I had a junior high school English teacher who taught us idioms and euphemisms. I was glad I didn’t cut class that day. I became fascinated with language. And with the art of writing. Not to mention my obsessive reading. So much so that I went on to get my college degree in English.
I happen to use idioms pretty often in my writing. Sometimes, without even realizing it. I also use metaphor and analogy to drive my point further down the rabbit hole.
Well, not an actual rabbit hole, but you understand what I mean. Down the rabbit hole is now part of the lexicon. It’s an idiom or figure of speech we use abstractly, rather than literally.
Go down the rabbit hole definition
“To enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds. “(An allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.) — source, The Free Dictionary.com
An idiom is a phrase, saying, or a group of words with a metaphorical (not literal) meaning, which has become accepted in common usage. Source: theidioms.com. For eample, a piece of cake is an idiom for something relatively easy to accomplish.
Writing is not linear, but elliptical
What I mean by this is that writing and language evolve with words and phrases with expanded meaning. Some of these idioms or metaphorical figures of speech have become timeless expressions that we actually use today. Like Find yourself.
What I’ve learned is that writing is more than a linear process, but maybe an elliptical one. Polishing and editing are essential brushes in the writer’s toolbox. Finding the right word or expression or analogy can really strike a chord to drive your point home. Maybe our metaphorical creativity will lead us to invent a phrase as innovatingly effective as drop the mic.
I recently came across a list of idioms we use today, that can be traced back to the writing of William Shakespeare.
That made me realize that the devil is in the details, while I researched five timeless expressions from Shakespeare and how I use them in my writing today.
1. Knock Knock, Who’s There?
- This idiom works in writing because of the familiarity, along with the connotation of humor and satire to the reader.
- Shakespeare did not use it as a joke though, but the expression was thought to have originated in the play Macbeth (1606): “Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name?”
Who invented Knock, Knock?
Cartoonist Bob Dunn is recognized as the inventor of the Knock Knock joke with his published best selling book in the same year (1936).
(This was actually one of the answers in Jeopardy: “This Dunn Dunn created the Knock Knock joke” — — the question being, Who is Bob Dunn?)
- Today’s Knock, Knock, with a contemporary twist: Ever wonder who originated the line: That’s what She said?
(No, it’s wasn’t The Office or even Chevy Chase on SNL Saturday Night Live.) I’ve always been a fan of Knock, Knock. That’s what She said?- not so much. But I’ve used both expressions in my writing for effect.
2. Wild goose chase
- It’s from Shakespeare’s play: Romeo and Juliet in the mid 1590's.
- According to theidioms.com, “The phrase’s origin, in reality, has nothing to do with wild geese or chasing them. The origin of the idiom ‘wild goose chase’ is rooted in an old form of horse race called ‘Wild Goose Chase.’
- Wild goose chase came to mean a worthless hunt or chase; a futile pursuit.
- I used this expression in my writing. I didn’t appreciate that my frenemy sent me on a wild goose chase across town, when she already knew that all the supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitizer were sold out.
3. Method to his Madness
- Comes from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet (1602)
- Seems there’s a huge amount of madness in the play Hamlet, who tells his friends that he will be faking his madness, though there is a fine line between faking and insanity, just proving the saying that you can fool some of the people some of the time.
- I used this expression, when writing about my mother’s never-ending, clever tactics to get us to try things we didn’t necessarily want to. When my mom threw broccoli into her mac and cheese recipe, we never realized there was a method to her madness.
4. Vanish into thin air.
- Shakespeare uses a variation of this phrase in Othello, 1604:
- and again in The Tempest, 1610:
- I used this expression in my story, when writing about my cheating partner. I was used to him disappearing for hours on end, wondering who he might be screwing around with behind my back, until one day he vanished into thin air.
5. Wouldn’t budge an inch
- From Shakespeare’s play, Taming of the Shrew (1592)
- I used this expression when writing about the power dynamics within my office. The new boss wouldn’t budge an inch with his ridiculous expectations, until he finally understood who and what he was actually dealing with.
Going down the rabbit hole of idioms can transform our own creativity and writing.
Here are a few more of Shakespeare’s idioms to wrap around your mind:
To be or not to be.
The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.
Fight fire with fire.
Seen better days.
Too much of a good thing.
Send him packing.
Green eyed monster.
Love is blind.
Every dog will have its day.
And the list goes on and on.
What’s your favorite idiom?
© Connie Song 2021. All Rights Reserved.