<< The Bad Review Revue | Annotated News >>
The Cliche Rotation Project

7/16: The next round of the Cliche Rotation Project is going on now. Submit your entry here.

Rosecrans and I had a weird moment of Baldwinicity last month, as we were both struck by essentially the same idea at the time. I called on my readers to participate in The Cliche Rotation Project, a drive to replace old and worn out sayings with new ones of roughly equivalent meaning. A few days later, Rosecrans unveiled the Contest for Total Idioms, in which readers of The Morning News were asked to submit newly minted proverbs and adages.

Well, the winners of the Contest for Total Idioms were announced today. So it seems only fitting that I published some submissions in the CRP as well.

I got lots and lots of entries, but have narrowed this batch down to 30. I think this might become a reoccurring feature, though, so you'll see some of the rest later. And you shouldn't hesitate to send new ones to matthew@defectiveyeti.com.

So: out with the old and in with the new! Or, as I like to say, let's shed skin and slither in style.

Old ClicheReplacementContributorNotes
Always a bridesmaid, never the brideI'm not the hero of this story.Nathan Werth"This one is a bastardization from my gaming geek days, when my friends and I would joke that 'I am so not the PC here.'"
Back to square oneBack to World 1-1Martin Mushrush 
The bee's knees; the cat's pajamasThe bee's pajamasRobin Lane"My 14-year-old son, Calvin, shares your interest in giving new life to old cliches. A few months ago, he somehow came across these two old versions and decided to revamp. The droll tone is crucial: 'Well, that's just the bee's pajamas, Mom.'"
The blind leading the blindEnrolled in the Paris and Nicole Academy 
The coast is clearThe porn is deletedJohn Taylor 
Come hell or high waterEven if they send in Chinese tanksRob Cockerham 
Do the right thingGet on the nut footDave Yeagar"There's a story here. Basically a few of us took my buddy out for his birthday and he got somewhat inebriated. He began to talk nonstop about these roasted almonds that this guy sold out of a truck near his place of employment. He literally went on about these nuts for almost 30 minutes. Finally one of us tried to stop the madness by suggesting he talk about something else, but he adamantly slurred: 'No.... you gotta... you gotta get on the nut... foot.'"
Don't be a party-pooperDon't squeeze out your grumpies in publicbeajerry 
Don't take any wooden nickelsDon't mistake eggs for oystersEve Tolpa 
Dumb as a box of rocks.Don't have the good sense that God gave cabbageCindy Molitor"This isn't a new one. My mother used to say it to me all the time when I was growing up. However, it's one that I've never heard anyone else use."
He's yesterday's newsHe's a stamp-lickerDavid LaMotte 
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.If you won't shake your bootie, get off the dance floorPam Coughlan 
It's a win-win situation.Everyone gets ice cream!Alkelda the Gleeful 
Keep your eyes peeledPut your deadlights on high beamsScott BushI don't know if "deadlights" is a typo, but I like it -- MB
Knuckle sandwichBoot souffleNeal 
Let's make like a tree and leaveLet's shoot this pig into space.Clint Bishop 
Looking for a needle in a haystackTrying to find a clock in a casinoAngus Stocking 
Looks a gift horse in the mouthWants birthday cake on Christmas.Mud 
More fun than a barrel of monkeysMore fun than 20 yards of bubble wrapDiesel 
Nice guys finish lastNo one remembers Ivan the WonderfulLung the Younger 
Playing second fiddleJeeves in a Google worldMud 
The pot calling the kettle blackThe pot calling the pipe "drug paraphernalia."Jonathan Hoferle 
Pushing up daisiesTanning the soles of his feetLung the Younger 
Putting the cart before the horsePutting the "umption" before the assJulie 
Reinvent the wheelStart a whole new batch of sourdoughBill Braine 
Silence is goldenQuiet is currencySusanna 
Sleep with the fishesFlirt with the dirtSouthpaw Jones 
Still waters run deepQuiet squirrels have more nutsNo Name Slob 
The squeaky wheel gets the greaseThe squeaky dolphin gets the fishEric 
Two-facedVerbally biChag 
We'll cross that bridge when we come to itWe'll chop that tomato when the salsa runs outSuzanna 
You made your bed, now sleep in itYou poop it, you scoop itReuben 

Update: Theresa writes:

Some time ago, my brother-in-law decided to teach my daughter, N., the phrase, "That dog don't hunt," to be used after any sentence that had a lie or tall tale included in it. N. used it quite often at first and even would ask me to make up some untrue statement just so she could respond with, "That dog don't hunt!". Having a three year old armed with this phrase and knowing when to use it was a great ice breaker and/or party trick. The phrase eventually wore out of it newness and was not used. Recently, N. and I were visiting a friend, and when someone made a random, nonsensical comment, N. responded with, "That spoon don't scoop!" My jaw dropped and I had to ask her, "Where did you learn that?" and she responded, "I made it up!" Either she is pretty darn smart or a pretty darn good liar...That dog don't hunt, N.!
Yeah, along with the kid activities Heather previous classified here as "cute the first time, obnoxious the 65,000,000,000th," add "using a catchphrase." I taught The Squirrelly to use the phrase "down the hatch!" when eating. Hilarity ensued--until he started bellowing it before every forkful of Veggie Dog during every single meal. That's a cliche in dire need of rotation.

