Don’t skin cats or throw babies

April 18, 2013

When idioms battle messages

In a meeting recently, a colleague was making a point and started with “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I cringed. Then I thought about it for the next several minutes, visualized a baby being thrown out the window and cringed a bit more. All the while he was likely delivering several other important messages that I missed.

I am not that different from anyone else. It is true that I am acutely aware of language and how it is used, a follower of media and blogs that address language and grammar (AP Stylebook Twitter feed, Grammar Girl and others), but I think we all have things that give us pause.

To effectively communicate strong values and messages, we need to be especially cautious of roadblocks that may stand between our audience and us. Just like we wouldn’t curse or use offensive photos (check out our visual story telling guide) because of their impact on messages, we should use similar caution with idioms and other phrases.

There was a recent call across the “All Staff” email list at Resource Media for good new idioms or metaphors to describe a particular issue. My colleagues responded with nearly 20 good choices in less than five minutes, proving that there are alternatives to the tried—and hopefully not true—few that first come to mind.

So don’t let the cat get your tongue – but be careful about swinging or skinning the poor thing.


Holly Armstrong