Definition: To think differently or from a new perspective
Example: Lloyd really had to think outside the box to find a believable explanation for his lack of trousers at the church service.
There are a number of variations on this idiom. You can think ‘beyond the box‘, ‘out of the box‘, or in Australia, ‘outside the square’.
Its origin appears to come very late in the history of the English language, specifically from business speech in the 1970s and 80s. A popular on the spot challenge in management companies was solving the ‘9 dot puzzle‘, where you had to attempt to join the 9 dots of a grid with 4 straight lines- no lifting of the pen or retracing of lines allowed. The puzzle itself is much older, first appearing in print in 1914. The solution to the challenge (spoilers ahead!) is using the lines beyond the extent of the dots themselves, or the perceived box they form.
Iddy appears to be thinking very hard indeed outside of this particular box. He is. That’s because he’s been kicked out of his apartment by his landlord for practising the tuba in the early morning hours. If he doesn’t think of a solution to his problem, he’s going to be sleeping in that box tonight. And there’s no room in there for his tuba.
Definition: Something heard but then immediately forgotten.
Example: The traffic cop’s advice to Slim went straight in one ear and out the other. So twenty minutes later, he received another speeding ticket from another traffic cop.
A version of this phrase goes all the way back to the first century AD and ancient Rome. Educator and orator Quintilian is quoted as having said ” The things he says flow straight through the ears”. Over the intervening centuries, the phrase slowly changed until it is what we know today. Who knows, in another few centuries, it may change again. That’s the thing about language. It’s always in a state of flux.
Despite his apparent lack of ears, advice is constantly going in one side of Iddy’s head and out the other. As well as assorted small flying creatures.
Definition: Something heard unofficially or indirectly through rumour and gossip
Example: Sally heard it through the grapevine that her husband had gone to a sing-along screening of ‘Frozen‘ without her.
You can hardly hear this idiom without immediately humming along to the classic track by Marvin Gaye; it’s just that synonymous.
And what do you know…. we have a definitive origin for it.! So please read it as you hum….
It’s American, from the 1800s, and has to do with the newfangled technology that was sweeping the nation at the time: the telegraph. It was a mammoth undertaking in its day. Thousands of miles of telegraph poles and wires crossing vast distances, It was thought the combination of regularly positioned poles and the wires strung between them resembled the poles and strings used in vineyards to train and grow the grapes, so the telegraph lines soon became referred to as the grapevine. In the Civil War, rumours were spread via the telegraph, and so was born the phrase!
Iddy’s particular grapevine is a noisy little lot, but they do have some juicy gossip to spread!
Definition: To reach or exceed expectations or standards, often used negatively.
Example: Roger couldn’t cut the mustard and was eliminated from the World Tiddlywinks Championships in the first hour.
There have been many attempts to relate this phrase to ‘passing muster’, where soldiers are approved on the parade ground or by their skill set, but alas, that explanation hasn’t really gained any credible acceptance. It doesn’t seem to ‘cut the mustard’. Sorry. Just had to say it. There have also been suggestions that it might have to do with the actual harvesting of the crop, but yet again, there seems to be no basis for this.
It does seem to originate in late nineteenth century America, and come from the long established use of the word ‘mustard’ as a superlative. Its use meant to add spice or zing to something, just like the condiment itself. There are earlier related phrases: to be ‘keen as mustard’, or to be genuine and ‘proper mustard’.
The word itself comes from the Latin mustum, which in English became must, the juice squeezed from grapes before it is made into wine. Mustard gained its name because originally, its seeds were ground into paste with the must to make the condiment.
Give it a few minutes, but Iddy will eventually realise that to get into this particular big yellow bottle, all he needs to do is open the top and squeeze…