Queries About Colorful Expressions

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 17 16:22:26 UTC 2013

Two colorful expressions I saw recently were both similes: "Busier
than a mosquito in a nudist colony" and the cliché "As happy as a pig
in the muck". These are elaborate ways to say "very busy" and "very

Here some more examples expressing happiness that have become clichés:


[Begin selected excerpt]
I'm as happy as:
a kid in a candy store.
a tornado in a trailer park.
a clam at high tide.
a pig in a peach orchard.
a kid on Christmas.
a pup with two tails.
[End excerpt]

Some prominent writers described a state of happiness with a simile.
Here are some examples from a 1916 book of similes

Frank J. Wilstach, comp.  A Dictionary of Similes.  1916.

[Begin selected excerpt]
Happy as a miner when he has discovered a vein of precious metal.
           —Guy de Maupassant

Happy as a rose-tree in sunshine.
            —William Makepeace Thackeray

As happy as birds in their bowers.
            —William Wordsworth

Happy as a Sunday in Paris, full of song, and dance, and laughter.
            —Fitz-Greene Halleck
[End excerpt]

Ornate constructions proliferate in the domain of similes. The 1917
book "The Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases" has a section called
"Striking Similes" that is filled with phrases written by authors who
were attempting to be colorful. Some of the similes listed in 1917
have become clichés (or were already clichés), e.g., "As busy as a
bee", "As extinct as the dodo", "As pale as any ghost", "Spread like


The Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases: A Practical Handbook of Pertinent
Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational,
and Oratorical Terms, for the Embellishment of Speech and Literature,
and the Improvement of the Vocabulary of Those Persons who Read,
Write, and Speak English (1917)



On Sat, Nov 16, 2013 at 4:53 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Queries About Colorful Expressions
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> For my column in the Yale Alumni Magazine, I am writing about "the opera ai=
> n't over till the fat lady sings" and related sayings, and also about Bonni=
> e Taylor-Blake's recent discoveries about "the whole nine yards."  It occur=
> s to me that these are both examples of a simple and obvious idea ("it's no=
> t over until it's definitively finished" or "the full extent of something")=
>  that becomes much more memorable by being rephrased in colorful language.
> Can anyone suggest a name for this colorful rephrasing phenomenon?  Is it p=
> articularly characteristic of the Southern United States?  Can anyone sugge=
> st other examples besides "fat lady sings" and "whole nine yards"?
> I hope to write the column in the next few days, so quick responses would b=
> e most welcome.
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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