ASSOCIATES (2009, November, v. 16, no. 2)


Be It Ever So Humble…

Clichés/Phrases That Aren’t What They Seem, Or Are They?

sueknocheSue Knoche
Medical Library Assistant
ETSU Quillen College of Medicine Library, Johnson City, TN

Most languages have their own slang, phrases or clichés that when translated or explained may cause one to question the actual meaning.

This week I was reminded a few times of the overused phrase, “think outside the box” and I obediently started an analysis process. What comes to mind first is: What box? Who determines the dimensions or perimeters of the box in which we need to think in or out of? After all, boxes come in all sizes – from small, such as a ring box, to medium, like a box for a coffee maker or an extra large one for a refrigerator or stove. Is it a matter of how much you think, what you can think of or even the ability to think at all? How far outside of this box is it comfortable to think; an inch, a yard or a mile? Can we think too much out of the realm of reality in trying for “cutting edge” ideas? After all we don’t want others to wonder what planet we might be from because an idea is so “out there”.

A great example of creative thinking happened last week when our local library group went to dinner at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. The new adaption of “Frankenstein” was playing and since we hosted the “Frankenstein” traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine a couple of years ago it seemed to be a great library adventure. I was stunned by the simple yet effective scenery, and the mountain fashioned out of risers to resemble boulders was extremely realistic. Just before the intermission the creature (an actor who stands about 6’4”) chased a 7-year-old boy up the mountain and at the top in a rage he grabbed and held him over his head as if to throw him off the mountain while growling/shouting at the world. I’m sure everyone thought the curtain would come down and we would be left to imagine what had happened. To our shock and horror he threw the child effortlessly though the air as if throwing a pillow approximately 50 feet straight down into the orchestra pit, and a huge collective gasp from the audience covered the theatre. We investigated at intermission to find that the orchestra pit was lined with a stack of mattresses with a large glow-in-the-dark X on top and a pit door for the youngster to escape without notice. In all the years I have attended theatre productions, I have never observed anything more daring. This was totally out of the realm of traditional theatre. As if that were not grand enough, there were other shocking scenes including Dr. Frankenstein’s new bride with a simulated hole in her chest and the creature holding a dripping realistic looking heart or the special effects used in the laboratory during the birth of this creature. Out of the comfort zone of traditional theatre? You bet, and the dramatic effects worked very well. The audience continued to talk about how spectacular it was through intermission, and the actors were rewarded with thundering applause, a standing ovation and people still talking about it on the way to the parking lot.

Sometimes we can get carried away with slang and phrases. Especially with the volume of texting going on things can be a little misunderstood. For example: “I’m on top of the world”? If one is scheduled for a trip on the space shuttle perhaps that would work but I don’t think it has anything to do with space travel. On the other hand if one is referring to a visit to the North Pole it may be realistic. One of our new colleagues who was born in another country, probably thinks I’m from another planet too because now and again I will inadvertently use what I think are common phrases and don’t realize that if you think about it literally my idioms can be quite amusing, difficult to achieve or just whimsical. Thinking can be fun and productive too, including thoughts that may be traditional. You can go outside the realm of what is safe to try new, exciting or innovative ideas. So go ahead and try the concept of “thinking outside the box”; Who knows? You may even like it — I know I do.