Thursday, May 10, 2007

How do I phrase this?

What phrase do you use?

Each of us has our little sayings and phrases we use regularly. Some are adopted in childhood, some are fresh, some are old standards and some make little or no sense. You hear them on TV, read them in books and hear them in songs. Some of us even write them into books. Many are regional or local and mean one thing in one place and something completely different in another.

Working as a cop in Florida, I have a unique perspective that I try to put in my books as well. Unlike the northeast or much of the south, Florida has a mix of cops working here. I often run across former N.Y.P.D. cops who have a unique way of phrasing things. I run into a lot of Florida-born rednecks who have their own way of looking at things and expressing them. This is one of the few places in the country where southerners and northerners live together in such vast numbers. I try to incorporate much of this into my novels.

For instance if someone were going to threaten another person with a beating you could tell by the phrasing where someone is probably from. If one says, “I’m gonna kick your ass.” He or she could be from just about anywhere. But if it’s phrased, “I’m gonna whip your ass.” That person is from the south.

The phrase “on the job,” which many people use to say they’re a cop is from the New York Police Department. It’s been adopted by many areas but it’s a northern phrase. A more recent, urban phrase is “Five-O” to denote the police, however I’ve only heard one guy actually say it and he was an idiot. In Paul’s day they used to say “Fuzz”. I prefer to go with the bland but accurate, “Police.”

Even the words for “redneck” are different. I’ve heard “hick”, “hilljack”, “bumpkin” and a number of more offensive terms. I don’t mind being called them unless it is not in fun and not by someone who could be considered a redneck themselves. I often point out that some of the biggest rednecks I know are from New Jersey.

Certain writers use the same phrases frequently. Science fiction bestseller Harry Turtledove uses, “The next time would be the first time” or variations to describe something that has never happened before. He uses the phrase in most of his numerous series.

The venerable Robert B. Parker uses “We’d be fools if we didn’t” or something like that, in all the Spenser novels.

I’m currently trying to read the classic Atlas Shrugged and one of the phrases used by characters in the book is “Who is John Galt?” I’m still not sure who the hell he is and not entirely certain I’ll understand the book when I’m done. The projected date of completion, by the way, is sometime in the summer of 2009.

We each have our favorite phrases. One of mine used to be “Holy Shit” which I converted to “Holy Moses” when I started raising kids. I know it’s a little corny and tired but now I can’t help but say it when I’m
surprised. It really looks cool for a tubby cop to look down at a gun shot victim and say “Holy Moses that’s a lot of blood.” What are you gonna do? That’s real life.

What are your favorite phrases? Ones you say, ones you hear, ones your write. I’d really like to know.


  1. Cops aren't called the "fuzz" anymore?

    Why wasn't I informed?

    A line I use a lot is: "Who are THOSE guys?" Oh, wait. That's not mine. That's Butch Cassidy speaking to the Sundance Kid.

    My character-revealing tagline for shady lawyer Steve Solomon is: "When the law doesn't work, work the law."

    Linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter used to say: "I've never been disbarred, committed, or convicted of moral turpitude, and the only time I was arrested, it was a case of mistaken identity. I didn't know the guy I hit was a cop."

    Or the "fuzz."

  2. "I found out that wasn't true" is pretty much my favorite phrase ever.

  3. We used to say, "hicks from the sticks." And does anybody remember calling people "square" or "L 7"?

    I'm really sorry to hear you can't use "holy shit" anymore since it's one of my personal favorites. I also love "F*** you and the horse you rode in on." The ***s are in case your kids read this blog.

  4. I love creative uses of the f-bomb...a few of my favorites are:

    Oh, for f***'s sake
    Holy f***les

    In the non-asterisk category, I like:

    Jumping around like a flea on a hot griddle...
    Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers...
    Dumber than a roomful of clams...

    When my grandmother was surprised or flummoxed, she used to say "Well, I swan". I have no idea what it means, but I like it ;-)

  5. My favorite uses of the copulation word are:

    "F*** 'em and feed 'em hot dogs", "F*** me to tears", and "The only reason I'd throw her out of bed is to f*** her on the floor."

    In the non-blue category, I still salt my speech with nauticalisms from my years in the Navy without thinking about it. Gossip is scuttlebutt, the bathroom is the head, a shower stall is the rain locker and so forth.

  6. Heck, I won't even begin to list my collection of little phrases, asterisked or not - no one understands them here in America, which is probably just as well.
    Great post, Our Jim.

  7. I'd love to hear some English phrases. My sole exposure to them is Austin Powers.


  8. I'm sure I use plenty, but the two that come to my are my wife's. We're both native Michiganders (or Michiganians or...) and her phrasing sounds terribly southern, but I think the issue is more coming from a long line of redneck trailer trash. Anyway, there's the:

    "... can't swing a dead cat without hitting..."

    and by far my favorite and one that I have happily adopted:

    "That sucks dead bears."

