Picks and Pans Review: The Dictionary of Cliches

UPDATED 01/27/1986 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/27/1986 at 01:00 AM EST

by James Rogers

Not to beat around the bush or hedge the bet, this is a must-read for every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun, but it could make the hair stand on end for anyone truly in the know. It goes without saying that from A to Z, a dictionary of clichés is all things to all men, whom it makes brothers under the skin. But even at first blush, putting 1,400 old saws in one basket seems like carrying coals to Newcastle and the feeling of déjà vu here gets thicker than pea soup, no getting around it. "The cliché has a bad name," the author protests, not coining a phrase by a long shot, and in all fairness the roots of his shopworn old hats are now and then more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It's the cat's whiskers, or pajamas, or meow, par exemple, to unearth the fact that Moses coined "the apple of his eye," that Homer trotted out "bite the dust" in the Iliad, that "on cloud nine" springs from Dante's Paradise, that "Goody-Two-Shoes" made its first appearance in a 1765 young sprouts' book. Who would have guessed that poor Gaius Petronius, who kicked the bucket in 66 A.D., had "his heart in his mouth," that "signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3) are as old as the hills, that to Chaucer clichés went "in one ear and out the other." Be that as it may, everything isn't A-Okay here: It seems like comparing apples and oranges to trace "the bigger they come, the harder they fall" to Herodotus' "It is the gods' custom to bring low all things of surpassing greatness." "Egg on your face" is a lot longer in the tooth than the 25 years old worthy scribe Rogers says it is. It is a letdown that nobody knows where in tarnation "dressed to the nines" came from, and why in tarnation isn't "tarnation" in here, I ask you? Woe is one. It all puts one in mind of a TV soap producer who once said, "I know every cliché in the book and I avoid them like the plague." Alas and alack, when all is said and done, the upshot is you can't have your cake and eat it, too, not once in a blue moon, even in the best of all possible worlds, so if what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed is your cup of tea, abandon hope, all ye who enter here, and how. (Facts on File, $18.95)

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