April 5, 2017

Nice paraphrase.

I like the way Instapundit paraphrased something I wrote yesterday. Really kicked it up a notch.

Kicked it up a notch. I believe in taking out clichés like that. Didn't like that I'd written "turns on a dime" in that post Instapundit paraphrases. I need to preparaphrase. I need to ask myself: What if Instapundit were lifting this and paraphrasing? Do that yourself. Be funnier, pithier, crueler. And replace all the damned clichés.

And let me take one more opportunity to reprint what George Orwell said about dying metaphors:
Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying.
Yes, what is "kick it up a notch" even about? What's getting kicked? And what is the notch? I tend to picture a volume control knob on an amplifier — as in turn it up to 11 —  but volume control knobs don't have notches and you wouldn't kick them. I can picture beating the amplifier with one's guitar...



... but kicking, not so much. Especially kicking the volume control, which, again, has no notches.

So... help me out on this subject of what "kicking it up a notch" even means. "Turning on a dime" —  I know what that is. It's an exaggeration of the tightness of a vehicle's turning circle that takes advantage of our familiarity with dimes — circles of a particular and very small size.

Or do you think kids used to put dimes down in the street and ride their bikes and see if they could turn on them?

84 comments:

David Begley said...

"Turning on a dime" and "kicking it up a notch" are hardly cliches because they are so rarely used.

caplight45 said...

I first became aware of the "kick it up a notch" expression when I would watch Emeril LaGasse's cooking show on Food Network years ago. Urban Dictionary says it means "to make things more intense, exciting, or interesting."

Carter Wood said...

It means to strive harder to win the presidential vote in the first precinct in New Hampshire.

Robert Cook said...

"I first became aware of the 'kick it up a notch' expression when I would watch Emeril LaGasse's cooking show on Food Network years ago."

Yes, I think LaGasse used the term when he put more hot sauce into his food to make it spicier. I'm sure he was the one to first use the term and make it a recognizable phrase in our culture.

Ann Althouse said...

"I first became aware of the "kick it up a notch" expression when I would watch Emeril LaGasse's cooking show on Food Network years ago. Urban Dictionary says it means "to make things more intense, exciting, or interesting.""

I Googled a lot trying to find a meaning for the phrase, and it really came across that many people associate the phrase with Emeril. He didn't invent it though. He's relying on an old phrase. Obviously, there are no notches in the process he's talking about and he's not using his feet. So the image is something else. What is the concrete image that sort of there but no longer understood (which is what makes it a dying metaphor)?

Ann Althouse said...

""Turning on a dime" and "kicking it up a notch" are hardly cliches because they are so rarely used."

Whether you like my usage of the word "cliché" here or not, it is the dying metaphor problem Orwell was talking about. It's a phrase that comes to mind because it's been used a lot. Whether it's been used much recently is an indicator of the age of the mind where it came up.

tim in vermont said...

It sounds like it had to do with steam locomotives or the like to me.

Ann Althouse said...

The original meaning of cliché is: "Printing. A stereotype, electrotype, or other plate used for printing an image; (originally) spec. a stereotype of a wood engraving made by impressing a matrix into the surface of molten metal (= dab n.1 9) (now chiefly hist.); †the process of making such a stereotype (obs.)." OED.

That kind of means "cliché" as we know it is a dead metaphor. (Not even dying anymore, so there's no problem with seeing an image that doesn't really work. It's just become a word. Orwell recognized that.)

Laslo Spatula said...

Cliches are a shortcut for a thought that can transcend levels of knowledge: it is a cliche because everyone can get the reference.

This thinking is akin to the idea behind Esperanto: a shortcut past language barriers. Ideally, everyone can get the gist.

Thus: convert cliches to Esperanto.

turns on a dime = ŝaltas groŝon

kicked it up a notch = piedbatis lin supren muesca

Althouse Example: “I love the way the messaging ŝaltas groŝon."

Althouse Example: “Really piedbatis lin supren muesca."

See? Now those cliches sounds impressive and new.

Estas nenio nova sub la suno.

I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm even more hostile to the phrase "kick it up a notch" now that I know it's a particular person's catchphrase. That makes it really unusable.

tim in vermont said...