  9. I was nowhere near Toledo.

    I don't care what you do, as long you don't scare the horses.

    And that, friends, is why I can't run for public office.

    Somebody shoot me. (Do NOT say this around Jim Born)


    Never thump a free melon.


    I am not now, nor have I ever been, Jim Born's lover.*

    *Jeff Shelby cannot say this.

  10. He doesn't know s**t from Shine-ola......his elevator doesn't run all the way to the top......lights are on but no one is home......two cards short of a full deck.......Quiet as a church mouse.....Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally.....Don't piss in my ear and tell me it's raining......well f**k me running.......sitting pretty....sitting in the cat-birds seat......and for a Northerner vs Southerner comparison: if you're "in the money," up north it's, I'm [feeling] flushed." In the south you'd be "S**ting in High Cotton....."

    That's my story and I'm stickin with it.

    Nice post from you Jim....but that's to be expected of YOU

  11. I'll be somewhere or do something, "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise."
    I also use "Tighter than a tick in heat" or "Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."
    One of my favorites is; "You can't polish a turd."

    None of these are original, so feel free to use them yourselves, in or out of print.

    Most frequently I've been heard to say, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"


  12. I often say "well, F*** me crosseyed."

    I'm also fond of the term "f***wit."

    Others I probably overuse:

    "And I care about this because...?"

    "Well THERE'S something you don't see every day."

    Or my other favorite when something bizarre happens "You saw that too, right?"

    When someone's making a spectacular ass of themselves: "Does this usually work for you? Because it sure as s*** ain't working now."

    When a client has mysteriously failed to attend his scheduled court date with no explanation: "Your honor, he ain't called, he ain't wrote, he ain't sent flowers."


    "Carry" to mean "take someone somewhere": "Carry me up to the store."

    "Whenever" to mean "when": "Whenever I was in high school..."

  13. We used to say at the newspaper: Yesterday's news tomorrow.

    A few clowns short of a circus.

    Dumb as a brick.

    Why can't we say "holy shit" anymore? Just because of the kids? Can we say it out of earshot?

  14. "as thick as two short planks end to end" (moron)

    "a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock" (nuts)

    "a tinny short of a six-pack" (nuts)

    "legless" (Drunk)
    "paralytic" or "para" for short (also drunk)
    "off his/her face" - drunk

    "chuck a tanty" (have a tantrum)

    "Joy" (heavy irony)

    "vent a spleen" (have a hissy-fit)

    I know, I know, their not actually sayings, but slang. Sigh. Can't think of anything really swank that I use often, as I haven't been writing that much. :-)


  15. I liked the story my lawyer buddy Markham from Houston told about the time the secretary at his firm overheard him describing her as "not the sharpest pencil in the box," whereupon she turned on him and said, "are you calling me FAT?"

    In Syracuse, rednecks are cornheads or woodchucks, respectively, depending on how far north they hail from (woodchucks are the ones nearer my Canada to thee...).

    Strange thing about the word "hick"-- some distant cousins of mine on Long Island have the surname Hicks, and it was for them that the town of Hicksville was named, and because way back when it was considered hugely distant from Manhattan, the term "hick" arose from the town name to describe someone who lived in the back of beyond. Or maybe that's apocryphal.

  16. Like Paul, Stu and I find that "Who Are Those Guys?" shows up, as do countless lines from "Young Frankenstein" and "Princess Bride" (InconCEIVable!) Laura Lippman commented the other day that "Dignity, always dignity" was a regular expression in her house - as it is in mine. (of course you know that one?)

    And "Airplane!" oh ye gods, do we use lines from Airplane.
    "What is it?" It's a little room in front of the plane, but that's not important now."
    "What do you make of it, Johnny?" Well, I can make a hat, or I can make a brooch, or I can make a pterodactyl."
    and of course
    "Surely You Jest." I'm serious. And stop calling me Shirley".

    i don't intend to have favorite lines I use, I just end up using them - sort of backwards, as it were. But a day does not go by that I don't swear. A lot. Holy shit goes a long way and ties me to author Melodie Johnson Howe in a long involved silly story so of COURSE it's still okay to use!

    Years back, a bunch of us were saying that "that sucks" is NOT always such a bad thing. Shaz Wheeler (Sharon) who is in Sad Anoraks with Cornelia, Louise and me says that "that sucks moist green frogs" is now all over England - or at least her university - thanks to me. But the addition of "poison" to the phrase is ALL Shaz.
    The rest? All blamed on the Flying Karamazov Brothers (ho!) whose act(s) I have seen at least 60 times.
    I'm not sure i could ever say "f***adoodle" without totally losing it and doing a spit take. Even without a beverage.

  17. Oh, God! Don't get me started on "Airplane" quotes!

    "It happend to Barbra THtanwick. Heath! Nick! Jared! There's a fire in the Barn!"

