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VOL. 35 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 9, 2011




All is not lost in quest for quirky phrases

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“A man made the bet of a horse that another could not say the Lord’s Prayer without a wandering thought. The bet was accepted.” So begins a fable. Halfway through the prayer, the one praying looked up and asked, “Do you mean the saddle also?”

“Lose the horse or win the saddle,” which means essentially the same thing as the idiom “all or nothing,” is from the Latin “Aut Caesar, aut nullus” (either a Caesar or a nobody). The phrase tends to come with the above anecdotal fable trailing along.

Since the Arkansas Razorbacks have lost Knile Davis for the season and since Tiger Woods has lost another major, I thought I’d revisit a topic I wrote of seven years ago in this column: lost phrases.

In Ireland, a person who has lost control is said to have lost the run of himself. In these parts, to have lost one’s cool means essentially the same thing, as does the terser “lost it.”

To have lost face means to have been humiliated or discredited. To lose one’s grip means being unable to control or understand things.

When we have lost ground, we’ve slipped back or gotten behind, whether in a tangible or intangible sense. As in “The Yankees lost ground yesterday as the Red Sox won a doubleheader.”

Losing one’s head means being angry or irrational. Losing one’s heart means falling in love. But merely losing heart, without a possessive noun or pronoun modifying said vital organ, is getting discouraged.

The concept of losing one’s marbles has a history with me. My mom feared losing her marbles, or going completely crazy. That’s a tad different from losing one’s mind. The latter phrase connotes diminished reasoning, as reflected by irrational behavior, and is usually only temporary in nature.

To lose sight of something means to become unable to see it, or to forget its importance. As in “I’ve lost sight of my goal in writing this column.”

We lose sleep over something that we worry excessively about or become preoccupied with. When we become less proficient at doing something, we are said to have lost our touch. But if we lose touch with someone, then we are no longer in contact with him or her.

We lose track of a person or thing when we don’t notice or monitor his, her or its changing status. If someone loses his voice, his ability to speak becomes impaired.

If a person loses her way, she can’t discern where she is or in which direction she should be going.

“Win some, lose some” means it is not possible to be victorious at all times or to write a great column every week. This expression originated in the early 1900s among gamblers who bet on sports.

In conclusion (or transition, as the case may be, since I have enough material to do another week on this subject and you seem to be enjoying it immensely), “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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