Notch 8, the 8th notch on a locomotive throttle.

Michael K said...

"Turn on a dime" means to turn around in a very small space; instantly. Sort of like the communist writers in Hollywood did when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. "The Yanks Aren't Coming" went to "Second Front Now" in one day.

"Red Star Over Hollywood" has many examples.

Robert Cook said...

Antonioni had asked the Who to perform in the discotheque scene in BLOW UP, as they had originated the theatrical stunt of smashing up their instruments. The Who turned it down, so Antonioni got the Yardbirds to do it.

tim in vermont said...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_rail_transport_terms

Robert Cook said...

That's also a rare glimpse of the Yardbirds when both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck were members.

traditionalguy said...

A Football player (Soccer to you guys from The States) understands that to kick it up a notch is for a forward who out runs the half backs to the goal mouth before the keeper can get to the ball.

WA-mom said...

That's funny. I loved when you said their messaging turns on a dime. I read it over a few times.

tim in vermont said...

I doubt that the slang or folklore of deplorables like railroad men reached the OED in a timely fashion. They go for written citations, hence the unconvincing printing reference.

It's all speculation now.

Robert Cook said...

I don't know if this is technically a cliche, but I loath the acronym "LOL." It is, for some people, almost a written verbal tic, where they'll throw it in anywhere, even where it doesn't make sense, as in:

"I got fired from job today. LOL."

Robert Cook said...

Sorry, loathe.

Amexpat said...

I think you're too harsh. Regional cliches can be colorful and showcase cultural diversity.
Old cliches often hark back to a bygone era and we'd lose something if we got rid of them.

Some, like "toe the line" do add a nuance that you would not have with a nuetral "comply" or "obey the rules". It's also fun to play around with cliches, like the wrongfully terminated lumberjack with an axe to grind.

M Jordan said...

I'm guessing the notch one kicks it up to is a ratchet on some kind of foot-operated winch or jack.

Ann Althouse said...

Orwell's general rule was: "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. "

"are used to seeing" ≈ cliché

I follow that rule. I might not live up to "never," but even when I'm trying to write as fast as I can — which I do every day — I'm sensitive when I've violated it — or when I'm about to violate it — and I slow down and do something else. "Turn on a dime" yesterday was an example of seeing myself violate the rule and knowing it's a problem but deciding to do it anyway. It was sort of like deciding to eat cake when you're on a diet. And then afterwards, the next day, thinking: Was that cake even really good cake? Wasn't there something low-carb that you could have found that would have been better?

M Jordan said...

About cliches: they're not inherently evil. Sometimes you want a bland overworked phrase just to be bland. Sometimes a cliche is funny, particularly if accompanied by a verbal signal that you're just messing with us.

But one cliche is inherently evil: "at the end of the day." It just is.

EDH said...

That my friends, is the minority vote...

Look, I want you to see this. This is you, right here.

Notch 45, you Irish bug bastard.

Ann Althouse said...

"and I slow down and do something else"

I don't do something else every single time, but I think I do something else 90+ percent of the time. It takes attention and effort, and I resist reading writing by people who don't make this effort. And that refers to A LOT of people who are writing on line.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's funny. I loved when you said their messaging turns on a dime. I read it over a few times."

Then is was good cake.

J2 said...

I actually really like and use mixed metaphors any time I can think of one.

Like "depends on whose grist is being gored".

Virgil Hilts said...

I thought the expression was related to the Rockettes and their high kicking; kick it up a notch makes sense in that context and the Rockettes were extremely famous in the early 20th.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm guessing the notch one kicks it up to is a ratchet on some kind of foot-operated winch or jack."

What kinds of machines are operated with a kicking foot?

I was able to think of kickstarting a motorcycle... but that explains kickstarting. Starting, not moving something that's already on to a higher level.

Unknown said...

First use of the term I've found is in the 1987 Bruce Jackson book "Fieldwork", speaking about use of a reel-to-reel tape machine. The sound quality is much improved as tape speed increases, so moving the tape speed from e.g.: the 7-i.p.s. notch to the 15-i.p.s. notch is worthwhile, in spite of the increased tape cost.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm guessing the notch one kicks it up to is a ratchet on some kind of foot-operated winch or jack. "

"The short history of early pedal powered machines" shows a lot of machines operated with pedals and treadles.

