Tag Archives: simile

“Flat out like a lizard drinking”

Text: flat out like a lizard drinking.

Context: Tom heard this phrase from a man he spoke to at a bar in Western Australia, who told him a story about a man who was previously kicked out of the bar. The man sought to use this simile to convey how quickly the misbehaving man left the bar when he saw the bouncer approaching him. Tom uses the phrase to describe situations when someone changes locations in a haste, and thought it was very funny when he first heard it. 

Analysis: As Tom explained, in Western Australia these one-liner comparisons are a culturally popular way of expressing oneself. The word play abides by observations of human behavior and of lizard behavior in Australia. Tom explained that in Australia, people say to go “flat out” is to move with maximum speed, perhaps a reference to a horizontally pointing speedometer. Also, when a lizard goes to drink water, it lies down flat on its belly. So, these meanings working in conjunction, the phrase references the double-meaning of being “flat out” in Australia, ultimately referring to moving quickly. I connect this phrase to the combination of Australia’s unique culture and its inherent connection with nature, namely the Outback. 

“As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad”

Text: As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad.

Context: Tom says he’s “as busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad” when he finds himself extremely busy with his tasks at hand. He uses the term in all settings, including academic, social, and professional, and sometimes modifies the phrase but always keeps the alliteration aspect of it. He first heard it from his Western Australian uncle, who, in a conversation with Tom’s dad (Tom overheard), employed the simile to explain how busy he was with work as an entrepreneur. He found it very funny the first time he heard it. 

Analysis: This simile is a tool used to liken the sisyphean task of rebuilding a warzone, made even more difficult by a major physical impairment, to occupation with an overwhelming amount of work. Tom explained that in Australian culture, people tend to make funny comparing statements: one-liners that are intended both to convey information and to be comical. I interpret the phrase not only as clever wordplay, but also as a store of historical value as it doubles as a reference to current events (war in the Middle East).  

“Cold as a Cucumber” and “Hot as Blue Blazes”

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for sometime.

In this piece, my grandmother talks about two smilies she learned from my grandfather: “cold as a cucumber” and “hot as blue blazes”.

M: Your Aunt said that you can use similes?

Me: Yes, ma’am.

M: I used to say… well, I guess I still say it… I used to say “cold as a cucumber”.

Me: Okay. Do you remember where you first heard it?

M: Your grandpa started saying it, and I then I started saying it ‘cause of him. He probably heard it from one of his brothers when they would work on the farm. He also would say “hot as blue blazes,”

Me: Do you know what that means?

M: No… I don’t think so. I guess I never really thought of what it meant.

Me: I think it means that the blue part of the flame is supposed to be the hottest.

M: Oh… that must be why he said it. Well, he would say both of those things. When you and Alyssa would be coming in out of the rain into our house, daddy would say “These kids are a cold as a cucumber” and give you both big hugs.

Me: I remember that.

M: And when you both would jump out of the shower, or when your mom would have a fever, he’d say “this child is hot as blue blazes!”

Me: So, do you say it because it reminds you of Pa?

M: I say it because he got it stuck in my head, but it does remind me of him.

I directly remember my grandfather using the simile “hot as blue blazes”. When I would get out of the bathtub, my grandfather would tell me that I was “hot as blue blazes”. I think my grandma was honest in the last thing she said: the smilies are stuck in her head, but they’re stuck in her head because of my grandfather. Whether she knows it in the moment or not, she’s reminded of my grandfather when she says “hot as blue blazes”. I directly talk about why the similes make sense: the blue part of the fire is the hottest, so calling something “hot as blue blazes” means whatever you’re about to touch is bound to be really hot.

“Mad as a cut snake”

Originally something he heard from his dad, this is a folk simile my informant sometimes uses. He told me his dad spent a lot of time in Australia, which is where he picked it up. It’s used to talk about someone who is angry or annoyed, comparing them to a snake that has been cut. I’d never heard the simile before, but it makes sense, since people always say to be careful around snakes and that disturbing them all could make them angry enough to attack you. Cutting them would provoke an even larger response then. It’s also clear why this came from Australia rather than America, for example; Australia is a place where dangerous snakes are more common.

My informant said he liked the saying because it’s different; he hasn’t heard other people use it really. It also reminds him of his father, a man he loves and respects. I heard him use it once when describing a bar fight which erupted after one man slapped another in the face. The man who had been slapped was embarrassed, since he took it as a shameful thing to be slapped, and he became very angry. My informant said he got as “mad as a cut snake.”