Archive for March, 2011

March 21, 2011

Red tape

Drowning in red tape, pic:

Red tape is an expression used in English to describe excessive regulation that are often redundant or bureaucratic and hinder action or decision-making.  The term is often used in context with governmental, state or local regulations but can also be applied to other organizations like corporations.

The term is derisive and always implies excessive regulation as well as a lot of hair splitting or foot dragging.

Here is an example:

“We want to build an extension to our house.  You wouldn’t believe the red tape involved in getting the building permits.”

The origin of the term is somewhat obscure but there is a theory.  Normally I do not bother with obscure theories about expressions but this one is actually quite interesting: Back in the 16th century Henry VIII wanted to get his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled to marry Anne Boleyn.  Pope Clement wasn’t to thrilled with the idea so Henri besieged him with numerous petitions all rolled up and bound with the traditional red string.

Sounds like a good explanations to me.

March 20, 2011


Sego Lily, Utah's State flower - pretty, pic:

No there is so much to say about guns and America that I am not sure where to start – or at least I did not know where to start until today, when the State of Utah made this easy for me.  The legislature in Utah has today (or yesterday it does not matter) decided to add a gun to the symbols of Utah.  A John M. Browning-designed M1911 pistol to be precise.

To all of you that don’t know there guns (like me) I googled the darn thing and found that it is a single-action, semi-automatics, magazine-fed, and recoil-operated handgun chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge


M1911 Pistol, Utah's state gun - crazy, tasteless, pic:

So with a terrible shooting in Arizona – committed by an unstable young man with a semi-automatic weapon – the neighboring state of Utah had nothing better to do than – as the first state in the US – adding a weapon to its state symbols; right along with the Sego Lily, the Rocky Mountain Elk, the cherry, and the Blue Spruce.


I am jaded by now so the only question I really ask myself is “which state will be next?”

March 19, 2011


Samantha, Sex and the City's famous cougar, Pic: http://truestarmag. /2010/07/19/cubs-vs-the-cougars/

…and I am not talking about mountain lions, pumas or in general felines that go by the Latin name Puma concolor.

Of course, those beautiful animals are called cougars but in American slang the term as of recent refers to older women who date (much) younger men.  Two conditions must be met for a woman to be called a cougar:

  • she has to be at least 35 years old (I personally find that way to young to be called a cougar but it seems to be the standard definition, if there is such a thing) and
  • the guy has to be significantly younger

So 35 year old woman dating or hooking up with  a 30 year old man – not a cougar

A 45 year old dating/hooking up with a 28 year old: most definitely one.

A cougar dating site puts the required age difference at at least 10 years for the younger cougars and at 15 for the 50 plus age range.

Another characteristic is that a cougar goes out to find a guy, she is “hunting” vs. being the one who is being “hunted” by the guy.

The term is fairly new and stems from a 2001 book by Valerie Gibson, called “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.”  Famous cougars include:  Demi Moore, Samantha in Sex and the City, Madonna, and Elizabeth Taylor

March 18, 2011

Putting lipstick on pigs

Looking real cute with lipstick! Pic:

This rather harmless and colorful little expression has gained some notoriety over the last few years for its use in political campaigns.  But before we go there, let’s first explain the meaning of the expression “putting lipstick on a pig”.

This is a way of saying that making superficial cosmetic changes to something will not change the fundamental nature of it.  If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig and not a lady (or something else that ranks higher in the hierarchy of things than a pig).  Therefore putting lipstick on a pig is a rather futile exercise one undertakes in the hopes to fool somebody into not seeing the pig for what it is.

In my experience that saying came up first when I was involved in getting a company ready for sale – there was a lot of figurative lipstick application involved.

But now to the recent notoriety:  it might have started earlier but the example that sticks in my mind is then presidential candidate Barak Obama referring to all the talk of the McCain campaign about change as “putting lipstick on a pig“.  Since Palin had – a short while before – defined the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull in one word: “lipstick” wild claims were made that Obama had called Palin a pig.  It all disintegrated quickly into ugly political maneuvering and the little expression came away bruises and looking ugly.

I still like it, it makes the concept really clear in an amusing, funny way.

March 18, 2011

Lucky in cards

I thought I had finally come up with an proverb that exists in German and for which there is no English equivalent.  But no such luck, it does exist, even though I had never heard of it before today when I searched online – hoping not to find it.

Lucky at cards, unlucky in love - certainly true for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, pic:

Anyway, the proverb is “lucky in cards, unlucky in love”.  The whole things doesn’t even make much sense.  I also did not find a satisfying explanation why it should be the case that one has to trade off love with card games (=money). One notion I read was that it is a well-known fact that some people seem to be very lucky in some respects but not in others.  So this would just state the obvious.

An interesting factoid is that in English the version “lucky in cards, unlucky in love” seems to be the one version used.  The opposite is sort of implied.  In the German version both variations exist equally, i.e. if you are playing cards and loosing badly a sympathetic person will say “unlucky in cards, lucky in love” to provide some comfort. Another difference, in German we don’t limit ourselves to cards – any kind of gambling is fair game, so to speak.

