Tag Archives: figure of speech

Angular momentum

This post could be considered a part two of last week’s post about light bulbs going off. I heard something last night that reminded me of another commonly misused metaphor and thought it might be worth reviewing.

During the Screen Actors Guild Awards program, veteran comedic actor Tim Conway introduced SAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award, given to Ernest Borgnine, who has performed in some 160 films over his 60-year television and movie career.

In an awkward moment, Conway appeared to have trouble reading the teleprompter and winged the introduction. At first I thought he might be doing one of his classic bits. I don’t know whether he was able to access the prepared script or had to make it up on the fly. And unfortunately, I can’t find an exact quote of what he said. But what I heard was a misused geometric figure of speech.

In reviewing Borgnine’s acting career, Conway cited Borgnine’s first film or two and then said that his career took “a 360-degree turn.”

Now a 360-degree turn is quite likely; but it is a full turn. What it means is that there was no change in direction.

I’m sure you’ve heard it. Someone might say, “He was headed down the wrong road, but his life took a 360-degree turn.” Think about it. If that’s true, he is right back where he started.

The correct metaphor for a 100 percent change in direction is a 180-degree turn, a U-turn, if you will.

The point of this lesson is not to make fun of Tim Conway. He happens to be one of the most quick-witted actors on television. I’ve laughed with him since he co-starred with Borgnine in McHale’s Navy, during his many appearances on The Carol Burnett Show, a few years ago on Yes, Dear and now, on Hot in Cleveland. In another 12 years, he might just be the Betty White of his gender.

Maybe the SAG Award’s writers provided a lousy script, but he’s smart; he could have caught and corrected the angular reference. Or maybe he was just doing the gig as Mr. Tudball.

The lesson is:  If you find yourself about to use the wrong angular figure of speech and describe a complete change as a 360-degree turn, do a one-eighty.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio

Not very nice

Because it has been years since I have had any formal study, I’ve been treating myself to some self guided continuing education, including brushing up on literary terms, figures of speech and such.  I came across one yesterday that I am not sure I ever learned in the first place.

Or perhaps I blocked it from my memory. 

I am talking about the bdelygmia.

Ah, yes, you say.  The old bdelygmia.  Actually, if you watch cable news with any regularity, you could hear a commentator utter one in some form at least once a night, especially in the current political climate.

A bdelygmia (the b is silent) is a litany of abuse.  It’s been described as the perfect rant, a series of explicit insults, if you will. 

The 19th century English author and poet Edward Lear was said to have written that a “vile beastly rottenheaded foolbegotten brazenthroated pernicious piggish screaming, tearing, roaring, perplexing, splitmecrackle crashmecriggle insane ass of a woman is practicing howling below-stairs with a brute of a singingmaster so horribly, that my head is nearly off.”

As my tastes are a bit more pedestrian, I’d say my favorite bdelygmia comes from the movie Christmas Vacation, in which Clark Griswold, after being denied the Christmas bonus he was counting on, says this about his boss:  

“I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, ****less, hopeless, heartless, fat-***, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey **** he is. Hallelujah. Holy sh**.  Where’s the Tylenol?”

Perhaps you have one of your own, festering in your head or sitting in your Drafts folder, awaiting a cooling off period.  Feel free to share; just don’t aim it at anyone.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio