cart » cat

Chiefly in:   put the cat before the horse

Classification: English – idiom-related – /r/-dropping

Spotted in the wild:

  • The feeling of the people is that the police stinks and it is rotten. You, within days of assuming the leadership of the force, announced what you regard as your reform programmes. Isn’t it like putting the cat before the horse? Why didn’t you carry out internal purge and cleansing first before this outward approach? (NigerianMuse, February 06, 2005)
  • A population policy that is not predicated on the result of a credible census, in our view, is tantamount to putting the cat before the horse. (THISDAYOnLine.com, Nov. 16, 2004)
  • Before deregulation, pundits had expected the Obasanjo government to put the nations infrastructures into good working order if not for anything to make the deregulation effective, unfortunately the present arrangement is akin to putting the cat before the horse. (Max Uba : Deregulation and the Empty Jerry Can, (Niger Delta Congress))
  • But perhaps to expect that the Attorney-General’s Office and the Government in general can eradicate corruption is to put the cat before the horse. (Daily Nation (Kenya), September 13, 1998)
  • I enjoyed this entry, but i think you put the cat before the horse. (Comment on online diary entry, Apr 9, 2001)

This eggcorn, which in some case might be a typo from omitting to hit one key, was reported by on the American Dialect Society mailing list by Mark Peters, who saw it in a student paper.

It seems to be most frequent in writings by people from Africa — maybe because the historical image of horse-drawn carts is less present there than in societies of European culture.

| 8 comments | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2006/03/15 |

chase » cheese

Chiefly in:   cut to the cheese

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • Ho! Ho! Ho! Right, nae messin about, let’s cut to the cheese and deal with the facts. The real reason Rangers lost was because Celtic fans kept hiding the ball. (Evening Times (UK), Feb 15, 2006)
  • After about thirty minutes of being asked ridiculous questions about ridiculous things (where I got my MSCE, where I got my degree, what my teachers names were, etc), they cut to the cheese: Somebody called the shop and started spreading some serious subterfuge! (Neohapsis archives, Jul 09, 2004)
  • I’m looking for a primer, cut to the cheese type of book with some examples in C or assembly as talking about real-time is much easier than getting down and dirty. (comp.realtime, Aug 17, 1993)
  • Well, to cut to the cheese - what I hope to do with this post is to start a discussion about the features I’ve suggested below and also maybe get some new thoughts on the table. (rec.games.computer.ultima.dragons, Apr 15, 2000)

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms has the following about _cut to the chase_:

> Get to the point, get on with it, as in _We don’t have time to go into that, so let’s cut to the chase_. This usage alludes to editing (cutting) film so as to get to the exciting chase scene in a motion picture. [Slang; 1920s]

I can only guess that the variant _cut to the cheese_ relies on a similar idea, only related to food: a cheese course is usually served at the end of a meal.

| 6 comments | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2006/03/06 |

bull » bowl

Chiefly in:   like a bowl in a china shop

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • And she’s described in reports as a bowl in a china shop, but somebody of unassailable high ethics, and also as a direct, directly reporting to the then chief financial officer. (CNN.com, rush transcript, January 16, 2002)
  • He [a dog] was kinda like a bowl in a china shop so to say. (If you knew how my mother is, & all of her nicknacks.) You would understand my last statement. He would knock everything over with his tail. (Midwest Exotics)
  • I begin to feel like a bowl in a china shop (which I guess must be pretty fragile). (guestbook entry)
  • On an intuition, Jennifer offered, “That’s why you and Mr Tate get along so well. He’s like an earthenware bowl in a china shop because he’s more real … more solid and down-to-earth.” (Ex Isle Forums, original fiction, February 19, 2005)
  • After numerous setbacks, I have finally made some progress with the BAR and CARB smog debacle. SInce I bought the car with Canadian title and license plates, this car has been like a bowl in a china shop with the BAR referee. (E28 Enthusiasts Forum, March 24, 2004)

Analyzed or reported by:

Paul Brians reported the quote from the CNN transcript to the Usenet forum `alt.usage.english`. There aren’t many clear examples of this reshaped idiom in the search engine archives, but it is mentioned as an “error of Engish” in a few places, for example in a long thread of April 2005 on the TiVo Community site, available via Google Cache.

The opinions on why _bowl_ instead of _bull_ vary. A Livejournal commenter admits to the eggcorn:

> I used to think “bull in a china shop” was “bowl in a china shop.”
> which made me wonder, wouldn’t a store that sells place settings actually WANT bowls in the shop?

To which the Livejournal’s owner replies:

> Ha! Even funnier was that when I read that, I was thinking “hmm, it WOULD be dangerous to bowl in a china shop”—but you meant bowl as a NOOOOUN.

From the few examples we have, _bowl_ can conjure up

- the notion of fragility and/or the semantic overlap with _china_
- the idea that a mundane bowl would feel out of place surrounded by delicate china
- the perilous activity of bowling in a china shop, a concept not unlike that of the original idiom

| 3 comments | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2006/02/13 |

tongs » thongs

Chiefly in:   (go (at it)) hammer and thongs

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • “Ballal, Pillay and most others in the team claim to have proved a point; they go hammer and thongs against the Federation.” (link)
  • “Some friendly sibling rivalry was evident, as the brothers went at it hammer and thongs, trying to outdo each other.” (link)
  • “CONGRESSMAN: We were just always good friends and we went at it hammer and thongs from whatever it was 12 to 6 or 7. But then after all the arguments …” (link)
  • “Look, the city has been fighting hammer and thongs to get those that owe it millions in unpaid taxes and now he is waiving the same millions …” (link)

The “hammer” part of “hammer and tongs” (most often in “go hammer and tongs” or “go at it hammer and tongs”) is clear enough, but for people these days, most of us removed from any experience of blacksmithing, the “tongs” part is baffling. So some of us have rationalized the expression as involving “thongs” ‘whips’, that is, as referring to two sorts of weapons or instruments of punishment that might be used in agonistic confrontations. This one seems extremely unlikely to have arisen as a typo, and not very likely to have arisen through mishearing.

A hundred or so relevant google webhits (on 30 December 2005), mostly in the domains where agonistic confrontations are routine: sports and politics. There are some other hits deliberately playing with “thongs” as the name of an article of apparel.

I first heard this from an interviewee on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on 30 December 2005.

| 3 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/12/30 |

snuff » stuff

Chiefly in:   up to stuff

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • That means that when they see the test results and they find their local school is just not up to stuff, they can choose to send them to another area where they do well. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, House Debate transcript, Oct 8, 2002)
  • One of the biggest of the flaws had to be the A.I. for the population that sometimes was just not up to stuff and would fail to properly fulfill their duties. (Express World, Apr. 12, 2003)
  • Maybe the Microsoft software isn’t quite up to stuff for the job yet and so they are using beta’s. (NewsForge forum, May 13, 2003)
| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/10/31 |