Posted on March 02, 2007 to Cliche Rotation Project


i've always wanted to come up with a more humane replacement for "killing two birds with one stone."

maybe that than make the next round?

Posted by: soulyluna on March 2, 2007 11:58 PM

How about "two cookies in one bite"?

Posted by: Platypus on March 3, 2007 5:26 AM

Another alternative to "If you won't shake your bootie, get off the dance floor" is "Shit or get off the pot."

Posted by: Rory Parle on March 3, 2007 6:09 AM

Here's one my Dad uses: instead of "as smooth as silk" how about "slicker than snot on a doorknob."

Posted by: Valerie on March 3, 2007 7:32 AM

I had a friend who's birthday was on Christmas.

Twice the jokes; half the presents.

Of course he would want birthday cake on Christmas.

Posted by: SmartAss on March 3, 2007 9:27 AM

Those are actually quite clever!

I'm going to have to keep coming back until I remember a few choice ones!

Posted by: Anita on March 3, 2007 12:32 PM

I've always thought "the cat's purr" is a lot more special than "the cat's meow".

Posted by: Mike on March 3, 2007 3:16 PM

Reading through these I started reading just the new one and trying to guess the old cliche. I think it would make a great quiz game, maybe trivial pursuit style.

Posted by: Josh on March 3, 2007 8:26 PM

I was thinking about these at work tonight, and this really wenchy, er, anyway, I thought of one perhaps for "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"--People without firewalls shouldn't view porn.

Posted by: Julie on March 3, 2007 8:35 PM

EVERYONE gets ice cream!
He's a stamp-licker

Hey, are you planning any updates to Tricks of the Trade anytime soon? I miss that site! :)

Posted by: Betsy on March 4, 2007 4:26 AM

"Wants birthday cake on Christmas" and "tanning the soles of his feet" sound like authentic cliches; I love them and plan to start using them.

Best of those that sound obviously new are "like finding a clock in a casino" and "more fun than 20 yards of bubble wrap." I might add those to my vocabulary.

"Doesn't have the sense that God gave a cabbage" has been used by my family for years. Wonder if I'm related to Cindy?

Posted by: Carny Asada on March 4, 2007 11:27 AM

Plus: A closer match for "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" (don't be critical of others' flaws if you aren't perfect yourself) would be "People without firewalls shouldn't send out spam."

Posted by: Carny Asada on March 4, 2007 11:31 AM

This might be my favorite blog post of all time, though the one about loving the Squirrelly being like hot peppers has (obviously) stuck with me for a while.

Another suggestion: "I smell what you're stepping in", to replace "I know what you mean" (which clearly is not a cliche, but IS boring). I heard that on America's Next Top Model last season.

Posted by: Marianna on March 4, 2007 2:48 PM

The ones about ice cream, bubble wrap and Ivan the Wonderful made me laugh (although Leo Durocher's actual quote was "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place"). "Jeeves in a Google world" made no sense until I realized it was the ask.com Jeeves, and not Stephen Fry's character in PBS's adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves and Wooster" series. I'm a real stamp-licker, ain't I?

Posted by: MarkDM on March 4, 2007 4:30 PM

@ Valerie: no no, "slicker than PAM on a doorknob..."

Posted by: falwyn on March 5, 2007 12:27 AM

Just as I thought that nothing could top "We'll chop that tomato when the salsa runs out", I read "You poop it, you scoop it". Superb.

Posted by: John on March 5, 2007 5:20 AM

Man, these are fantastic. You've got some witty commenters. Except me. Mine is kinda lame. Oh well.

Posted by: Diesel on March 5, 2007 7:05 AM

Is "deadlines" a typo?

Posted by: Tim on March 5, 2007 7:15 AM

If you changed the name of The Cliche Rotation Project to The Cliche Rotation Augmentation Project, the project's acronym would be CRAP.

Posted by: nic on March 5, 2007 8:04 AM

These are great, but I'm not feeling the clock in the casino one. The point of needle in a haystack is that you are looking for one "different" thing among a billion "same" things. It's not about finding something well-hidden or non-existent.

Posted by: Dave on March 5, 2007 9:37 AM

Hehe. My favourite:

It's a win-win situation. => Everyone gets ice cream!

Posted by: Bennett on March 5, 2007 2:10 PM

http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=792 -- your topic reminds me of this great comic that's had me laughing about lions for the last few weeks...

Posted by: megan on March 5, 2007 5:23 PM

"Running around like a chicken with its head cut off" => "As busy as a one-legged man in a cockroach stomping contest."

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector on March 5, 2007 7:00 PM

Well, I never got tired of hearing my niece N. say "that dog don't hunt."

I am however very tired of her beating me at "chickenbutt."

