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(See also FUTILITY.)
all talk and no cider All talk and no action; much ado about nothing; great cry and little wool. This colloquial Americanism dates from the turn of the 19th century. The popular story explaining its origin tells of a party supposedly organized for the purpose of sharing a barrel of superior cider. Apparently the subject of politics was introduced and its talk supplanted pleasure and drinking as the focal point of the party. Disappointed guests left the gathering with the complaint of “all talk and no cider.”
Fine stories are cold comfort, when it is as they say “All talk and no cider.” (Nelson Kingsley, Diary, 1849)
beat one’s gums See TALKATIVENESS.
cut no ice To have no effect or influence; to fail to impress; to carry no weight, to mean nothing; also to cut ice meaning ‘to impress, to make an effect,’ although the phrase is almost exclusively used in the negative. In common usage since the late 19th century, the expression apparently owes its coinage to the fact that only keen and strong instruments can make an impression on the hard and glossy surface of ice.
go in one ear and out the other To be heard but not heeded; to be ignored or forgotten; to make no impact or impression. The implication here is that whatever is being said does not stay inside the listener’s head because he is empty-headed; information just passes straight through to the other side. A variant of this expression dates from 1400.
great cry and little wool Much ado about nothing; a lot of fuss and bother with little or nothing to show for it; also more cry than wool. Stephen Gosson relates the proverbial origin of this expression in The School of Abuse (1579):
As one said at the shearing of hogs, great cry and little wool, much ado and small help.
A similar current phrase is all talk and no action.
guinea pig See VICTIMIZATION.
lame duck An elected public official who is completing his term in office but has not been reelected; a stockbroker or speculator who has lost a great deal of money, or who has committed himself (through stock options, buying on margin, etc.) to more than he can afford; an inefficient or injured person. In the United States, this expression is usually political in nature, while in England, it is financial. Lame duck refers to an injured bird which is unable to care for itself and waddles around aimlessly as it awaits its imminent death. The implication is that a lame duck politician has, in essence, been rendered impotent; he is without a constituency and without bargaining clout—thus totally ineffective.
A “lame duck” Administration was in power, and a “lame duck” Congress still in being. (Times, December 14, 1932)
In 1933, Congress approved the 20th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, popularly known as the Lame Duck Amendment because it provided that newly elected Senators and Representatives would assume office on January 3 instead of March 4, thus reducing the length of the Congressional lame duck period. The Amendment also set the date for the presidential inauguration on January 20 instead of March 4.
like water off a duck’s back See EFFORTLESSNESS.
man of straw See VICTIMIZATION.
mealy-mouthed Indecisive; compromising or vacillating; namby-pamby; afraid or disinclined to assert one-self; timidly soft-spoken or mincing; avoiding plain and direct language. This expression alludes to the concept of meal ‘ground grain’ as dry, soft, and crumbly, lacking form or substance. A common variation is mealy.
He was not mealy-mouth’d, but would … have talked his mind to knights, or anybody. (Tom Ticklefoot, Some Observations Upon the Late Trials of Sir George Wakeman, 1679)
milk-and-water Insipid or jejune; lackluster, wishy-washy. This expression, alluding to the bland, vapid mixture that results when milk is diluted with water, is used to describe a person or thing virtually devoid of any interest, character, or vitality.
Change the milk-and-water style of your last memorial; assume a bolder tone. (Journal of the American Congress, 1783)
milksop A man who lacks courage and spunk; a spiritless, babyish man or youth. This term alludes to the obsolete meaning of milksop referring to an infant fed on only milk. Chaucer used the label figuratively in the 14th century. Today it sees little use except in literary contexts.
I ought to be d—n’d for having spoiled one of the prettiest fellows in the world, by making a milk-sop of him. (Henry Fielding, Tom Jones, 1749)
namby-pamby Wishy-washy; insipid, lacking character or strength; weak or indecisive; childishly cute or affectedly sentimental. This expression was first used in a 1726 poem nicknaming and ridiculing Ambrose Philips (1674-1749), who purportedly had written a children’s verse employing affected, “cutesy” language.
Namby Pamby’s little rhymes, Little jingle, little chimes. (Henry Carey, Namby Pamby, 1726)
Namby is a baby-talk corruption of the name Ambrose, and pamby is simply a nonsensical rhyming word. The expression received almost immediate acceptance and popularity. Though now extended to contexts such as affected or effeminate behavior, namby-pamby (or the unhyphenated namby pamby) is still most commonly used to describe inferior writing.
At a very advanced age he condescended to trifle in namby pamby rhymes. (James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791)
paper tiger A person or thing that seems impressive or powerful but is, in actuality, weak or ineffectual; a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Figuratively, a tiger is a brave or forceful person, one with the qualities associated with the feline tiger. Since paper implies flimsiness, paper tiger refers to any person or thing whose impressiveness is actually a façade, whose bark is worse than his bite. This expression, part of an ancient Oriental proverb, first received public attention in 1946 when Mao Tse-tung, leader of Communist China, accused the United States of being a “paper tiger.” He repeated the charge during the Korean War, specifically in reference to President Truman. Although now applied in widely varying contexts, paper tiger remains an effective political invective:
I disagreed with nearly all of Mr. Hoffer’s conclusions but one. That is where he stated that the Negro is doing battle with a paper tiger when he aims his wrath at the white liberal. (New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1965)
wishy-washy Indecisive, insipid, vacillating, weak; namby-pamby; lacking quality, character, or strength. Originally, wishy-washy referred to a weak, watered-down drink or to soup that was so watery that it was devoid of substance. Eventually, the expression was applied in other contexts to describe persons or ideas of weak and unimpressive character.
A weak, wishy-washy man who had hardly any mind of his own to speak of. (Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, 1867)
write on water To leave no lasting record, to make no permanent impression; also to write in the dust, on sand, or on the wind. The equivalent Latin phrase is in aqua scribere. This expression, a comment on the ephemerality of human life and works, is found in the epitaph of the English poet John Keats.
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
|Adv.||1.||ineffectually - in an ineffectual manner; "she tried ineffectually to light the primus, and Thomas came to help her"|
effectually - in an effectual manner; "Bismarck was constantly criticised by the more liberal newspapers, and he retaliated by passing an emergency decree that effectually muzzled the press"