Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No “bull” in this china shop

I just ran into two excellent recasts of a couple of timeless clichés. See if you can tell who said them (both from the same guy):

● “There but for the grace of God goes God.”

● “He is the only bull I know who carries his china closet with him.”

And do you know the originals from which these spring?

They were uttered by
Winston Churchill, prime minister of England, member of British Parliament, journalist, author, and bane of both Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. Churchill, in fact, coined the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the Soviet Union’s choke-hold on Eastern Europe in the last century.

The first recast was a reference to an insufferable political rival and the second referred to a tough-talking U.S. Secretary of State.

The originals are:

● "There but for the grace of God go I."
attributions including John Bradford and John Bunyan

● "He is a bull in a china cabinet."
First use
unknown but first recorded in Frederick Marryat’s Jacob Faithful

I found these in a speech given by seasoned political journalist
Chris Matthews at the Westminster College in Missouri commemorating the 60th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946. Titled “The ten lessons of Winston Churchill,” it’s a great talk and a great retrospective on one of human’s greatest orators and writers.

Note: Although using clichés is frowned upon by every professional writer and editor with any experience, recasting clichés can be good form. Churchill’s recasting of these two are excellent examples of turning a phrase to good use.

I maintain a weblog about clichés and how to recast them, using a cliché-a-day format to highlight a cliché every day of the week and show how to rewrite or recast it. Visit
Cliché-a-Day to see what it’s all about.


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