Word play

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You published an interesting and informative piece by Ashley Davies on clichés (Perspective, 19 February).

I see she is bewildered by ‘kicking your heels”. For me it typifies the sort of pointless activity one might engage in while hanging about waiting for something or someone – maybe a someone who is “dragging his feet”.

I have noticed these two phrases are now often conflated so we hear of people “dragging their heels”.

That is not so bad as the expression that is stood on its head.

After telling Horatio how heavy drinking is celebrated in Denmark, Hamlet adds that it’s “a custom more honour’d in the breach than the observance” ie better avoided.

However, the phrase is now universally applied to a practice which ought to be followed but frequently isn’t – reversing the original meaning and making a nonsense of the words. Very odd.

I was puzzled by mention of a sailor in relation to “hoist with his own petard “as I think it was “the enginer” (rotten speller, Shakespeare) who was conceived as suffering the indignity of being blown up by his own explosive device. A wee nod by Homer perhaps?

Well, “to err is human…”

I certainly agree with Ms 
Davies’s main argument that these choice phrases, though 
possibly hackneyed now, still add vivacity and colour to our 
quotidian discourse.

As Robert Louis Stevenson put it: “Bright is the ring of words, when the right man rings them.”

S Beck

Craigleith Drive

Edinburgh

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