fun with phrases

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 20 18:32:10 UTC 2011

"to walk a tight-rope"

To balance one's actions or policy delicately (between dangerously
contending forces or ideas).

OED sort of has this in its cite blocks s.v."tight-rope," but not till the '50s.

1936 Mark Sullivan in _Oakland Tribune_ (Aug. 21) 29 [NewspArch]:
Until after the election, the administration policy is to walk a tight
rope between the contending organizations.


On Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 4:43 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: fun with phrases
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> If I understand Friedman's version correctly as a foreign policy
> commentary, then the correct version should be, "If you fix it, you own
> it." There would be enough subtleties in that phrase to fill a
> book--which, of course, proves that Friedman could not have said /that/.
> H's just not that smart--or subtle.
>     VS-)
> On 10/19/2011 10:32 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> "You broke it, you bought it"
>> This just turned up as part of a dialogue taking place in 1938 in a =
>> recent novel, _Rules of Civility_, and I was wondering if it was =
>> anachronistic.  I didn't see much pre-1990s in Google Books for this, =
>> and the fact that this dictum is sometimes referred to (e.g. in NYT =
>> op-eds a while back about the Iraq war; see below) as "the Pottery Barn =
>> rule" makes me wonder if it could really have been around in the 1930s.  =
>> Of course it has variants, none of which I tracked in GB, and what's =
>> relevant here is the metaphorical use--as applied in current love songs =
>> to the narrator's heart (directed to ex-lover) or political contexts =
>> like the U.S. economy (e.g. in Occupy Wall Street posters, directed to =
>> bankers).  The wikipedia site, =
>>, notes that
>> New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman claims to have coined the =
>> term, having used the phrase "the pottery store rule" in a February 12, =
>> 2003, column. He has said he referred to Pottery Barn specifically in =
>> speeches.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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