About This Site

Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
(What are figures of speech?)
Ask Figaro a question!

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    « The Ditz Heard Round the World | Main | Sir Michael Tyson's Delivery »

    Charlie Like a Fox

    Crazy people with money are called eccentrics. What do you call a crazy, rich, crack-addled Hollywood celebrity like Charlie Sheen? Foxy.

     “The truth of the matter is,

    he could be crazy like a fox.”

    Film producer Mike Medavoy in the New York Times.

    “Crazy like a fox” is a fave idiom of Figaro’s. An idiom is a set of words that form a stand-alone meaning—a sort of rhetorical molecule made up of little word atoms.

    Of course, foxes aren’t known for insanity, or even for feigning insanity. They leave that role to loons and celebrities. Instead, foxes are supposed to be crafty.  And so “crazy like a fox” means “craftily crazy.” Which makes the idiom a paradox.

    Now, a paradox (Greek for “against common belief”) performs a shotgun marriage between things that don’t belong together logically: such as “jumbo” and shrimp,” or “Charlie Sheen” and “sanity.”

    But wait, there’s more:   “Crazy like a fox” also employs marvelous sound symbolism—words that evoke a meaning by the way they sound. “Crazy” sounds craaaaazy, man. “Like a fox” sounds like something uttered by a narrow-jawed, muzzle-licking canid. Or by a rabid, moneymaking TV network.

    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (3)

    And despite his bad behavior, his reputation retains its Sheen.
    March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSharon
    What's the diff between an idiom and a cliche?
    March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto
    Good question, Roberto. Many idioms are cliches (don't take any wooden nickels!). But not all idioms are. For instance, "That cuts no ice with me" is an idiom (it comes from an old Iroquois expression meaning "I'm not impressed). But it's not used commonly enough to qualify as a cliche. Similarly, "There'll be the devil to pay," an old nautical expression, is an idiom that retains its sheen, as Sharon would put it.

    On the other hand, not all cliches are idioms. "Love means never having to say you're sorry" is a mere sentence; it has no meaning beyond the sentence itself. It's just a sorry cliche.
    March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.