Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poetry Prompt #76 – Phrase Play

Have you ever listened to someone who uses a particular phrase so often that you expect to hear it whenever you speak with that person? Are there certain phrases that you use often in everyday conversation? Think of the “trendy” phrases that become (for me anyway) like fingernails on a chalkboard; for example, push the envelope, I hear you, piece of cake, I could care less, my bad, just sayin’ (and a new one that I heard recently – totally salinda meaning peacefulness, or a peaceful state of mind). 

Interestingly, every language has well-used colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions; for example, in Italian in bocca al lupo literally means "into the wolf's mouth" but, rather like the strange English expression "break a leg," this phrase is used in Italy to wish someone good luck.

Choose a phrase (not a cliché but a common idiomatic expression) and write a poem "around" that phrase. Alternatively, you might try using that phrase as much as possible within your poem. Turn the expression over and around, spin it, repeat it, extend it, give it new meanings, mock it, praise it, see how far you can stretch it. You might even consider using the phrase as a metaphor.

Begin by making a list of expressions that you or friends use often, and then choose one for your poem. Another idea is to use several phrases throughout your poem, or perhaps even compose an entire poem of  “phrase plays.” Try taking a humorous approach – have fun with this!


  1. In Ireland, we have a number of expressions. One might say, "That was great craic last night" in reference to a party and meaning "that was a lot of fun." (Craic is a Gaelic word, pronounced "crack," with no exact English translation, the closest being “fun.” There’s also the expression “ceoil agus craic,” meaning “music and fun.”)

    And fun is what this prompt is! Thanks for another creative idea, Adele!

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  2. Thanks for sharing, Maire! An interesting Irish expression, which I plan to use here in the US. I would guess that there are many such expressions in every country!

  3. What fun! Thanks, Adele!

    I'm going to use this one with my students.


  4. This is not a particular phrase but that strange tone used in horoscope...

    Many thorns few roses.
    And Taraxacum and Salad.
    Wake up your senses
    and the heart also.
    Better to leave to run
    a small provocation.
    The glass half full and
    yellow color fruits.
    Feelings bubbling.
    Eat apples with peel.
    A good degree of luck.

    Some Moderate Sweetness

    About "In bocca al lupo" , then you have to answer " Crepi il lupo" ( That the wolf die or let the wolf die)

  5. Jago! I love it! Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks, too, for the answer to "in boca al lupo."

  6. " In boca" it' s very nice, but really it is correct " in bocca".
    Anyway I will not forget "in boca al lupo", so the wolf's mouth seems having some teeth less...

  7. THANKS, Jago! I remembered the phrase from the month I spent in Italy some years ago, but not the correct spelling. I've corrected "bocca" in the post! Thanks again!

  8. Well done, as always! Interesting to think about phrases we use and over-use!

  9. A good reference for some idiomatic expressions:


  10. Thanks, Jamie! I checked the site, and you're right -- it's a great resource for this prompt.

  11. Adele, you're going to laugh at this:

    I looked at this blog post again this morning, and when I read "phrase plays," I thought of the old Meatloaf song "Paradise by the Dashboard LIghts." There's a line in that about "squeeze play." Funny the connections we make ... and ... that song has been repeating in my mind since (made me think of your prompt #72).


  12. Jamie,

    What hoot! thanks for sharing that. "Paradise ..." is a classic! Your comment made me think of Meatloaf's role in the "Rocky Horror Show" movie - also a classic and just right for Halloween.