The Buck Stops Here

Filed Under (writing) by Lee Kolbert on 20-09-2009 and tagged , ,

The movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, is making a big splash in theaters! How kind of Columbia and Sony Pictures to time the release to coordinate with our writing lessons as we learn to incorporate idioms and metaphors into our writing. Idioms are phrases that mean more than their words put together. If you take them word for word, they might not make much sense! Idioms are a little like puzzles. It’s fun to figure them out and even more fun to use them in our everyday language.

Have you heard of “The Buck Stops Here?” It means “taking responsibility for something, instead of blaming someone else.”

The Buck Stops HerePresident Harry S. Truman invented this phrase and had a sign made for his desk with those words. Truman liked to play poker. In poker a marker called a “buck” was placed in front of the player who would be the next to deal the cards. A player who didn’t want to deal could pass the buck to the next player.

On more than one occasion President Truman referred to the desk sign in public statements. For example, in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you — and on my desk I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here’ — the decision has to be made.” In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, “The President–whoever he is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job. The sign has been displayed at the Library since 1957.

What are some idioms you know? Can you tell us the origin? I look forward to reading your comments.

25 Comments Already, Leave Yours Too

Mrs. Poelzer on 20 September, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

I like the idiom, “Put a sock in it!”.

I did a little looking and it appears that this idiom is from early 20th century Britain. They used to play music on something called a “gramophone” and apparently there were no volume controls on the earlier models. The speaker was a big horn-shaped thing (think tuba or french horn). To lower the volume they would stick something inside the horn – like a sock or something else soft that would block/muffle the sound that was coming out. Nowadays people use this idiom to tell people to be quiet. For example, if your friend was singing an annoying song really loudly, you might say, “Hey… put a sock in it!”.

betsy whalen on 20 September, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

Ride in the direction the horse is taking you! -unknown.

Keep on Truckin’ – by the guy with the giant sneaker.(Google it)

The harder you work, the luckier you get, -ben franklin. Not reallly an idiom as much as words to live by

Lisa Read on 20 September, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

I don’t know the origins, as I’ve only heard my dad say it, but “Blacker than the inside of a Cow” means it’s REALLY dark outside. “Sharp as a sackful of potatoes” was another of his. I love doing idioms with kids–and having them do an illustrations to go along with is great too.

Dr. Christophy on 20 September, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

A good idiom is “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, meaning “don’t find fault with a gift.” The saying comes from the fact that you can tell the age of a horse by looking at its teeth, and an older horse is less valuable than a younger horse.So if you were given a horse as a gift, it would have been rude to look in its mouth to assess its age.

Mrs. Williams on 20 September, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

I like the idiom “It’s raining cats and dogs” because of the visual imagery it conjures! I didn’t know the origin but found speculation that it comes from an old Norse legend that the rain was related to cats and the wind related to dogs.

I’m looking forward to reading other posts about idioms!

Ms. Pohanka on 20 September, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

I don’t know if anyone but my crazy grandmother (fondly known as G-mom) uses this one, but she says, “Once upon a time when pig were swine and turkeys chewed tobacco” to mean a really really long time ago.

Love your idioms. Can’t wait to share them with my class.

Ms. P

Mrs. Goindi on 20 September, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

I have learned to avoid asking younger students to “lend me their ears”, “give me a hand” or “sing their hearts out”. It appears they are quite fond of keeping their body parts to themselves.

There are two picture books by Tedd Arnold (“Parts” and “More Parts”) that revolve around a boy’s panic caused by the literal interpretation of certain idioms. Students at Elora Public find it to be very funny. Maybe you would “laugh your heads off” too!

Computer7th on 20 September, 2009 at 7:19 pm #

My Father in law (born in 1907) was from Missouri, and had numerous colorful sayings. The most memorable is “the sun is higher than you dad ever hung meat in his life!” which meant that it was late, and you were not up and attending to what you needed to do at the time.

Tony Parkin on 20 September, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

I wondered whether Mrs Kolbert was pulling my leg – then I realised she really wanted some favourite idioms for the site!
I like ‘pulling your leg’ as my dad used to do it (and say it!) a lot when I was growing up.
Like many of the people writing here I suspect I had to look up where it came from! Turns out it was a sneaky trick by thieves, who used to trip up their victims then pick their pockets in the confusion – later it came to mean any occasion where someone was made to look foolish.
Bet you all have great fun with some of these – another great idea from Mrs Kolbert!

Marsha Cruce on 20 September, 2009 at 8:41 pm #

One of my favorite activities on idioms:ask students to draw the literal interpretation. Post the pictures and then take turns guessing the idiom. I always loved what they would come up with. One creative student drew a picture of me lounging on a stick of butter. That was “buttering up the teacher” of course.

Cerese Godfrey on 21 September, 2009 at 5:29 am #

Once in a blue moon –Two full moons in the same month are extremely rare, though they do happen. A second full moon has come to be called a blue moon. This is apparently because the Maine Farmers Almanac used to list the date of first moon in red text, and the second moon in blue.

Jerry Blumengarten on 21 September, 2009 at 7:28 am #

“A picture paints a thousand words.” I loved your column and found liked your use of it to introduce idioms. On the Words page on my website I have links to sites for idioms:

Joe Brennan on 21 September, 2009 at 10:37 am #

Love all the old sailing phrases that are still with us: slacker, pull your own weight, take the wind out of someone’s sails, the old heave-ho, even astronaut (star sailor).

Jo Fothergill on 21 September, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

Here’s one for you – it sprung to mind as I was writing an email …

“…putting the cat among the pigeons…”

Jessica on 21 September, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

A chip on your shoulder means being upset for something that happened in the past. It comes from the practice of carrying a chip of wood on the shoulder & daring anyone to knock it off. This is a good sitefor idioms!!

Bob G. on 22 September, 2009 at 11:48 am #

Here are two idioms that are quite frequent at least for us in Northwest Ohio. It might have something to do with the strong agricultural industry that we have here or it may just be that the old folks love saying them.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Make sure your ducks are in a row.

The first one means not to count or take for granted something that you do not have yet. In this case, just because you have an egg doesn’t mean you will have a chicken.

The second means to make sure every thing is in order before you do something. An example you could think of is making sure your homework is done before showing up for school and stating that it is finished.

Ethan on 22 September, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

The idiom “hands down” means Win easily, with little effort

Margie and Eric Goldstein on 22 September, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. This means you can show someone the right way, but you can’t make him do it that way!

y0 on 23 September, 2009 at 6:11 pm #

i LOVE idioms,but cant think
of any

nesar on 24 September, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

all the time measure twise and cut once

hector on 24 September, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

Hi, my name is hector in I have my own idioms. When the cows fly this happens. This is hard for my, but I tray .

Leo k on 25 September, 2009 at 10:24 pm #

I think idioms can be used at such a weird time like if you go bowling and get a strike you could say”I just got a “bullsey”

sahil r on 30 September, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

some idioms i found were ;I’m dead: ;I’m hooked’ and the whole enchilada

Alec G. on 6 October, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

Idioms are ”THE BOMB”

gabbyg on 15 October, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

i think idioms can be really creative and a nice way to make your writing dazzle