Posted by: Andy on March 6, 2007 12:03 AM

in texas i'd hear: " as busy as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest"

Posted by: powers on March 6, 2007 7:41 AM

These may not be original, but I still like them:

1. Losing one's virginity = "Cashing in the V card."

2. That's telling him! = "Sing it, Sista!"

3. Oh, my aching feet. = "My dogs are barking."

Posted by: MJ on March 6, 2007 9:35 AM

Powers says...

in texas i'd hear: " as busy as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest"

Also, "busier than a one-armed paperhanger" (add "with crabs" if extra-busy).

Posted by: Jason on March 6, 2007 9:44 AM

And of course, let's get timely.

Let's Roll --> "Alright, astronauts, strap on your diapers"

Posted by: J-Dizzle on March 6, 2007 9:46 AM

my favorite which I've never heard anyone but myself use is:

that's bridge under the water.

Not only does it sound like the classic "water under the bridge, but it implies the opposite, a catastrophic rather than mundane event, yet can be used to imply a deed already done.

Posted by: m arty on March 6, 2007 11:40 PM

It's water under the bridge? Who knew?

The thing with mashing up a couple of cliches is pretty common around here, where "Is the Bear polish?" serves as the standard Rhetorical Answer.

Posted by: paul on March 7, 2007 9:23 AM

i really hope these catch on...then maybe someday we can look back and really know where a saying came from. i'm pretty sure i invented "dropping a deuce" but alas i don't i'll ever receive credit. i hope that when i die and (hopefully) go to heaven i can ask questions like these.

Posted by: brian on March 7, 2007 9:30 AM

My favorite cliche mashup has always been, "He's barking up the wrong leg."

Posted by: Howard on March 7, 2007 10:07 AM

My dad uses "Dryer than a popcorn fart"

Posted by: Jason on March 7, 2007 11:44 AM

Your website is wonderful. I will come visit again.

Posted by: hongcgi on March 7, 2007 2:15 PM

For down the hatch: mastication managed! (I suppose it would have to be said after eating something, so its not a real rotation).

Or perhaps a simple declarative: I eat you!

Posted by: kevin on March 7, 2007 2:32 PM

Said by my immigrant co-worker:
"She's the apple of my heart"
"I'll be sleeping on the dog box tonight"

From one of my more literate friends:
"Up a tree without a canoe"
"Running around like a chicken with its head cut off"
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the oven"
"Don't lick a gift horse in the mouth"

Posted by: Chippy on March 8, 2007 4:53 PM

My coworker often says: It's not rocket surgery.

Posted by: xtian on March 9, 2007 2:31 AM

1. I have to say that "Dumb as a box of rocks" never gets old, though "Dumb as a bag of hammers" is good too. Really, the key word here is "dumb".

2. The Bulgarian CEO of a now-defunct company I once worked for was happily telling us at a company meeting that the director of engineering would stop pestering him, since he'd solved a particular problem. "Yes," he said "This will keep Bob out of my ass".

good times, good times.

Posted by: kaf on March 9, 2007 12:41 PM

instead of "worst case scenerio", say "worse case Ontario" - Ricky from the trailer park boys said that and i was in stitches

Posted by: Michelle on March 10, 2007 5:55 PM

Or what about "worst case oratorio" - not something the trailer park boys would probably have come up with, but pretty evocative.

Posted by: gruve on March 13, 2007 4:49 AM

A while back I coined (or so I thought - a Google search does come up with a few citations) the work "malphorism" (= malaprop + aphorism) for cliche mashups (a long time before "mashup" was coined).

My favorite is "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it".

Gotta go, lately, I don't have two minutes to rub together.

Posted by: gruve on March 13, 2007 4:53 AM

A more humane replacement for "killing two birds with one stone" might be "Feeding two birds with one seed." I've always liked that one...

Posted by: Judd on March 13, 2007 8:18 AM

Coming up with new cliches is not rocket surgery.

Love this post.

Had a friend who used to get mixed up and say things like, "Oh, they left me totally out in the blue on that one." Or, "That's it, I'm throwing in the rag."

Posted by: pete on March 13, 2007 11:56 AM

I spent some time studying Arabic in Jordan and part of our class every day was learning dialect. For a few days we learned Arabic proverbs and compared them to English ones, and the best by far was translated as something like "Don't flood your house with piranhas if you have a tiger problem" to mean, roughly, "two wrongs don't make a right".

Posted by: James on March 17, 2007 4:21 PM

Judd & Soulyluna--

for "killing two birds with one stone."

We've always said, "Feed two birds with one scone."

Great post. Loved boot souffle to the old knuckle sandwich, trying to find a clock in a casino & Jeeves in a Google world.


Posted by: Kelli on March 19, 2007 3:05 PM

Great reading. The ones mangled/recalibrated by children would make a collection in themselves (far more entertaining than those endless video clip shows of Jnr. crashing his bike into Daddy's legs etc.) - the image of a pajama-clad bee is hard to beat. My little sister attempted one years ago that stuck with our family, when she declared: "It's like duck's water off my back".

Posted by: Adrian on March 25, 2007 2:55 PM

We'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Posted by: Anonymous on April 12, 2007 5:17 AM

similar to others, I've used "we'll fall off that bridge when we get there"

a friend of ours once said "isn't that the cat's ass"

my buddy came up with "if the shoe fits, don't try any more on"

Posted by: juanny on April 12, 2007 6:06 AM