Wednesday 26 January 2022

Endangered Phrases

 Here is a list of 50 common sayings that are, according to this piece of research, in danger of passing out of use, or being, as it says here, 'sent to the knacker's yard'. It's a curious list: some of the items seem dangerously new-fangled to me, while others are more obviously archaic or obscure. Nearly all of them have probably passed my lips in recent times, apart from number 3, which I don't like at all (I'm old enough to remember 'cold as charity', which I imagine has now passed out of use. Talking of cold, I've picked up from watching Ivor The Engine the excellent Welsh phrase 'jumping cold'). It's sad to see the fine biblical expression 'pearls before swine' at the top of the list, but I guess it's heartening that nearly three quarters of those involved in this survey expressed regret that traditional phrases were passing out of use. The question is: What are they being replaced with? Or is everyday speech becoming more bland and prosaic, more functional and standardised? Let us hope not. Pip pip.


  1. Well, some of the expressions refer to obsolete military technology or conditions. One can get a license to hunt with a muzzle loading firearm in the US; but I think even then percussion caps are favored over flintlocks, so no room is left for pans or flashes in them. Torpedoes, explosive shells, and aerial bombing made naval encounters that much more likely to end with the defeated party sinking rapidly, which reduces the chances of striking ones colors, quite apart from the difficulty of nailing colors to a steel mast.

    "Dead as a doornail" I've encountered in English fiction, not necessarily in American speech. "Dead as a hammer" I do hear now and then.

  2. Thanks George. I've never come across 'dead as a hammer'– it's rather good. The hammer could have hammered the doornail into the door – double dead.