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(See also SECRECY)
Alibi Ike One who repeatedly makes excuses; a shirker. This label, popularized in the U.S. during the 1930s and ‘40s, is the name of the main character in a 1924 Ring Lardner short story of the same title. By the time he coined the phrase, alibi had acquired its informal meaning of ‘any excuse, pretext, or plea of innocence,’ as opposed to the specific plea that one was elsewhere when an alleged act took place (from the Latin alibi ‘elsewhere’). Lardner’s choice of the name Ike was probably due simply to the catchy sound and rhythm of Alibi Ike.
beat around the bush To approach cautiously or in a roundabout way; to be evasive; to refuse to come to the point. Nocturnal bird hunters in 15th-century Britain checked for birds lurking in bushes by cautiously beating around a bush with a bat and a light. The saying is now used figuratively in regard to discourse and can be expressive of timidity at one extreme or dishonesty at the other.
bury one’s head in the sand To avoid reality; to hide from the truth; to ignore the facts. In times of danger ostriches lie on the ground with their necks stretched out in order to escape detection. It is presumably this behavior that gave rise to the myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when pursued, and, no longer able to see their enemies, believe themselves secure from danger.
do an end run To evade or circumvent; to outmaneuver or outfox. This American slang expression is a figurative extension of the football term end run or sweep, a running play in which the offense blocks to center while the ball carrier runs toward the sideline and slips around the opposing blockers.
fimble-famble A trivial excuse or explanation; balderdash, fiddle-faddle, nonsense. This British expression is probably a dialectal variant of skimble-skamble, which appears in Shakespeare’s I Henry IV:
… and such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
As puts me from my faith. (III, i)
fire one’s pistol in the air To purposely avoid offending or injuring an opponent in an argument or debate. This expression harkens back to the days when dueling was the gentleman’s way of defending his honor. A dueler who did not want to injure his opponent would fire his pistol into the air—a harmless way of discharging his debt. In current usage, the expression is employed figuratively to indicate that someone deliberately avoids a direçt personal attack on an opponent during the discussion of issues.
give the run-around To avoid personal contact by being perpetually unavailable; to avoid direct, open communication by evasive, misleading responses; to postpone action, or to employ dilatory tactics. In any case, the words run and around are suggestive of avoidance and evasion. Give the run-around appeared in print by the turn of the century.
Pitts is satisfied that he is the victim of the grandest run-around ever put over on a boxing promoter. (Chicago Herald, December 2, 1915)
hem and haw To speak evasively; to avoid answering a question directly; to procrastinate. This familiar expression is an onomatopoeic rendering of the unintelligible muttering of a noncommittal mugwumpian. The phrase, as used by Clifford Aucoin, is cited in Webster’s Third:
Hem and haw and put it off, apparently in the hope that things will pick up.
in soaped-pig fashion Vaguely, ambiguously, equivocally; used in reference to speaking or writing of this nature.
He is vague as may be; writing in what is called the “soaped-pig” fashion. (Carlyle, The Diamond Necklace)
In former times, at fairs and carnivals, great sport was had chasing after and trying to catch the pig that was turned out among the crowd for their diversion. Before the pig was loosed, however, it was soaped in order to heighten both the difficulty and the fun.
Mickey Mouse around To avoid confronting a major issue or problem by wasting time; fooling around; indulging in trivial activities. The reference is to the animated persona that made its debut in Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928), the first cartoon with sound, and the allusion is to the playful though insignificant activities which characterize most Mickey Mouse cartoons.
We can’t Mickey Mouse around while faced with technological challenges from other countries. (R. G. Hummerstone, in Fortune Magazine, May, 1973)
A common variation is the shortened Mickey Mouse.
See also Mickey Mouse, INSIGNIFICANCE.
pull punches To be evasive, hedge, or weasel; to pussyfoot and be mealy-mouthed; to lessen the impact of a disclosure or to discuss a sensitive topic with discrimination. This expression originated as boxing slang for an intentionally weak blow. It is most often used negatively as an implicit compliment to candor and openness, as in the following by Sara H. Hay, cited in Webster’s Third:
She has pulled no punches in coming directly to the extreme issues involved.