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Turn of Phrase - Ladue News: Tangential Thinker

Turn of Phrase

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Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 2:55 pm | Updated: 2:59 pm, Wed Aug 31, 2011.

I saw a movie a couple of weeks ago called Friends with Benefits, and something has been bothering me ever since: There is a scene where Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are sitting in a diner eating lunch. In the scene, Timberlake’s character makes a comment to which Kunis replies, You’re preaching to the congregation. Timberlake then corrects her, It’s choir. You’re preaching to the choir. You’re supposed to be preaching to the congregation.

I cocked my head when I heard it. Something isn’t right. Does the writer think the phrase preaching to the choir means you’re preaching to the wrong group of people? Is the minister facing the wrong way on the pulpit? If the phrase means what I think it means—actually what I know it means—trying to convince someone who already holds the same opinion, wouldn’t preaching to the congregation mean almost the same thing? Puzzling.

Several years ago, I heard an interview with a choreographer where he commented that his dancers ‘defined gravity.’ That’s certainly not a ballet I want to see! So here’s a summer quiz. Which phrase is right? Hint: It’s probably the one that seems unusual.

1) anchors away /anchors aweigh

2) baited breath /bated breath

3) just desserts /just deserts

4) another thing coming /another think coming

5) bale out /bail out

6) to the manor born /to the manner born

7) card shark /card sharp

8) for all intensive purposes /for all intents and purposes

9) Hell hath no fury…

like a woman’s scorn /like a woman scorned

10) hair-brained scheme/ hare-brained scheme

In every case, the second choice is the correct turn of phrase except for number five. Depending on whether you’re trying to stop your rowboat from sinking or stimulate the economy, both have meaning. Aweigh refers to the weight of the anchor on the rope as it’s being lifted in preparation for departure, although ‘away’ is now the commonly used form. The word deserts—not like the Sahara and the Gobi—refers to something deserved. I do like another ‘think’ coming. It’s much snarkier than ‘thing.’ If you think you’re going to a boy/girl party when the parents are out of town, you’ve got another think coming. I’m sure I will have occasion to use that. I’m looking forward to it.

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