Archives for posts with tag: Phrases

Tack and tact. This has a lot of people confused I think. Tack can either mean a small nail, or also a nautical term for changing direction. Probably other meaning as well, I haven’t checked.

Tact is an emotional intelligence skill you acquire with other people that manifests itself in diplomacy, language and body language. So two pretty different meanings, then, for two words that look and sound similar.

‘I think we need to take a different tact.’ I heard this the other day – for the countlessth time, from someone who sails regularly and presumably done his share of tacking. You don’t want the word tact here, you want the word tack, unless your change in strategy involves ushering in some unexpected wave of diplomacy into proceedings.

The best way to remember the difference I think is from the Faithless song Insomnia, the lyrics of which go:

‘Fundamental movement, huh, so when it’s black
This insomniac, take an original tack
Keep the beast in my nature under ceaseless attack’

The tack you want is the one that rhymes with black and attack. Unless of course your context is thoughtfulness and consideration to others, in which case some tact is required.

Was that tactfully enough put to put you on the right tack?

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About twenty years ago, newly moved across to Ireland from England and getting used to the differences in the language – and acquiring immunity to a new national set of bugs and viruses the hard way –  I was in a conversation with a fellow executive about an initiative we were contemplating.

‘Nah,’ he said, ‘I haven’t a baldy’s notion about that.’

I laughed out loud and asked where that phrase came from, since we don’t use it in England. He looked at me rather sheepishly, having realised too late that I was in fact a ‘baldy’, and said that he wasn’t sure where it came from but it was a relatively common phrase. It’s also used in Northern Ireland too.

Does this imply that a person who is follicly challenged is dafter than someone otherwise hirsute? As if the notion of a haired person is better than the notion of his hairless counterpart?

I didn’t take offence – or offense, depending on where you’re from –  the first time, and don’t whenever I hear it or use it myself these days. Apparently there is the variant ‘a baldy notion’ which seems to deflect ownership away from the baldy and onto the notion itself, perhaps suggesting that it is the notion itself which is baldy, which I suppose is marginally more PC.

 

“That was easy. Like taking candy from a baby.”

It’s an interesting simile, obviously originating in the US, since in European English we would say ‘sweets’.

It’s interesting when you think about how it originated. ‘Like stealing or taking candy from a baby’. A really easy thing to do for sure, but who would do that? Who is so weak that they feel they can take something from someone over whom they have such an overpowering advantage? And why take what is not rightfully ours?

We need a new simile to describe something really easy, something that requires the minimum of effort. How about:

  • Getting burnt in the sun
  • Opening a letter
  • Smiling
  • Paying someone a compliment
  • Scoring in an open goal from a metre out

OK, so they’re not world-class, but they all convey the positive, rather than the negative.

‘Try the fruit scones Miriam, they’re to die for.’

‘Do you see that dress in the window, it’s to die for.’

‘That woman’s figure, the one off the telly, oh it’s to die for.’

What an odd, extreme phrase that it is. To die for, really?

It seems a bit self-defeating that you would die for something that you wouldn’t be able to experience, because you would be dead…

The phrase strikes me, and I’m generalising here, as one more often used by the female gender. The more male version is of course more violent.

To kill for.

‘He’d kill his granny for a fiver, that lad.’

At least in the ‘kill’ scenario you’d have a chance of experiencing that which you covet, albeit briefly.