Idiom Brawl at the ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Mar 10, 2020

Humor columnist Alexandra Petri will be online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern for ComPost live, where she'll offer a lighter take on the news of the day. Submit your comments on her columns and any other questions you might have.

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Hello, everyone! Happy Tuesday! Time to chat! 

Evidently over the weekend Trump retweeted a meme of himself playing a violin – with no understanding of the Nero reference. I think this smart crowd can come up with many more meme ideas like that. I’ll start. Picture: Trump having dessert. Caption: Eating chocolate cake always makes me feel better – people should try it.

So far so good! Do we have a meme of him appointing a horse to the Senate? That might be a good next move.

Please tell us that your chat isn't going away like some of the others!

I will fight for this chat! Plus, it is a fun way to keep from being socially isolated while you’re socially isolated! 

Don't tell us your chat is cancelled. I really can't take anymore cancellations. While hardly a substitute, I can't even see the comments on articles because of the security stuff in my office computing environment. No, it isn't about time - if that were the case, youtube would be blocked and it isn't. It is just security. I need to have *some* human interaction during office hours. So, please say that you are staying?

I am a big fan of human interaction! Even during office hours! 

What do we think, as a chat, is the best replacement for the handshake? I am sort of on team bowing, but I have yet to firmly lock in a preference. 

Not Nero. Caligula was much crazier. He was also two Caesars before Nero.

I know! The cake thing was Marie Antoinette, not Nero! So I thought we were just casting a wider meme net! 

singing 'happy birthday' or 'god save the queen' when washing one's hands gets pretty boring. Shouldn't the CDC or DHHS or Homeland Security make it a priority to create an easily memorable and invigorating playlist of handwashing songs?

Given that all public washrooms already include those frustrating hand sensors, I wonder how difficult it would be to add a siren alert when people pulled their hands away before the requisite time had elapsed. The playlist is a carrot — this could be a stick. 

Having said that, what weapons will you use in your fights for this chat? Repartee? Will there be some sort of tournament?

I will use persiflage, and when I run out of that, banter. I will only turn to repartee as a last resort when my other reserves are depleted. 

Over on the WaPo homepage, they are talking about a 'Huge Petri' and a 'Marble Enclosed Petri' ... they're not talking about you right ?... I'd go over and smack them if I was you ...

I was going to say that there was no such thing as bad publicity but no, in fact!

There are memes & listicles everywhere! Everything from Renaissance music and Gregorian chant to Top 40. Just google.

I use the ABCs song. I heard if you sing the Baby Shark song through to the Daddy Shark verse will hit the mark too.

If we all stay home and use the InterWeb for human interaction, we can lick this virus thingy Tout de Suite, and we never have to get out of jammies. All those Italians might be in to something. (Not unlike "Shower with a friend, it save water.") Of course it might also have a significant impact on the birthrate nine months from now.

Lick it? Please, do not lick anything COVID-19 related! 

This is my greatest pet peeve of all time. The carrot and stick approach is that you attach a carrot to a stick to entice the horse to move. It's not that you either give it a carrot or beat it with a stick. I don't know when the world decided to get this wrong, but no one gets this correct outside of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Wait, the carrot and the stick are one? I know you tie the carrot to the stick and dangle it as an incentive, but I thought the stick as potential horse-drubbing tool was also its own component. So you’re saying that a carrots-and-sticks approach is just an incentive system, not one with both incentives and punishments?

Yes. Unless cartoons have taught me wrong and they have yet to do so.

It is. It's always been "use an enticement but you might also need to use a threat." This poster has got it all wrong.

Carrots OP, this poster contends that cartoons did in fact lead you astray! 

I believe it was originally purely an incentive move. But it seems almost everyone today sees it as an either or. But it's just not feasible to ride a horse while also holding a stick with a carrot as well as another stick for beating. You'd fall off.

This does not get to your main point, but I always visualized the person in this phrase as sitting in the driver seat of a wagon pulled by the horse, not riding it. That would be impossible! 

Since the horse never actually reaches the carrot, I'm not sure I'd call it an "incentive" as much as a cruel trick. Give the carrot to the horse when (s)he reaches the destination, please.

There must be some version of Zeno’s paradox designed for this horse-carrot-stick scenario: “although the horse always approaches the stick, the horse never in fact reaches it, for it must always travel half the distance towards the stick and then the next half and then...” 

