Sep 11 2011


Published by at 8:35 pm under Language

Greetings, Cool Peeps:

Recently, a friend texted me early on a Saturday morning with the following message: “Up and Adam, Molly, we’re going shopping today.” I’d like to say that I just laughed, wondering how she could mistake “up and at ‘em” for “up and Adam,” except that for years, I thought the expression was said the same way. I often pondered why “up and Adam” meant “wake up and get out of bed,” but I never researched it. On the day I saw “up and at ‘em” written out on a billboard, it was a giant duh-you-moron moment for me.

Yesterday, a down-on-his-luck friend said to me, “It seems like I lost all of my clients in one foul swoop.” While it can be very foul to lose one’s clients, the original term, either coined or popularized by Shakespeare in Macbeth, is “one fell swoop.”

This got me thinking. Just how many words and phrases do we hear misused all the time? Of course, there’s the classic misheard lyric from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” Instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” millions of peeps were singing “There’s a bathroom on the right.” And let’s face it, that makes a lot more sense. I’ve never said “There’s a bad moon on the rise” in my life, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve pointed someone in the direction of the men’s or ladies’ room.

We all hear words misspoken all the time. But it can be a real tricky situation to correct someone. Maybe, with a good friend, you can share a hearty laugh over a verbal or written faux pas, but some peeps don’t want to be corrected.

Last week at lunch, my coworker BFF Randy and I overheard someone at the next table tell a friend he was an “Oregon donor.”

“I don’t think he has any right to give that state away,” Randy whispered, grinning.

When I first went to college, I needed a doctor and made an appointment with the one closest to campus. But his receptionist scared me away. First, she asked me a question, and when my answer wasn’t complete enough, she said, “Can you be more Pacific?”

No, but I can be more Atlantic, I thought. “Yes, I can be more specific,” I told her.

When she asked me if I knew of my family’s “generic history,” I politely excused myself and found a new medical practice.

There are also expressions that we use correctly, but really don’t understand. “Oh, little Trevor is as cute as a button.” Cute as a button? Being the fashion diva I am, on rare occasions I have told peeps that the buttons on their garment are cute, but in general, do I equate cuteness with buttons? Uh, no, I don’t think so!

Then there are those expressions that we just don’t know what they mean. Here’s an example: “Everything is hunky-dory.” Okay, we all know that means that things are going great. But where did this expression come from, and why are we still using it? If you Google it, you’ll find several origins cited. Have you ever thought about how many bizarre words we use without a second thought?

I had a neighbor who used to say, “The whole kit and caboodle.” I always knew what she meant, but I don’t have a freakin’ clue what a kit or a caboodle is. Seriously, peeps, do you?

Another interesting aspect of the expressions we use is how they sound to those whose first language is not the same as ours. If you think about what you say, you’ll find that you’re probably using way more colloquialisms, expressions, and clichés than you ever imagined. This was brought home to me once when a young French au pair I knew said to me, “Molly, I hear people talking about ‘the crack of Don.’ Who is Don, and why do people talk about his crack?” When I stopped laughing, I explained to her that the expression was “crack of dawn,” and meant early morning. By then, she was laughing, too.

Here’s another favorite: “Naked as a jaybird.” Again, we know what it means, but what does it mean? I see blue jays all the time. Like other birds, they have feathers. They’re no more naked than robins, cardinals, woodpeckers, finches, herons, eagles, and all the rest.

The question is: do I sound cuckoo to you? Do you think about the expressions you use? Do you always know what they mean? Do you correct others who misuse expressions? Tell me your funny stories. Believe me, you’ve got a captive audience.

See you next week,

Yours in pickiness,


22 responses so far


  1. Lisaon 11 Sep 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Grinning- Strangely enough I feel so connected to this blog….I don’t know why though 😀

    Actually, I do recall maybe, possibly mistaking the song by The Rolling Stones – ‘Start me up’, as ‘ Ges…tap….i.. o (gestapo). I did get laughed at when I was found out. Scarred me for life 😀 I was young then. LOL
    Now I have NO excuse. They seem to roll off my tongue so fluently.

    Shmick is a word few would know – meaning ‘Pretty bloody good’.

    Going out on a limb here but what is ‘cute as a button’ supposed to be? LOL

    Some of these are so funny: Oregon Donor!!! haha- I’ll have to remember that one. And the Crack of Don Bwahahahaha


    You are one funny lady Molly.
    Thx for the laugh.

  2. Mollyon 11 Sep 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Hey Lisa:

    First again, g/f! Great to see you. Funny about “Start me up!” I used to think that “Keep It Coming Love” by KC & the Sunshine Band was “Keep it common law.” I’m thinking, “What is this song about? Some dude who doesn’t want to actually marry the woman?” That song was really before my time so I just figured it was normal not to understand.

    Thanks for always stopping by with a smile! You make my day.

