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Feb 2, 2017
Hugh Dellar

Phrase of the day: the straight and narrow

I’m not a huge fan of Twitter, but one of the real pleasures of the service is Very British Problems, who – in their own words – tweet about how the inhabitants of these isles make “life awkward for ourselves, one rainy day at a time”! Their tweets are very dry, very funny observations on the peculiarities of British life and they’ve also put out a couple of books containing the best of the tweets. Yesterday I met an old friend for a pint and was reminded of one of my favourite tweets from the end of last year. You can read it below:

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If you cram something in, you do a lot of a particular activity in a short period of time, so if you go away to another city for a few days, you might try and cram in as much as you can while you’re there – visit as many places as you can and do as much as you can. Or if you’re a keen surfer, you might manage a day by the beach at the weekend and cram in as much surfing as you can in the time that you’re there. The idea that Brits spend the Christmas holidays eating and drinking too much in the deluded belief that they’ll stop all this behaviour in January, when they’ll make their New Year’s Resolutions and this time stick to them, isn’t far from the truth in many cases. It’s a well-known fact, for instance, that gym membership rockets at the start of each year, and yet most new members never manage to go more than once or twice!

Anyway, as I was saying, I was reminded of all this when I met my friend Alan, as he is the exception to the rule outlined above! Yesterday was his first drink for a month as he has just completed Dry January. Like an increasing number of people every year, he’d decided not to drink any alcohol at all for the first month of the year, and by sticking to this, he’d raised over £400 for charity. We chatted about the experience and he commented that he’d often found it hard to stick to the straight and narrow. In other words, it had been difficult for him to always do the proper, honest and morally correct thing.

The phrase the straight and narrow comes from the Bible, and it’s often used (even by non-religious people like myself!) to talk about the best way forward or the best path that could be taken, so for example when criminals are released from prison, they may try hard to stay on the straight and narrow; when a company has been through a rough time, the boss may be desperate to get things back on the straight and narrow; and couples who’ve been together for years may say that their partners help to keep them on the straight and narrow!

Personally, though, I don’t think I’ll be trying Dry January any time soon. The problem with the straight and narrow is that it’s so straight and so narrow!

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Take one of our online courses.

  • Do you ever find it hard to stay on the straight and narrow? In what way?
  • When was the last time you tried to cram a lot into a short period of time? What did you do?
  • Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Have you managed to stick to them so far?
  • Do you know anyone who’s raised money for charity recently? How did they do it?


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