And here's "Pedal powered farms and factories: the forgotten future of the stationary bicycle."

Ann Althouse said...

"I thought the expression was related to the Rockettes and their high kicking; kick it up a notch makes sense in that context and the Rockettes were extremely famous in the early 20th."

If you are actually serious about that theory, I invite you to consider what the "it" is. The leg is kicking but it is kicking nothing. There's no "it" to be kicked.

Now, I see an answer, but it presents another question, and it's a question that might be a Zen koan. The answer is: But we say: "He kicked his foot." And we never mean he used one foot to kick his other foot. We mean he just kicked. So the question becomes: When a man kicks his foot, what is he kicking? Or is this just an idiotic riddle, suitable only for children: What can get kicked without getting kicked? Answer: A foot!

Peter said...

Is it not crystal-clear that your metaphor is razor-sharp?

(I'm still waiting for "broken record" to go out of use, as phonographs and their faults pass from living memory. But considering that I still hear phrases like "hold your horses" from contemporary speakers, I suspect I may have to wait a long time.)

whswhs said...

One of the marks of a dying metaphor is people no longer knowing how to spell it. I've several times seen "reign in," which I take to mean that people no longer think of getting control of an excited horse when they say that.

EDH said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
Orwell's general rule was: "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. "

"are used to seeing" ≈ cliché



Orwell, same essay: "Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against."

mockturtle said...

The reason I'm unduly fond of cliche metaphors may be linked to my childhood fondness for MAD magazine which featured 'Horrifying Cliches', taken literally. Or maybe because to obviously avoid a cliche is even more banal than using one.

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim in vermont said...

There's a very cute RomCom with Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson where he plays a writer, and an ongoing gag is his use of cliches, and every time he uses one, it sounds fresh, almost as if the writers were saying that the rule against cliches is one, up with which, they would not put.

Jeff Gee said...

When the National Lampoon did their incredible MAD magazine parody, they included a page of 'Horrifying Cliches' featuring literal renderings of 'Raising a Dead Issue,' 'Avoiding a Delicate Subject,' and, my personal favorite, 'Blowing a Joke.'

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Kick it up a notch" and "turn on dime" as well as most of the examples given are extremely common usage in many locations and among groups of (deplorable) people.

Many of those dying metaphors are relics of bygone eras and are probably why they are mystifying to people who are young or who are unfamiliar with regionalism or (especially) who have no sense of history.

Dropping a dime on someone, requires you to understand the history of pay phones. Who even sees pay phones anymore?

Kicking it up a notch is most likely linked to steam powered machinery. Particularly in conjunction with the throttle lever which has notches on it to get to the next, more powerful level. Now you are cooking with gas!!!

Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in awhile.

Paco Wové said...

"What kinds of machines are operated with a kicking foot?"

I don't know, but I'm sure they are big, manly ones.

rehajm said...

KICK IT!

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ficta said...

Couldn't find anything useful about kicking per se, but the OED has some very old figurative uses of "up" and "down a notch":

1670 R. Lassels Voy. Italy Pref., Traveling takes my young noble~man four notches lower in his self-conceit and pride.

bagoh20 said...

Look. I'm a guy. We are not multi-taskers. I concentrate. I can pay attention to what you are trying to say or how you say it, but not both. Pick one. This "Achilles heal" of men is why tits and ass evolved to unnecessary proportions. Appreciate my nature. Don't try to change it. You'll lose all your power. Male awareness is like "kryponite" for you ladies.

Jeff Gee said...

Wow! The whole Nat Lamp MAD parody is online here. Scroll down for the Horrifying Cliches.

Michael K said...

" as phonographs and their faults pass from living memory."

A cliche that has disappeared is "vaccinated with a phonograph needle" as an expression describing someone who talks fast and too much. Two vanished cultural standbys in one phrase.

Pay phones, for a long time, used nickels. Cliche list says it was to notify the authorities by telephone on someone. That makes sense.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Then there is the difference between a cliche and and idiom. They are sometimes hard to tell apart though.

