Monday, April 30, 2007

All X and (no) Y

Just stumbled across this entry on Language Log, pondering the Economist's barbaric use of 'All mouth and no trousers" in a recent headline (as noted below):

This is apparently a UK expression that I've somehow managed to miss. The deck ("Are foreign firms as keen on Asia as they claim to be?") and the rest of the story make it clear that the meaning is same as "all hat and no cattle", "all sizzle and no steak", "all bark and no bite", etc.
But the mouth v. trousers variant is puzzling. The X in "all X and no Y" (hat, sizzle, bark) represents pretense, and "mouth" is fine for that. But the Y (cattle, steak, bite) stands for the corresponding reality -- and what's so real about trousers, especially in correspondence with mouth? None of the obvious answers belongs in an Economist headline.
A bit of web search demonstrates that the expression is a fairly common one, with variants like "all talk and no trousers", "all hype and no trousers", "all puff and no pants", etc., but doesn't explain where it comes from.
There's some evidence on the web that others are puzzled about this as well -- one reviewer on says that the (rock band) Crimea is "posturing, all trousers and no action". So apparently there's a stage of substance even beyond stereotypically male garments.

A correspondent then points towards this humble blog, and the unfortunate confusion surrounding 'trousers'/'no trousers', prompting this comment:
Aha! Wow! etc. We should return the favor and re-metonymize some of the "all X and no Y" expressions to remove the negative: "He's all hat and cattle. She's all bark and bite." It works even better, I think.
Which seems a bit silly, really.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Everybody’s dressing up, I’m dressing down

Another music journo shows his ignorance - this time David Sinclair in a lacklustre review of popular Scottish combo The View for, of all things, The Times:
A new song, Fireworks and Flowers, was another twitchy, music hall knees-up — all mouth and no trousers.
Still, a knees-up with no trousers must have been quite a sight.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cheesy Caracas

The plague spreads... Another damnable example of the bastardised form in a headline, this time from Venezuelan financial organ VenEconomy, and republished here by Petroleum World:

All mouth and no trousers
The Central Bank of Venezuela has just announced that the Consumer Price Index for the Caracas Metropolitan Area fell by 0.7% in March, the lowest monthly rate in 19 years.

As with last week's Economist headline (below), it's particularly annoying because the head (in either form) has very little to do with the story.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Wrongheaded Economist

Thudding wrongness from the Economist, usuallly a publication that's excruciatingly exact over its English, with a headline in its Business section:

Multinationals in Asia
All mouth and no trousers
Mar 29th 2007 | HONG KONG
Are foreign firms as keen on Asia as they claim to be?