Terms/phrases you hear all the time, but don't *really* know what they mean.

Do you have those?

They could be words (like “magnanimous”, for example–I know how to spell it, and even know that the quality of being magnanimous is “magnanimity”, and have some idea of what it means, but couldn’t define it outright if you paid me to), famous adages (like “Never look a gift horse in the mouth”–I mean I get the gist (“Don’t be an ungrateful bastard”), but what the heck does it mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, and what is a gift horse, anyway?), or, like today, when someone said to me, “You are so conceptual!

I took it as a compliment, of course, but what does that mean, really? To be conceptual? I kind of get it, but conceptuality just seems like a weird state.

Hi, I’m auntie em; I’m happily married, I’m an editor, I love new shoes, I’m kind of an Insta-Princess ™, and I am very conceptual. :wink:

on the gift horse thing,

apparently you can discern some things about a horses health from checking out it’s teeth. It would be rude however to do this to a horse that was a gift. Bit like criticizing the brand of coffee maker someone gave you as a wedding gift :slight_smile:

“It’s all good.”

Tell me more of this Insta-Princess concept, Oh, Conceptual One. If it involves wearing a tiara, I’m all over that.

Specific intensity. I thought I knew what it meant. I realized on Friday that it doesn’t mean what I think it means, and I’ve been scrambling since then to try to figure it out. I hope that I’m just making it harder than it really is; the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

I’m also a bit confused about the phrase “Aw, snap!” but that is less relevant to my PhD thesis. I’m told it means something along the lines of the idiomatic “Oh no you didn’t!” but I often here it conveyed in tones that seem to contradict that meaning.

I also keep forgetting whether laconic means taciturn or indolent. (It’s the former, but I have to look it up every time.)


I’m 50 % sure it’s just one of those words that people drop into a sentence to make themselves sound intelligent, but what I don’t know how to use it properly.

The gift horse thing: you can tell how old a horse is by counting its teeth. The more teeth, the older it is. So, basically, you’re telling someone not to inspect a gift for flaws when you say that.

Also, magnanimous refers to a person’s generosity, especially in regards to those less fortunate.

Gift horse in the mouth: You can tell the age of a horse from its teeth. The older the horse, the more worn the teeth. You would always look at a horse’s mouth, back in the old days, when you were buying one. You wouldn’t want to inspect a gift, that would be rude!

Synergy is when the result of two separate things is greater than the sum. Like, 1+1=3. I think. Although people use it to mean “lotsa energy” I think.

Preview: Poo, I’ve been beaten to ‘gift horse.’ Oh well. Posting anyway!

Well, if you ask me, the gift horse thing could be stated a lot more clearly, then: “Don’t check the teeth of a horse you’re getting for free” would do the trick (and only involves three extra words)!

FaerieBeth, there should always be a tiara. And a good Insta-Princess always carries a spare. :wink: Other than that, I can tell from some of your posts that you’re probably already there. If you can get Stonebow on board, the world is your oyster, Princess! :smiley:

And as for “synergy”, if Ellen Cherry’s definition is correct, then it really doesn’t make sense to me in the context in which I’ve heard it used!

I had to have “laughing up one’s sleeve” and “dog in the manger” explained to me.

The first one that came to mind is a word that sounds like “sea change.” I have no idea what it means, and it’s only in the past couple of years I’ve heard it on the news. Am I spelling it right? is it a noun? Verb? In what context would you use it in a sentence?

It’s a statement of shocked and bemused disbelief, rather like “Oh no you DIDN’T!” (as in “I can’t believe you/he/she just did that!”) Like if you and your friends are ribbing each other in a good-natured way, but someone takes it personally or just cuts loose with a real below-the-belt zinger, you can yell “OH, SNAP!” Another comparable exclamation could be “Them’s fightin’ words!”, especially because a snap-worthy comment or action can possibly escalate to a fight.

“Sea change” it is. I don’t really know the origin, but it means something like “paradigm shift” (God help us all!), or in non-technical language, “a big change.” I hear it used in the sense of largish societal or political changes: “In the last decade, there’s been a sea change in the public acceptance of X.”

This one has bugged me, too. It was the title of a book about 25 years ago.

IIRC, it’s used in Shakespeare (although I don’t know if that’s the first recorded use), I think in The Tempest. I think that it refers to tyhe way things change after being in the sea for a while – strange and sometimes beautiful, but different. (think of something with the sharp edges rubbed off, but with barnacles and the like growing on it. Driftwood has undergone a “sea change”)

I read a lot of romances. The cheap kind. They are published by an English company so you get a lot of Britishisms. It’s my understanding that “Snap!” means something like, “I was thiking the exact same thing!”

Is this true?

Let’s try to knock a few of these out (except for the already-answered gift horse thing):

Magnanimous: phouka is in the ballpark, IMHO. To me, magnanimity might be defined as “personal and startling generosity”. “Personal” means in a “shirt of their back” sense … their *casa * really is your casa, and they meant that sincerely. Any simply generous person can write a check to a charity – a magnanimous person will host events in their home or business. I added “startling” because true magnanimity can get pretty extreme – an example would be a host offering to up and give you a nice piece of furniture from their home simply because you commented on how nice the piece was.

"It’s All Good": in general use as a near-synonym for “OK”. There is an added, specific connotation that all available alternatives are acceptable.

"Aw snap!": Besides what Big Bad Voodoo Lou has written, the term seems to sometimes have a lighter sense of something like “uh oh!”.

Synergy: I think Ellen Cherry is missing the core connotaton of the word, which is “working/functioning especially well together” (cf. “working hand in glove”). The word can be applied both to people and to inanimate objects. When applied to people, it refers to a host of positive attributes related to teamwork – taking up slack when others fall off, complementary talents among a group, willingness of given individuals to take on tasks others in the group might avoid, etc. “Synergy” can also apply to inanimate objects like weather patterns, chemical reactions, volcanic processes, etc.

I’ve never understood the expression “Butter wouldn’t melt in his/her mouth”. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Why won’t it melt?

Awesome!:: makes a few notes for Stonebow ::

And in the spirit of the thread, I’ll have to agree with Biggirl on the “laughing up the sleeve” expression. That mental picture is just weird. How could you laugh up your sleeve without looking like you’re having a seizure? Or contacting your alien overlords?

laina_f, I’ve always taken the “butter wouldn’t melt” expression to mean you’re being cool under pressure. Not losing your cool when confronted. If you stay cool, the butter won’t melt!

laina_f, I think it means a person is cool or doesn’t lose his/her head under pressure.

The one phrase that I’m not quite sure I get is “can’t see the forest for the trees.” I think I know what it means when I hear someone use it, but the words, when used together like that, just make no sense to me.