"at the end of the day" is boring trite usage [cliche] and people who use it are "missing the boat" [idiom] in being more effective in their use of language.

urbane legend said...

PA system control boards frequently have slide volume controls. I suppose you could kick it up a notch on one of those, if you had very small feet.

traditionalguy said...

Passionately linking together nothing but cliches is the ultimate skill over at ESPN. The record per game is 700.

The Godfather said...

I wonder if "kick it up a notch" could have to do with playing a pipe organ.

Roughcoat said...

Oh come on. Think of them as idioms and figures of speech that enrich the language and communication.

Charlie said...

"What kinds of machines are operated with a kicking foot?" None of them. But would a steam locomotive engineer hurtling down the track in a deafening mechanical roar casually remark to his fireman "Bill, I think we should raise the throttle lever to the next index..." or would he say, "Bill, we're running late, let's kick 'er up a notch"?

robother said...

When I encounter a dying metaphor, I like to try resuscitation: to breathe new life into it. Maybe like certain parrots, its not dead, its merely resting.

tim in vermont said...

I thought that ESPN's big thing was trying to be more political than Twitter.

pacwest said...

I've never turned on a dime, but I once stopped on a dime. Unfortunately the dime was in some guy's pocket.

William said...

The pay phone used to cost a nickel, then it went up to a dime, then a quarter, and then it disappeared. "To drop a dime" on someone only worked at one particular moment in time. I have lived long enough to see the birth, the prime, and the slow fade of this cliche. Language is a living thing, and, as a living thing, certain phrases have their noon of vigor and twilight of senescence. At the end of the day everything fades to black, but some phrases glimmer in the gloaming and defy their obscurity. Let us show some respect or at least lip service to those cliches that struggle to stay alive in a world that has made them meaningless.

Virgil Hilts said...

Ann said "I invite you to consider what the "it" is".
Kicking also means extending the leg quickly; it does not have to include kicking an object.
If you google "kick it" dance or dancing (which, among other things, will reveal the dreadful "Kickit" dancing competition) you will notice that not many dancers doing "kick it" dancing are continuously kicking objects. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aE-cW_oMDg

Virgil Hilts said...

Rockettes: http://nypost.com/2007/05/04/rockette-hopefuls-kick-it-up-a-notch/
I rest my case!

David said...

Interesting that Orwell's "dying' metaphors are all still around.

Earnest Prole said...

The rule against clichés in writing is like the rule against split infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition: a useful guideline that should be dumped whenever violating the rule would make the writing stronger. In your case, nothing says shameless-shill hypocrisy quite like "turn on a dime."

David said...

"What kinds of machines are operated with a kicking foot?" None of them. But would a steam locomotive engineer hurtling down the track in a deafening mechanical roar casually remark to his fireman "Bill, I think we should raise the throttle lever to the next index..." or would he say, "Bill, we're running late, let's kick 'er up a notch"?

How about "more coal."

The engineer controls the throttle on a steam locomotive, not the fireman.

Peter said...

"If I should call you up, invest a dime
And you say you belong to me
And ease my mind
Imagine how the world could be
So very fine
So happy together"

-- Lyrics of the Turtles "Happy Together"

(The price went to 10 cents from 5 cents in 1951,
and to 20 cents in 1973)

David said...

I'm even more hostile to the phrase "kick it up a notch" now that I know it's a particular person's catchphrase. That makes it really unusable.

Except when you are in the kitchen being silly and goofy.

Charlie said...

In "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when the scientists and aliens are beginning to communicate on the mountain, one of the scientists wants the synthesizer player to increase his tempo and says "kick that mule."

If "kick that mule" was a cliche farmers used for "must go faster," it could have easily morphed into "kick it up a notch" in the machinery era.

David: Firemen and engineers worked as a team and often traded roles, as firemen wanted to move up to the more prestigious role and were given opportunities to learn from the more experienced engineers.

Earnest Prole said...

Thanks for the shout-out to Antonioni's Blow-Up -- the essential text for our post–1965 world.

BN said...

neither overused or outdated metaphors nor cliches are something to get your panties in a wad about.