    Yours in pickiness,

  3. Mollyon 12 Sep 2011 at 4:05 am

    Hey Stuart:

    Thanks for stopping by. You bring up an excellent point about expressions. Even some people my age and younger have no clue what “sounding like a broken record” means. I know, because my dad used it all the time when I asked for something too much. “Molly, you sound like a broken record.” Interesting how so many expressions go into obsolescence, too. (As long as we don’t go into obsolescence, we’ll be okay!)


  4. Stuart Ross McCallumon 11 Sep 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Molly,

    Yes, like Lisa, I too feel very linked to this blog, which is now a ritual and a great way to start a new week.

    Speaking from experience as a parent, one sure-fire way to confuse your child is to use phrases and expressions when speaking to them. Saying things like, that costs an arm and a leg, I’m not made of money, money doesn’t grow on trees, is guaranteed to result in bewilderment.

    Thank you Molly, I simply love your blog.

    Until next week, Stuart 🙂

  5. Leigh Annon 12 Sep 2011 at 6:37 am

    Oh, lord . . . I can’t help but think of Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Blinded by the Light?”

    Here are the correct lyrics, at least as Bruce wrote them:
    Yeah he was blinded by the light
    Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night

    But the modern-day usage is much more crass . . .

  6. paula paquetteon 12 Sep 2011 at 6:50 am

    One of the songs that I always had wrong was a Bruce Springsteen song also sung by Blue Oyster Cult. Blinded by the light – cut loose like a goose, in the middle of the night. I thought it was Blinded by the light – wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night. I wasn’t the only one either. Oprah said the exact same thing!

  7. Mollyon 12 Sep 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Hey Leigh Ann & Paula:

    Thanks for stopping by! I think the misheard lyrics from “Blinded By the Light” have been heard the same way by millions. That’s what happens when you use odd phrases that cool peeps like us just don’t use in ordinary day-to-day life. I know I’ve never said “cut loose like a deuce . . .” That other word? Well, I might have used that here and there!

    Great comments!

    Yours in pickiness,


  8. paula paquetteon 12 Sep 2011 at 6:52 am

    Oh no! I just read Leigh Ann’s comment. Apparently I Still don’t know what the lyrics are!

  9. Sheri Wilkinsonon 12 Sep 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Once again another great topic. Here are a few ….
    Loose as a goose, another one bites the dust, Jack of all trades, cry me a river, and no sh!t Sherlock….which reminds me why is it when young(as) kids (one) would twist someones arm (then) you would have to “cry Uncle” to make them stop…I “double dog dare you” to answer that one ……LOL

  10. Leigh Annon 12 Sep 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Molly—

    And referring again to those song lyrics, I still get very uncomfortable when I hear my teenage son (or anyone of the 15-25 generation) refer to another male as a (d-bag) —– I don’t know if it’s a generation gap, I’m extremely uptight, or what —– but I just don’t understand how that has evolved into a widely used put-down in the past 10 years or so.

    Hmmm . . . .

  11. sheri wilkinsonon 12 Sep 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Leigh Ann,
    I have an 11 year old (daughter) but I know exactly what you mean on the d-bag comment, “dime to a doughnut” they have no clue what a douche bag is….

  12. Leigh Annon 12 Sep 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Sheri —

    And yeah, so what do we do? Explain it to them? And what makes it even worse is to be in Walmart, CVS or another pharmacy and actually *see* one on the shelf and your kid says — that really exists?? Of course, said kid is about 7 yrs old.

    And added to the humiliation (as if any were needed given the above), is if my 70-ish year old auntie says something about using one, as if she’s using dental floss . . . I mean, for realsssss???? Is this just me being anal retentive? Or am I caught in some sort of verbiage warp? ::smh, repeatedly::::

    All commentary welcomed.

  13. Christa Polkinhornon 12 Sep 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Hi Molly, this is a topic “close to my heart.”

    Since my native language is German and I switch a lot between German and English, I often mix up idiomatic expressions, particularly because German and English are in many ways very close. For years, I used to say “touch wood” instead of “knock on wood” and nobody every corrected me, until one day someone pointed it out to me. In German you “touch wood.” I found out that British English does the same.

    I love American colloquialism and all those fun expressions that not always make obvious sense. And I think that’s one of the reasons we often misuse them. But they add so much color to the English language. I sometimes check them out in a dictionary of etymology or a slang dictionary and the original source of the expressions is often fascinating.

    Molly, excellent post as usual – “Keep it coming!” LOL.