If I am ever in a position to do this you bet I will give the horse the carrot. He earned it! 

As long as we're talking about mangled metaphors, my pet peeve is the misuse of "elephant." I hear people saying "It's the pink elephant in the room" or the "white elephant in the room." Folks, it's just an elephant in the room -- probably gray. A white elephant is a useless gift that the receiver can't dispose of, and a pink elephant is something you see when you've got the DTs.

Unless these people are having very different times than you are having, which I suppose is a possibility! They could be drinking heavily and receiving terrible gifts.

Hey, someone broke the chat with a long internet address. That's -my- job, Buster!

Once again, this chat veers into produce.

This poster also led the chat astray. Please fix that URL so that it does not spread the chat all over the ads & stuff.

I’m on it! 

There's an old joke about a mathematician and an engineer being tested on this. The engineer, like the horse, wins, because both get as close as they need to to get the reward.

OP here, and I completely agree with this comment. That's how you get the horse to move, and keep moving - by keep the carrot just out of reach. And I would assume you give the carrot to the horse once you get where you're going, otherwise it might not work next time. Also, what else would you do with the carrot? Eat it yourself after it's been dangling over the dusty road and in horse breath?

Mm, a dusty horse-breathy carrot! My favorite treat!

When people say "cut and try" instead of "cut and dried." If you cut and try and get it wrong, you have to start all over again, whereas if a thing is cut & dried, it's done and dusted. So to speak.

I’ve never heard cut and try! I can see how you’d get there homophonically but the result is like the nightmare inverse of “measure twice, cut once.” 

The way you say it- AND vs. OR- changes the meaning, cartoons aside. Think about it this way: does "woman with child" mean the same as "woman and child"? Those little words are important!

out that earworm to work! It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do I bless the rains down in Africa Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

Do you need the “dun-dun-dun dun dun-dun dun duhhhhhhhhs” too or no?

I had no idea people said "another think coming" until Gene started going off about it in his chat recently, and I think you also used it around the same time. I continue to insist that it's "another thing coming."

Wait, say more! I have never heard it used in any context other than “if you think X [it’s going to work out, she’s going to win, it’ll blow over quickly] you’ve got another think coming!” How would you use it if you thought it was “thing”? Do you lose the initial thought? 

My favorite is "for all intensive purposes." Sorry if I'm going off on a tandem.

I am with the carrot OP on this. I would say that "carrot-and-stick" means an incentive that is never delivered. But any stick can be used to beat a horse. That is why the meaning was so easily changed from "and" to "or": as in "Do you offer the carrot or do you offer the stick?"

Is it a 4 hour epic (I'll need to find an alternative way to get home)? No, I don't really think that. Just wondering if it is one act, or a bit longer with an intermission.

One act! About 95 minutes. And much as I would love everyone to see it, and small as the maximum crowd is that the venue can contain, and sanitary as they are working to keep the space, I would not judge anyone who socially isolated right now. Please, safety first. 

It's a moo point. Like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter.

Enjoy making us all think that think is a noun.

I thought that was the fun of the phrase — that whoever coined it forgot there was such a word as “thought,” or thought it didn’t sound as good. 

I mean, you use it the exact same way you use "another think coming." You think someTHING, or are expecting someTHING, but in fact another THING is true or is going to happen. I find the use of "think" as a noun off-putting and wrong.

But you have to say the initial “thing” for it to make sense, right? And you still say “think”? I thought maybe the entire first half was different, like “if you’re ordering a thing from Amazon, you’ve got another thing coming.” (Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon, also owns the Washington Post.) 

I like to think about the impermanence of existence.

Yesterday I read some political mover or shaker wrote a tweet accusing the Trump children of "dipping their faces into the till."

There’s a disappointed trough somewhere that really was hoping to get the gig of being the last word in that sentence! 

Well, if you want that bizarre "another think" phrase you will have to fight a heavy metal band! From Wikipedia: "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" is a song by British heavy metal band Judas Priest.

Judas Priest, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'". Trump card, mic drop, etc.

This must be the origin of the confusion! As usual, Judas bears the guilt.

It makes at least as much sense as using "think" as a noun.

