by Liz Walter
Today’s post focuses on phrases that contain general personal names – there are a surprising number of them!
If you say that you don’t know someone from Adam, you mean that you don’t know them at all and don’t know who they are. We can use this phrase for men and women, though for a woman we might say something like don’t know someone from Eve/Adam’s wife:
Why would I let him stay in my house? I don’t know him from Adam.
Similarly, the phrase all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, meaning that it’s good for us to have fun, could be changed to … makes Jill a dull girl. However, there is no common female equivalent of the British phrase a Jack the Lad, which means a very confident young man who doesn’t take life seriously and doesn’t care much about other people:
Put those books down, Lucas. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
Her first boyfriend was a bit of a Jack the Lad.
A Johnny-come-lately is a rather critical term for someone who has only recently started doing something (especially if they are already successful), while the American term Johnny-on-the-spot is used for someone who is ready to do something, especially help someone, immediately:
We found our business threatened by this Johnny-come-lately.
There he was, Johnny-on-the-spot, ready with his tool box.
We sometimes use the phrase Tom, Dick and/or Harry in a rather negative way to mean ‘anyone’:
You need to send invitations. We don’t want any old Tom, Dick and Harry turning up.
British and American English both use the names of cartoonists famous for their eccentric and complex drawings as adjectives to describe crazy and over-complicated machines, inventions or systems. The British version is Heath Robinson and the American is Rube Goldberg:
The original method for attaching the motor was pretty Heath Robinson.
It’s a crazy, Rube Goldberg kind of device, but it works.
All the names up to this point have been male, but there are a few phrases with female names – all rather derogatory! A Plain Jane is a girl or woman who is ordinary looking and not beautiful, and a Contrary Mary is a girl or woman who often disagrees with other people or does the opposite of what other people want them to do. Finally, a Moaning Minnie is someone who complains a lot (not always a female!):
I felt such a Plain Jane when I was a teenager.
She insists on wearing a coat in this hot weather – she’s such a Contrary Mary.
Just eat your meal and stop being such a Moaning Minnie!
Do let us know about phrases with names in your own language! And look out for my next post, on phrases that contain place names.