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Monday, February 13, 2012

Hiding behind Words


What do you think the expression above means? Some people find it funny; do you know why?


Match these clichés to their meanings. Answers below.

1. all in a day's work
2. beginning of the end
3. burning the midnight oil
4. calm before the storm
5. exercise in futility
6. heart of the matter
7. left no stone unturned
8. moment of truth
9. powers that be
10. take the bull by the horns

a. a critical moment, a crisis
b. to confront a problem directly, or face the truth of a situation
c. "working all night." Claims that one has done everything possible
d. searched in every possible place (like turning over every stone to see if something is underneath it)
e. a way to turn away praise
f. may be "the cause of the problem"
g. an effort which will fail no matter how hard one works
h. the idea that, as bad weather approaches, things become very still. Means "things seem OK but everyone knows trouble is coming."
i. "our leaders," but without being so direct
j. from this point on, the end is inevitable; there's no way to correct the situation, although it may be a while before the full effect is felt.


"Eschew obfuscation" means "avoid being unclear." We think this expression is funny because it uses words that few people know, so it is unclear itself! Good communication is based on clear, direct expression. Try not to hide behind your words!


A leader is speaking to his followers. Can you get the general idea of what he's saying?

Ladies and Gentlemen: The moment of truth has arrived. It is time for us to take the bull by the horns. We have been burning the midnight oil, and have left no stone unturned in seeking a workable solution. No thanks are necessary; it was all in a day's work. However, despite our efforts to get to heart of the matter, we are afraid that it was an exercise in futility. Though things seem fine now, this is just the calm before the storm. So now, the powers that be inform us that this is the beginning of the end. Good night, and good luck.


1 e; 2 j; 3 c; 4 h; 5 g; 6 f; 7 d; 8 a; 9 i; 10 b


This is the main meaning of the message:

1. There was a problem.
2. They did their best to solve it.
3. They failed, so it's time to give up.

Why didn't he just say so? This is a style of speaking that is meant to cover up an embarrassing mistake. This leader is trying to confuse his followers. He uses the ten clichés above to keep his meaning vague.

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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