Nine Common Cliches That We Got from Cartoons

Broke? Wear a barrel

This year I got to witness two famous cliches in real life: I saw the blind leading the blind (two blind Mexican musicians walking down the street, one leading the other) and I got to see somebody rolling out the red carpet (workers preparing Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for a premiere). Stuff like this made me think about all those iconic images that never even existed in the real world, and yet have become part of our cultural landscape. Maybe in Vaudeville they really did yank bad performers off the stage with a big long cane, but the following ideas have only ever lived in the cartoon world:

  1. Elephants are afraid of mice. Even going so far as to stand on their little circus platforms on their tippy toes whenever a mouse enters the room.
  2. People who go bankrupt have to walk around wearing only barrels. What makes that extra ironic is that nowadays, barrels cost about $100 or $200 a pop - not including the suspenders you need to keep the barrel hanging on your shoulders. It's cheaper to buy new clothes!
  3. Bombs are small black spheres with little fuses. Note, though, that dynamite really does come in the form of bright red sticks.
  4. Hobos carry all their belongings in a handkerchief tied around the end of a stick, slung over their shoulders. Okay, so maybe these characters do exist in real life - as circus clowns. But when I was a little boy, I would occasionally play dress-up as a hobo and was disappointed at how little you could actually fit in a handkerchief. Like, half a sandwich and an apple. That's it.
  5. Army boots - with holes in the soles, of course - are the ideal weapon to throw at wailing alley cats. Who really has that many worn-out boots to spare?
  6. Fishbones - meaning full, unbroken fish skeletons with attached heads and tail fins - can be found in any garbage can. Along with tin cans with the lids halfway attached and still-yellow banana peels.
  7. Sanitarium (loony bin) employees wield enormous butterfly nets in order to catch crazy people. I don't think these guys wear those white coats or even make house calls anymore.
  8. Burglars and bank robbers prefer to wear small black eyemasks to conceal their identity. Well, if it worked for the Lone Ranger...
  9. People routinely put lampshades on their heads when drunk. It's an easy way to tell who the life of the party is.