Friday, August 13, 2010

Turns of Phrase; or, I Never Thought Of It Like That

I'm toying with the idea of having a character in one of my stories who uses all sorts of colorful comparisons as one of his quirks. I think it could be a lot of fun, especially if I can figure out a way to work in some of my favorites.

I think my absolute all-time favorite has to be one I got from my father: "Slicker than snot on a glass doorknob." When I was a kid, it never occurred to me to question how he would know about such a thing -- after all I'd been to my grandparents' house, and it did indeed have glass doorknobs. It wasn't until later that I finally figured out that it wasn't something he made up, but rather something he'd heard somewhere and just repeated. I should ask him about it sometime.

But it's a very descriptive phrase. I mostly use it to describe icy roads. And once the people to whom you've said it get over the "ewww!" factor, they know exactly what you mean.

Another phrase to which I can relate is "Like a bull in a china shop". I was a klutzy kid who grew up to be an only slightly less clumsy adult, and proximity to fragile things only makes the likelihood that I'll break something much higher. So I have a great deal of empathy for that poor bull, surrounded by breakables, ones his horns might inadvertently knock off of a shelf, or that might be pulverized by an accidental twitch of his tail. I just want to tell him to get out of there, to run while he still can.

I like describing potentially unpopular ideas as being something that will go over "like a lead balloon." I can just see that doomed balloon, smashing into the ground again and again and again regardless of how much helium you put in it. It also reminds me of one of my favorite lines from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, in which Adams describes the Vogon spaceships by saying that they "hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don't." It's wonderfully whimsical, and perfectly conveys the image of spacecraft that stay in the air even though they look as though they should plummet straight to the ground, do not pass "Go", do not collect $200.

And finally, I do love the way of describing a person you find attractive as saying that you "wouldn't kick him/her out of bed for eating crackers." As in, "You know, Harrison {sigh} Ford isn't as young as he used to be, but I still wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers." Which sort of implies that there are people you would kick out of bed due to the presence of too many cracker crumbs -- and that there was more than a snowball's chance of finding Mr. Ford in your bed in the first place!

Of course, for the character I have in mind, it might be more fun to have him either mangle a common cliche so as to negate its meaning ("like a bull in a mattress shop"), or make up ones of his own that don't quite work ("like a giraffe on an underground train").

What are some colorful descriptions you've encountered? What twists on common ones have made you either laugh or scratch your head?

(p.s. Sorry I'm late with this week's posting. I spent all of yesterday evening in Windows Update Hell, trying to get both of my computers to successfully download and install the last round of updates from Microsoft. Still have not succeeded. I'm about ready to scream...)