December 25, 2007

#01-053: Clichés - Part II: As Busy as a Bee

bee standing with his head against part of a flower
As busy as a bee

Note: In Lesson #01-052, we introduced ten clichés. They were all similes in the "as X as Y" form.  In this lesson, let's see how the first five of these can be used. (We'll do the other five in Lesson #01-054).

Get Ready: Skim down and look at the clichés below. Do any of these describe you right now? Are you "as busy as a bee" or "as fit as a fiddle"? How about "as dead as a doornail"?

Remember, we all use clichés sometimes, but we should avoid using them too often. When we do use them, how do we use them correctly? Each cliché below is followed by a comment. (By the way, it's permissible to drop the first "as" in all of these expressions: "busy as a bee," "cool as a cucumber," etc.).
  1. as busy as a bee: the bee is notoriously industrious, so this phrase was natural--a little too natural, since it has become overused.

    • When you're working too hard, you'll usually use an ugly simile, like "I've been working like a dog," or some exaggeration such as "I'm working myself to death." But when you want to compliment someone in a bright and cheery way, you might say, "My, you're just as busy as a bee, aren't you?" Remember, this is a positive, upbeat idea.
  2. as cool as a cucumber: In fact, this means "calm," not "the opposite of warm." Why? No one seems to know; but have you ever seen a cucumber get excited? Not me!

    • This cliché, too, is positive. "My boss never freaks out when bad things happen; he's as cool as a cucumber." We sometimes also talk about "grace under fire," and "making [something] look easy": "The boss really shows grace under fire; when he faces a crisis, he somehow manages to make his job look easy."
  3. as dead as a doornail: A doornail is the large stud we see pounded into doors to hold them together. One suggestion is that it was pounded through and bent over for security, thus making it "dead"--unable to be reused.

    • Ok, I admit, there's no positive "spin" on the phrase "as dead as a doornail." It can be used figuratively, though: "Sorry I didn't answer your call last night; I had already gone to bed, and I was as dead as a doornail." In this case, we can also say, "I was out like a light," or "I was long gone." We also say "as dead as a dodo," the dodo being an extinct bird.

  4. as easy as pie: Pie isn't especially easy to make--but it's very easy to eat! That may be the origin of this cliché, similar in meaning to "a piece of cake."

    • "How was the test?" "Oh, it was easy as pie." As I mentioned, you can also say, "It was a piece of cake." Other common expressions are "It was a breeze" (a gentle wind) and "It was a walk in the park." Unlike these others (all using nouns in the complement), "easy as pie" can be used as an adverbial phrase for a "do" verb, as in "I passed the test easy as pie," where the expression modifies "passed."
  5. as fit as a fiddle: We now use this to mean "in good health," but "fit" here originally meant "suitable." No one knows why we say this, other than the suggestion that the words "fit" and "fiddle" sound good together.

    • We can also say "as healthy as a horse," "as strong as an ox," etc. These are heavily-used clichés, though, and are best avoided. How about something new, like, "I'm fit as an Olympic athlete"?
That's it! Five more in Lesson #01-054!

Read more:

Practice: Look at each of the scenes below. What cliché above goes with each scene? Use the letter for your answer.

  1. Your friend had to climb a mountain. When he returns, you ask him how it went.
  2. Your uncle runs a small shop. You tell him you haven't heard from him lately, and he tells you why.
  3. Your teacher went home to visit her grandfather for the holidays. You ask about his health.
  4. Your neighbor's house caught fire, and he saved his wife, his son, his dog, and never looked upset. How would you describe him?
  5. Your telephone's battery is out of power. Your friend wants to borrow it. What do you tell him?

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 25, 2007

The three lessons on clichés received a combined 828 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice:
    1. d "No problem! It was (as) easy as pie!"
    2. a "Sorry, I've been (as) busy as a bee."
    3. e "Thanks for asking! He's (as) fit as a fiddle."
    4. b "It was amazing! He was (as) cool as a cucumber."
    5. c "Sorry, it's (as) dead as a doornail."
    (Notice that I have added a few words to make it more interesting; you can, too!)