Rick's List — exploring cliches edition

Between the Super Bowl and a particularly ludicrous and frenetic period in politics, the last few weeks have been saturated with even more clichés than normal. Whether listening to Television Wise Persons, reading newspaper or online commentary, or even standing around the water cooler at work — which, by the way, is a significant cliché — the clichés have been coming fast and furious. ("Fast and furious" is also a cliché.)

It occurred to me, as a Television Wise Person observed that someone "needs to wake up and smell the coffee," that I have no idea where certain clichés come from. In this case, the fact that most people in our society start their mornings off brewing pleasantly scented coffee provides the sensorial images required to fuel what became a cliché. But I did a little digging and found out there's more to "wake up and smell the coffee" than you might expect. In fact, I did similar homework on some other platitudes. Here's what I learned:

1. "Wake up and smell the coffee" — The phrase started with a family of fisher people in Delaware. It was the job of the youngest child, Raymond, to rise at dawn each morning and set fire to a pile of expired bait that had gone unused in the previous day's work. "Wake up and smell the burning worms and minnows!" Raymond would call out, rousing his parents and siblings to start the day. Neighbors heard the boy's cries and enjoyed the general concept, but changed "burning worms and minnows" to coffee as that had a more familiar and pleasing resonance.

2. "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" — Describes a Reformation-era financial situation wherein funds from St. Peter's Church in Rome were utilized to fund repairs to St. Paul's Church in London. At first, though, the St. Peter's money was going to go to renovate the narthex at St. Zynovij Kovalyk Church in Crete. The dude's a real saint, but "robbing Peter to pay Zynovij Kovalyk" just doesn't roll off the tongue, does it?

3. "Here's mud in your eye" — This started as part of a college drinking game in which inebriated students would one-up each other with increasingly outlandish insertions of foreign matter into their eyes. The most hilarious was "Here's hydrocloric acid in your eye!" but, because that conestant was blinded, the toast morphed to convey something less catastrophic.

4. "This ain't my first rodeo" — Attributed to Tuffy Parmeleaux, the renowned World Bull Riding Champion. He responded very early in his career to an enthusiastic reporter who observed that Tuffy's performance was a remarkable professional debut. "This ain't my first rodeo," Tuffy gently corrected the journalist. "It's my second." 


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