  14. Debon 13 Sep 2011 at 4:05 am

    I have one! How about when I say, “yes, she has changed so much, she has made a 360 degree turn around!” When in reality, having done that, would have the person back where they began, having really gone nowhere. DUH… if one has changed so much for the better, they may have made a 180 degree turn, not completely back to where they started. hee hee…

  15. Mollyon 13 Sep 2011 at 7:40 am

    Ha ha! Deb, you are right on with that one, g/f. Now, Linda Blair’s head did a 360-degree turn in The Exorcist. I hear that one all the time. I was at a regional meeting of reporters about a year ago and someone got up to talk from a local paper I’d never heard of before. He was bragging about how he had saved his paper from demise and turned it around 360 degrees. Everyone in the room was trying to suppress a laugh. The guy then made one small not-at-all funny joke, and the entire room burst into hysterics. The guy didn’t get it at all, and had this big grin on his face because his joke had gone over so well. OMG! He was so clueless and we all began laughing even harder. My stomach hurt. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

    You rock, Deb,


  16. Joy Katzen-Guthrieon 13 Sep 2011 at 9:43 am

    Great Blog, Molly. Brings back a memory of some years ago when I was working as a young talk radio producer and I was furiously looking up a word in the dictionary so I could verify that I was using it correctly in a program I was writing.

    I asked the afternoon talk host, “How do you spell ‘intensant?’ I can’t find it under any spelling, not with ‘ent’ or ‘ant’ or ‘int’ or anything else.”

    He said: “I don’t think I’m familiar with that word. Use it in a sentence.”

    I answered, “Well you know, like, ‘for all intensent purposes.”

    He about fell over laughing and responded: “That’s INTENTS and PURPOSES.” Honestly, I had never seen it written out.

    The incident inspired the talk host to go on air that afternoon with the subject of misunderstood words & phrases, and the phones were ringing off the wall. I suppose I was happy to have contributed to a very successful afternoon on the station, but rather embarrassed by my naivete.

    Speaking of recordings, when I was a kid, I loved the song “Secret Agent Man.” I thought the singer was saying “Secret Asian Man,” which inspired me to envision a very clever Chinese guy stealthily moving from one hiding place to another. My brother tells me that when he was a kid, he loved the song “After Midnight,” thinking the lyric was “Captain Midnight.” He said he used to wonder who this Captain Midnight was?


  17. Leigh Annon 13 Sep 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Oh, and I forgot to make the most obvious comment:

    Molly, don’t you mean “Up-end Adam??” (to wit: make Adam stand on his head for real or imagined infractions!)


    lol. Sorry, just couldn’t pass it up . . . .

  18. James Morrisonon 13 Sep 2011 at 9:23 pm

    hahahaha great blog Molly!
    There was a song not long ago by Bob Sinclar which I thought was really racist until I found out what the actual lyrics were. I thought the lyrics were “Feel the love little asian” but later found out it was “Feel the love generation” hahahaha

    I will never forget talking to a friend about how racist the song was and watching them laughing their ass off at me hahahahaha Now every time I listen to that song I laugh hahahaha

    Sorry the comment is a bit late, better late than never 😛

    Great blog as usual Molly!


  19. Darlene Fosteron 18 Sep 2011 at 9:17 am

    This is too funny, the blog post and the comments. All these years, I thought I was the only one who got the words to the CCR song wrong. My family gave me such a hard time about that too. I teach ESL and the idioms, expressions and cliches we use are the most confusing to the students. I actually bought a book called “Common Phrases and Where They Come From” which explains how some of the things we say without thinking came to be. Sorry, it does not have kit and caboodle or naked as a jay bird in it.

  20. Mollyon 18 Sep 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Hey Darlene:

    How nice of you to stop by! 🙂 Ha ha! I think millions of people thought they were alone in hearing “There’s a bathroom on the right.” I believe that John Fogerty has occasionally slipped this misheard lyrics into some live performances. How cool is that!

    Ah, yes, as a teacher of ESL, you must be keenly aware of just how difficult English can truly be!

    So glad you stopped by!

    Yours in pickiness,


  21. Christina Jameson 11 May 2015 at 10:17 am

    Molly, this made me laugh and it reminded me of two things, one of them not so much mishearing but misunderstanding/misspelling! The first one was the outraged little boy of a friend of mine, who in his church primary school joined in the class singing of ‘Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the Rizla’! He stamped his foot when his parents roared with laughter and insisted that that was what they had been singing. I fear the risen Lord would not have rolled his own with Rizla cigarette papers. The second was the P.A. of a former boss of mine, who sent an email around on his behalf to his managers, saying: ‘We have to do this in a fazed manor’!
    Now I’ve written this, I wonder if you spell ‘alleluia’ as ‘hallelujah’?
    Love the post.

  22. Mollyon 11 May 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you so much for stopping by, Christina. I loved your comment. I love “fazed manor.” That freakin’ hilarious! I remember a friend once wrote and told me that someone she knew had “no manors” and she wanted nothing more to do with them. We can’t all have chateaus, can we? 🙂

    Yours in pickiness,

    P.S. Yes on “hallelujah!”

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