I do hate french words though, like "cliche." I might like it better if it was "clitch."

William said...

At the end of the day, all these tired old war horses plodding the well trodden paths know the way home and don't have any to be reined in. It's a safe way to communicate.

Robert Cook said...

"Dropping a dime on someone, requires you to understand the history of pay phones. Who even sees pay phones anymore?"

There are still four working, well-maintained, out-on-the-street pay phone booths in Manhattan.

Robert Cook said...

P.S. Not the half-booths that became prevalent in recent years, but the full-size, Clark-Kent-can-change-into-Superman booths.

mockturtle said...

I do hate french words though, like "cliche." I might like it better if it was "clitch."

The Brits probably pronounce it CLEE-shay.

Steven Wilson said...

Shakespeare was the world's worst for using cliches. I don't have time to list them, but there are literally hundred of cliches in his work. So what's up with that. How's that make him a great writer? Seriously? Just askin'.

tcrosse said...

I do hate french words though, like "cliche." I might like it better if it was "clitch."

Rhymes with niche. (Brits say Neesh)

Bob91827 said...

"TAKE it up a notch" is just as common, in my opinion, as "KICK it up a notch." I don't think kicking has anything to do with the origin. There are probably thousands of machines that have power or output calibrated in fixed increments, with a control lever or dial set to move in discrete amounts by having a spring-loaded tab drop into a notch cut into the surrounding or backing metal.

mockturtle said...

Rhymes with niche. (Brits say Neesh)

I will concur that Brits say 'neesh' for niche [so do I, for that matter] but they don't say 'cleesh' for cliché.

Ann Althouse said...

"Rockettes: http://nypost.com/2007/05/04/rockette-hopefuls-kick-it-up-a-notch/
I rest my case!"

That's a back formation, like endless corny headlines. If the headline said "The Rockettes Rocket to Fame" or "The Rockettes Rock" would you think the Rockettes' name was related to rockets or rock?

Ann Althouse said...

Or, more aptly, would you think that the word "rocket" came from "Rockettes"?!

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I proffer that "kick it up a notch" and "kick it into high gear" both have their origins in motorcycle slang. On a motorcycle, you put your toe under the shifter and lift to upshift, and press down with your toe on the shifter to downshift. The upshift is a similar motion to a gentle kick, and one can imagine that if your bike had a stiff transmission you might actually have to kick it. Up a notch would be a gear, from 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd, etc.

As an aside, finding neutral can be cruel. On most manual transmissions, it's supposed to be "halfway" between 1st and 2nd. But very easy to miss.


Leora said...

This thread on Trainorders.com seems to address the well known locomotive throttle switch which had 8 notches

http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,1086850.

Night Owl said...

Roughcoat said:
"Oh come on. Think of them as idioms and figures of speech that enrich the language and communication."

Indeed. In college I had a part-time job for a year, tutoring ESL (English as a second language) students. Part of the tools provided to me were illustrated booklets of English idioms. I remember one was titled "It's raining cats and dogs." I had to instruct the students on how to use the phrases in everyday conversations. So I am partly responsible for keeping these idioms alive, at least among non-native English speakers.

welas asih said...

*PUSAT PEMBESAR PENIS, OBAT KUAT TAHAN LAMA, PERANGSANG WANITA, KOSMETIK, DAN ACCESORIES SEX P/W TERLENGKAP...!!


*RAMUAN PEMBESAR PENIS

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS JAKARTA

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS MAKASSAR

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS BEKASI

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS DEPOK

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR JAKARTA

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR BALI

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR BEKASI

*PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR MAKASSAR

welas asih said...

CONDOM GETAR GERIGI

CONDOM DURI

CONDOM SAMBUNG JUMBO

PENINGGI BADAN

PENIS TEMPEL JUMBO

PENIS GETAR GOYANG

PENIS MUTIARA

PENIS IKAT PINGGANG

BONEKA FULL BODY

VAGINA GETAR GOYANG

VAGINA CENTER

VAGINA NUNGGING

VAGINA NUNGGING

PENGHILANG TATTO

PENYUBUR SPERMA

VAKUM PAYUDARA