It is deliberate and humorous! Like “who’d a thunk it?”

ah yes no better recipe for laughs than insisting “it is deliberate and humorous!” but it does tickle me, at any rate. 

Dusty "Horse-breath" Carrot was famous rodeo star in the 1920's. But, he never made in the motion pictures because he couldn't act or sing.

His great-grandson is still in the business, and still carries the family name of Carrot, as well as that of his father’s family, the Tops. He also can neither act nor sing. 

It's "cut off your nose DESPITE your face" not "to spite your face." I know I'll never win this one, but I'm right.

You are doing this deliberately, I think!! No, no, I am certain you are wrong. The saying makes no sense otherwise. Cutting off your nose to spite your face: you are upset at your face and wish in some way to harm it, so you take the precipitate action of cutting off your nose. “This is the face’s crown jewel!” you think to yourself, as you saw away at it. “Boy, will the face be sorry!” But then you realize that, you see, you have only harmed yourself! 

Whereas cutting off your nose despite your face is... ????

of course it can be a noun -- I'll have to have a think about that! As a certified oldster, I am astonished and dismayed by all the people who seriously think it must be thing. Get off lawn, end of civilization, etc

Um, you need a nose on your face. So if you cut it off, you are doing this despite the fact that your face needs a nose! I have reference material on this one . . . will send next week!

No, I agree! That’s the whole point of the expression! But without spite, why are you cutting off your nose at all? 

I think the way to think about it is to think "Think again" instead of "another think coming." What do you think?

I thing that could work.

I'm more dismayed by "gift," "adult" and other nouns as verbs.

Well on this we are in total and complete agreement! 

"To adult" is a joke. THere's nothing wrong with jokes. "To gift" is an older form that is re-emerging. Pedants are their own worst enemies.

You’re right. Joyless pedantry is no fun! I think my difficulty with both of those verb-nouns is not that they exist but that where initially they were coined and used wittily, now I mostly encounter them in condescending ads. I don’t mind them from humans, but from corporations they grate. 

I think it works without the "spite" component. I have this adorable book from 1948 written by Charles Earle Funk and he dissects many sayings that have been mangled. It's great.

Funk? Of Funk and Wagnalls? I am willing to listen to reason and would trust him! I just keep coming back to the question of why you would cut off your nose. 

Oh, please. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of verbs you use every day which were first nouns, and you don't ever give them a second thought. Do you comb your hair? Brush your teeth? Button your shirt? Hand somebody a book? Elbow somebody in the ribs? Why don't these bother you, and "gift" does?

You’re making some good points! Unfortunately sometimes the things that do and do not bother people don’t follow as logically as one might wish. 

That is so true. They are like Wolverine in that respect. But when you need righteous fury and claws, they can provide that as well.

I think this would be a fun couch cushion embroidery. And they’re endlessly regenerating, don’t forget! 

Perhaps it's more of a metaphor? I just thumbed through the Funk book and can't find the expression . . . and now I'm doubting myself. But there's a reason "despite" is in my head! Requires further research.

If I find mine after the chat I’ll post the result! 

If you can use the word Parmesan as a verb as the restaurant industry has in "do you want to parm that?" then you can do anything with words. Nothing can stop people from mangling meanings. But once we mangle enough that they become common parlance, then we are essentially changing the meanings.

“Do you want to parm that?” is monstrous and I love it.

What's the name of the book?

Mine is called A Hog on Ice! 

I'll cop to being a pedant. "Gift" as a verb bothers me because there's a perfectly good verb form already in existence: give. This poor verb is being crowded out by annoying "gifting."

That’s a fine reason! 

I once refused to hire somebody because in a job interview he used the word "snuck." I can't abide this word. I mean, doesn't English have enough irregular verbs as it is? I knew I couldn't work with this young man. I mean, he said, "I snuck into the pharmacy and loaded all the Oxycodone into my gym bag."

Ha, I see what you did there. 

Which is to say I do care, otherwise I wouldn't or couldn't care less.

And on that note, have a great week, everyone! Please be safe! Wash your hands frequently and budget your social interactions. See you on Twitter and on the blog! Perhaps I will see some of you at the show, where we can nod respectfully but distantly at one another. 

"Gift" is actually the old perfect participle of the verb "give," e.g., "It has been gift." This means it's a verb form that became a noun that has made it full circle back to verb.

Thank you for this gift! 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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