Something that is "easier said than done" - in other words, this idiom used as an adjective - means, something that is more difficult to actually do in reality, than to promise, pledge, or vow to do it. 

This is a very common phrase in North America expressing that boasting of doing something before you have actually done it is easy, and worthless. Something easier said than done is something harder to do than it is to boast of doing it.

So, do it.

Example: Billy and Carol are at a karaoke. Billy: "I'm going to sing this song a lot better than Ray over there." Carol: "Easier said than done. He's pretty good at this. Are you?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Store

Idiomatically speaking, "in store"  means something that is lying in wait for a person to encounter.

Example: "Read on to find out what dangers are in store for our brave hero as he attempts to rescue the beautiful princess!"

For Starters

When I use the phrase, "for starters," I mean, as a starting/ beginning point, the first of a series.

Example: "What kind of movies do you like to watch?" "For starters, I like action movies. I'll also watch the occasional suspense thriller."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jumping The Shark

The phrase "jumping the shark" began as the expression of a single person's opinion as to where the once extremely popular American television show, "Happy Days," began a permanent decline away from its peak until the moment it ended. 

In this show, a major character became involved in a water-skiing race. A shark in a netted area of the ocean was to be jumped over as the tiebreaker for the race. This was seen by many as completely ridiculous, and a vivid sign of the declining creativity of the writers of the show. When shows become fully mature, their story lines tend to have already exhausted the best material, leaving second-rate material until the show mercifully comes to an end.

Example: "I think that ____ jumped the shark when..."

Just replace ____ with a given television show, and the idiom is being used correctly.

Rarely, some television shows are considered to have never declined, and maintained a high level of quality right until their final conclusions.

Heading Downhill

When something is figuratively heading downhill (that is, going downhill), it is in decline; it is past its peak and deteriorating.

Example: "After our old boss quit, things headed downhill for about six months until the new manager had learned how everything works. Productivity rose steadily after that point."

In All Seriousness

When I write the phrase, "in all seriousness," I mean, as a completely serious, literal point, without sarcasm, irony, or humor.

Example: "In all seriousness, that house looks absolutely hideous. That shade of purple makes me want to cry."

This is saying, the house in question is not being described as hideous as some sort of joke; no, it really is hideous.

(A house in my local community, which was mercifully torn down to make room for a pharmacy a decade ago, fit this description perfectly, and was painful to even look at for many years. - Jeremiah)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Digging It

An idiom popularized in the 70's, to "dig something" is to like that something very much.

This is often used in reference to music or film or other parts of pop culture.

Example 1: "I'm really digging that dress you wore to the party." "Oh, thank you."

Example 2: "I dig that new film. Has one of my favorite actors in it."

Giving A Damn

A "damn" (a damnation/ condemnation) directed at something is not a positive thing, but at least it means the person "giving a damn" cares about the subject in one way or another. 

The person's level of emotional investment may be quite minimal, but if someone "gives a damn," they at least care something about the outcome of an issue. This is colloquially used in both positive and negative senses.

Example 1: "Tom gives a damn whether or not the Red Sox win the World Series this year, but it's not as if he's betting money on the results. He's just a Red Sox fan."

Example 2: "Troy doesn't give a damn whether his son has good grades or not. What an irresponsible parent he is."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A.M. and P.M.

Abbreviated from Latin. A.M. means Ante Meridiem and P.M. means Post Meridiem.

Meridiem = Meridian, the dividing line between the early day and the late day, otherwise known as noon.

It is better not to speak of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m., but rather 12 noon or 12 midnight, or simply, noon or midnight. For 24 hour systems, this would be 12:00 for noon and 00:00 for midnight.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Keep Up The Good Work

If someone tells you to keep up the good work, that person is telling you to continue what you are doing. In addition, this statement is complimenting your efforts as good work.

Often, the work has not been complimented prior to saying the phrase, so it is both an urging and a compliment, at the same time.

Example: Janet's boss is pleased with the work she is doing. Her boss walks over and smiles, saying, "Keep up the good work, Janet." Janet knows her boss is pleased - and hopes that Janet can continue producing good results.

To Keep Something Coming

If someone says, keep X coming, this is an invitation to bring more of that thing.

Example: Brian's boss is very pleased with the work Brian has been doing for their insurance company. Brian's boss tells Brian, "Excellent work. Don't stop. Keep it coming." Brian knows his boss is strongly urging him to keep doing excellent work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Make My Day"

Doubling as a famous quote, "Make my day" is urging someone else to provide an excuse for a violent confrontation, which will provide pleasure to the speaker. This may or may not be used as a bluff.

More broadly, if something makes your day, it has made the day a good one.

Example 1: "Sure, throw the first punch. Make my day. I'll enjoy hitting you back."

Example 2: "I just got a call from my Uncle Jack. I haven't heard from him in two years. It really made my day! I wish he'd call more often."

Forcing Something

Literally, to force something into a suitcase (for example) would be to push and push to squeeze clothing into the suitcase. This is despite the clothing not being properly packed to fit inside the suitcase's size.

Figuratively, to force something is to attempt to succeed by effort where an action is not appropriate, suitable, or comfortable.

Example: Violet is planning to visit her sister Maggie, and Maggie's husband, Joe. Violet loves her sister but despises Joe, holding great contempt for him. Violet's friend Sarah says to Violet, "You shouldn't force yourself to be nice to him. He's a jerk." Violet replies, "Yes, but he's married to my sister. I don't want to cause trouble for her."

As in this example, people can force themselves figuratively to do something, or attempt to do something, that is against their natures and their desires, either for their own sakes or the sakes of others.