    My husband gets into tagteam quoting sessions with friends usually from original Star Trek, movies "The Green Slime" and "Monster Zero" (Godzilla), and does damnably good Chuck Heston impressions. Actually, just about anything is up for grabs in the quote and mimicry department with him. Watch any bad old SF movie, and be prepared for Bob's Pop Up Trivia. :-)


  18. By the way, anyone seen "Hot Fuzz" the new English movie out? It's like Monty Python meets Agatha Christie, and pays a hefty homage to Clint Eastwood. Absolutely hysterical. From the people who make "Shaun of the Dead".


  19. Some oft-used phrasess:

    "Well, THAT sucks whale c*ck."

    "Wait-- are you saying you wanna f*** me?"
    (offered as a response fairly randomly when people are arguing with me. Great fun.)

    "Yeah, and I'm a Chinese jet pilot..."
    (Ash rules.)

    "You're an idiot."
    (offered at least 13 times every day to my kids, wife, neighbors, and pretty much anyone else I encounter)

    (kid-safe burp of frustrated exasperation)

    "What we have here... is FAILURE to COMMUNICATE."

    "I have already given the order..."
    (moaned in heavy Japanese accent a la Sessue Hayakawa in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI)

    "I was not angry until this!"
    (always in pompous Shakesperean tone)

    "Sic semper moronus"
    (bad Latin, good fun)

    "Coffee is for closers."

    "If we are not victorious, let no one come back alive!"
    (Little Leaguers always respond well to PATTON)

    "Well... it ain't Ozzie and Harriet."

    "Wow. They should make a movie of that. Except not really."
    (to pretty much any boring story)


    ... when describing something or telling some story and I mention some specific thing which then gets questioned— ex., "so we saw three KGB agents at Burger King..." "Wait-- REAL KGB agents?"—I'll always use the sarcastic retort used by Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) in 1941:

    "Yeah-- I saw JAPS!"

    "REAL Japs?"

    "Nah—WOODEN, Japs, Cheeto!"


    Apparently I am a very hateful sarcastic person.

  20. Ah, geeze, the movie things got me going. And I was reminded of a few others:

    (In thick Pakistani accent): "Don't be an IDIOT!" (from someone my wife works with).

    "Hi, howareya?" From "Sahara."

    "It's... juicy." From "The Mummy."

    "Lead with your strengths." (Me, usually when somebody suggests doing something really stupid).

    (Sing-song Indian accent) "Yes, the view is veddy panoramic." From "Camp Lazlo." (It's a cartoon and I'm the only one in the family who can pull it off).

    "I'm Joohhhnnnny Caaassshhhhh." (Only my youngest son can pull this off. It's from some TV show).

  21. I always liked "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on" too. I just got re-acquainted with that one when I finally got around to reading "The Friends of Eddie Coyle".

    David Mamet wrote one I love. I couldn't steal it because it's so unique that anyone who'd ever read it would know where I was stealing from. It's "How the everlasting cocksucking fuck would you know...?"

    And just so you don't think all my favorite phrases are profane, I like "Don't run unless you're chased."

  22. As a native California girl, living in the South, waiting to go home, my favorite "Southernism" is "Slicker than snot on a doorknob". I've never had the opportunity to actually use this phrase, but one can only hope.

    My own too often used phrase is, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck!"

    I believe I recently read on this blog, and have a post-it with it on my computer "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing an idiot".

    I am definitely going to start saying "a few clowns short of a circus'!

  23. Marianne: "Hot Fuzz" was indeed hilarious.

  24. "The truth is..."

    I let Arlene say it CONSTANTLY in gods in Alabama. She's such an unreliable narrator, so almost always when she says it she then sails another whopper on down the river...Ever since I have to go through in editing and CLEAN OUT all the "the truth is"es OUT because it's too Arlene to let another narrator say it. HEH.

  25. I just found this blog while trying to find a phrasing for sarcasm towards people using phrases starting with, "Life is like..." and then some melodramatic/poetic/corny ending. I'm glad I came across this, if only for the fact that I got to read the word "fuzz" several times. =]

    Personally, I'm from Florida and have only heard cops referred to as "pigs", "5'0", or most commonly, "the po-po". I do have one friend however, who refers to them as "Cherries and Blueberries". =]

    Phrases I use very often;
    -"Buddy" in place of a derogatory term. I have no clue where I picked that up, but it reminds me of an older man sitting in a rocking chair. lol
    -"Good God/ Good Lord" or "Cheesus".
    -"I had to walk up hill both ways."
    -"A few clowns short of a circus."
    -"Do you find it difficult to make decisions? - Well, yes and no."
    -"Loonier than a Toon."
    -"If by (what someone else previously stated), you mean (the opposite of what they said), then yes."
    I'm sure there are thousands more that I use daily. Great blog. =]