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Public editor: Idioms that Globe readers hate the most

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

On Friday, I asked Globe readers to send me some idioms which might be past their due date and the floodgates opened.

I promised to pass on their cat's meow, the bee in their bonnet or thorn in their side (you get the idea) of clichés to a committee of senior editors who are at work in the trenches reviewing the style guide.

Here they are:

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1. "The phrase 'holding their feet to the fire' has always struck me as a horrible expression and I hear it frequently. My limited research indicates that this was (is) a form of torture. Has anyone else commented on this?"

2. "The blind leading the blind … is also pejorative."

3. "As one who grew up in post-war Britain with its militaristic traditions, I try to rid myself of expressions such as 'drawing first blood' (although predates modern warfare; it must refer to swords) and even the seemingly innocuous 'set one's sights on' or 'pull the trigger' meaning to take action."

4. "The old-fashioned expression 'never darken my door again' is also out of sync today but I heard it used quite recently. Also 'to blacken someone's character.'"

5. "Here's an idiom I think should be relegated to the dust bin of history: the pot calling the kettle black."

6. "Circling the wagons."

7. "A term that should be retired is 'the homeless.' Why do journalists, and others, take one characteristic of a person, and a tragic characteristic at that, to define that person? "

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8. "'Rule of thumb' always has me shifting uncomfortably. Didn't this expression originate as the thickness of a switch with which to beat one's wife?"

9. "Lame excuse, lamebrain."

10. "Blind ambition, blind alley, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

11. "Trumped-up charges (may offend you-know-who but that's okay)."

12. "We see too much of 'targets,' 'kills' as in 'kills a bill,' 'shoots down,' 'stranglehold' and so forth. It is so commonplace that we hardly notice the violence."

13. "Throw like a girl."

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14. "I am so old, I can remember when 'Sound as a dollar' was a compliment!"

15. "One of my favourite bugbears in recent years has been the addition of the suffix -gate to every story about a scandal or inkling thereof. It's especially galling in our case, since it wasn't even a Canadian scandal."

There were also those who stood tall for clichés and idioms. "You do not interpret idiom's words literally, that's the whole idea of idioms! …I left the Soviet Union to live in a free and democratic society, and it appalls me to watch how Canada (and the West in general) is sliding by leaps and bounds to that same ideological dictatorship I hoped to leave behind."

But others agreed that nothing lasts a donkey's years.

How to know when an idiom should be avoided like the plague? When it becomes a cliché, said a reader on Twitter.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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