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

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 Cliche Replacement Contributor Notes
Always a bridesmaid, never the bride I’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 one Back to World 1-1 Martin Mushrush  
The bee’s knees; the cat’s pajamas The bee’s pajamas Robin 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 blind Enrolled in the Paris and Nicole Academy  
The coast is clear The porn is deleted John Taylor  
Come hell or high water Even if they send in Chinese tanks Rob Cockerham  
Do the right thing Get on the nut foot Dave 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-pooper Don’t squeeze out your grumpies in public beajerry  
Don’t take any wooden nickels Don’t mistake eggs for oysters Eve Tolpa  
Dumb as a box of rocks. Don’t have the good sense that God gave cabbage Cindy 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 news He’s a stamp-licker David LaMotte  
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you won’t shake your bootie, get off the dance floor Pam Coughlan  
It’s a win-win situation. Everyone gets ice cream! Alkelda the Gleeful  
Keep your eyes peeled Put your deadlights on high beams Scott Bush I don’t know if “deadlights” is a typo, but I like it — MB
Knuckle sandwich Boot souffle Neal  
Let’s make like a tree and leave Let’s shoot this pig into space. Clint Bishop  
Looking for a needle in a haystack Trying to find a clock in a casino Angus Stocking  
Looks a gift horse in the mouth Wants birthday cake on Christmas. Mud  
More fun than a barrel of monkeys More fun than 20 yards of bubble wrap Diesel  
Nice guys finish last No one remembers Ivan the Wonderful Lung the Younger  
Playing second fiddle Jeeves in a Google world Mud  
The pot calling the kettle black The pot calling the pipe “drug paraphernalia.” Jonathan Hoferle  
Pushing up daisies Tanning the soles of his feet Lung the Younger  
Putting the cart before the horse Putting the “umption” before the ass Julie  
Reinvent the wheel Start a whole new batch of sourdough Bill Braine  
Silence is golden Quiet is currency Susanna  
Sleep with the fishes Flirt with the dirt Southpaw Jones  
Still waters run deep Quiet squirrels have more nuts No Name Slob  
The squeaky wheel gets the grease The squeaky dolphin gets the fish Eric  
Two-faced Verbally bi Chag  
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it We’ll chop that tomato when the salsa runs out Suzanna  
You made your bed, now sleep in it You poop it, you scoop it Reuben  


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.

48 thoughts on “The Cliche Rotation Project

  1. 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?

  2. Here’s one my Dad uses: instead of “as smooth as silk” how about “slicker than snot on a doorknob.”

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Favorites:
    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! :)

  7. “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?

  8. 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.”

  9. 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.

  10. 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 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?

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.”

  15. 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.”

  16. 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).

  17. And of course, let’s get timely.

    Let’s Roll –> “Alright, astronauts, strap on your diapers”

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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”

  23. 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.

  24. instead of “worst case scenerio”, say “worse case Ontario” – Ricky from the trailer park boys said that and i was in stitches

  25. Or what about “worst case oratorio” – not something the trailer park boys would probably have come up with, but pretty evocative.

  26. 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.

  27. 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…

  28. 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.”

  29. 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”.

  30. 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.


  31. 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”.

  32. 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”

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