March 17, 2011

St Patty’s Day

Green beer - perfect for St. Patty's Day, pic:

Living in the US means enjoying all sorts of holidays and celebrations one doesn’t get to celebrate in other countries.  So, today, March 17, st. Patricks Day or – affectionately, St. Paddy’s Day we are all Irish – or at least pretend to be – wear green, have shamrock necklaces laced around our necks and are frantically trying to catch leprechauns and gold pots at the end of rainbows.

Oh, I forgot the beer.  Of course, on St. Patrick’s Day we drink beer, ideally Guinness in Irish pubs and listen to Irish music.  A few bold ones will try and do a Riverdance imitation – after they had way too much Guinness, that is.

St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday celebrating the most recognized patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick who brought Christianity to the island way back when (in the 4th century, if you must know).  In honor of St. Patrick one does the following: goes to church, wears green, specifically anything adorned with shamrocks and – most importantly and probably what makes the holiday so popular – the lent restrictions on food and alcoholic beverages are lifted so one feasts and drinks way too much.  The going-to-church part (especially catholic church in a predominantly protestant country) seems to be handled rather loosely here in the US, however, the drinking beer part is taken that much more seriously instead.

Don’t tell anybody but I can’t drink Guinness, tastes like motor oil to me so I am sitting at home, wear a green sweater, drink prosecco and write a blog.  How is that for embracing different cultures?

March 17, 2011

Goody two shoes

Let me make it clear right upfront:  a Goody two shoes is nothing you want to be or aspire to be.

Goody Two Shoes in all her sentimental goodness, pic: http://gazingatnavels.

The expression is used to describe a real goody-good person, somebody who is good or virtuous in a self-righteous, smug or sentimental manner.   Goody Two Shoes often make a big deal of their virtue and like to show it off to everybody. Goody Two Shoes can be male or female, the term does not imply gender.

Here is an example:

“She is such an annoying Goody Two Shoes, always perfectly behaved, never says a bad word, very polite to everybody, never misses a deadline, never late.  I can’t stand her!”

The expression generally is used in a negative sense, there are instances where it is used to describe perfectly wonderful, sweet people in an non-derogatory way but those are rarer and often people feel compelled to say something like “and I don’t mean that in a bad way” to qualify the term.  I personally would not use it for a nice person – the chance is to great that it would be taken as a backhanded compliment.

The origin is a British fairy tale similar to the Cinderella story where a poor little girl got a pair of shoes (she previously only owned one) and run around to tell everybody.  of course, she also married up because she was such a sweet, unassuming, modest little thing and lived happily …

You know the rest.

March 16, 2011

Backhanded compliment

A backhanded compliment is nothing you necessarily want to get: it is a compliment that also insults at the same time or saying it the other way around: an insult that masquerades as a compliment.

A backhanded compliment might first fool you into thinking you received a real compliment but it is a deliberate and rather subtle way to disguise an insult.  Sometimes backhanded compliments are not intentional but generally the term applies to the intentional use of a disguised insult.

Here are a few examples:

Classical backhanded compliment, pic:

“You are sure smarter than you look.”

“I love you new haircut, it slims your face a lot.”

“Long skirts look good on you, they hide your calves.”

“You drive very well, for a woman.”

“Your son is more handsome than I would have expected.

In each case there is a compliment that immediately gets negated by an implied criticism, namely that a person is stupid, her face is too wide or her legs to thick, she can’t drive or his parents are ugly.

Another term meaning the same thing is left-handed compliment.  Traditional the left hand has had sinister connotations and therefore a left-handed compliment is one that is devious.

Not a very politically correct expression now that we don’t discriminate against “lefties” anymore.

March 16, 2011

Friends with Benefits

Just friends or friends with benefits? Pic: © Dmitry Fisher |

With this expression we are venturing into youth talk and into somewhat risque territory. Although certainly an expression used more by younger people it is good to understand what it means, even if you don’t plan to add any friends with benefits to your life any time soon.

So, anyway, friends with benefits are friends, often rather good friends, who have casual sex with each other without being emotionally involved and without being in a relationship and without serious commitment.  The latter point is the crucial one: the FWB relationships may or may not be monogamous but unlike in   “real” romantic relationship there is no commitment and no long-term prospects.

The other defining element is the friendship between the two people which differentiates FWB relationships from NSA (no strings attached) one night stands.

This is probably not an American phenomenon but this relatively young expression has shown up in American pop culture since the early 2000s.

March 15, 2011

Drama queen

The classic example of a drama queen: Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, pic:

Drama queens are a fairly common species and – contrary to popular belief – not all drama queens are female.  Drama queens come in all age groups and social strata.

Drama queens are overly dramatic – that is the politically correct way of saying it.  They tend to make a big deal out of unimportant things and take every opportunity to blow things out of proportion.  There is a good deal of self-centeredness in drama queens as the little things that get blown out of proportion are often rather irrelevant details or little misfortunes of their daily lives.

A drama queen rant might sound like that:

“I got to the restaurant and they did not have our table ready.  Can you believe that.  So we had to wait 10 minutes outside until we got seated.  That already totally ruined my mood and then the bread basket arrived like at least 5 minutes later.  we were basically starving at that point.  I’ll never go to that restaurant again, it is a total disgrace …”

The reasonable course of action is to stay away from drama queens as much as possible.  They have a tendency to ruin ones day.