5 Expert Phrases That Explain Ideas You Should Understand

Animals are all around us.

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Their presence is so common, their characteristics so familiar to us, it's no surprise that we use them as the basis for all sorts of metaphors to describe how the world works. We use animal-related metaphors to describe economic principles, politicians, diagnostic guidelines, and how we sometimes pee on things to claim them. If you ever hear someone mention an animal in a bit of folksy wisdom, you can be sure they're speaking The Truth, and if that never happens to you, then I invite you to read the examples here and become the wise one in your circle of friends.

#5. "The Dead Cat Bounce"

"The dead cat bounce" is a colorful phrase that originated in the investing community. It's used to describe a stock or other security whose price has been dropping but that suddenly sees a small upswing. Rather than indicating a turnaround in the fortunes of that stock, the upswing is only temporary, and soon after the price continues to fall. That blip is called a dead cat bounce, inspired by the idea that even a dead cat will bounce if you drop it -- that doesn't mean it's still alive. And if you think that's disgusting, count yourself lucky, because it is by some margin the most flattering anecdote there is about the investment community.

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"Hi Barry, this is Barry. We are awful garbage shit men, aren't we?"

It makes sense because dead cats have a lot of physical properties. Squishiness, odor, all that. Elasticity, probably. I haven't been able to find any research demonstrating that last one, and the people at the SPCA won't even take my calls anymore, but it seems reasonable. From a great enough height, a dead cat would probably bounce a bit. I haven't tested this theory myself, but I could see where the phrase could be relatable to such a predatory, life-crushing system like the stock market.

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"Wow. That one was like 8 inches, at least."

And if you don't find it too disgusting, there's no reason not to apply the same thinking to anything that displays a late, probably doomed comeback. Your battered football team scores a third-quarter touchdown and is now down by only 16? Dead cat bounce. A fading celebrity stars in a low-budget indie movie that isn't terrible? Dead cat bounce. Your patching up a misguided relationship with someone who's clearly wrong for you? Dead cat bounce.

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"Here's what I think of your cat, and here's what I think of YOU, Karen!"

#4. "The Post Turtle"

The phrase "post turtle" derives from a story that sounds almost certainly made up, but don't let that detract from the fun. The story goes that you're driving through the country, or at least to, like, a pretty unfashionable part of town, and along the side of the road is a fence. And there, perched atop one of the fence posts is a turtle. Naturally, you yank on the handbrake, pull hard left on the wheel, and leap out the driver's side door, then walk over, unscathed, to investigate. And, sure enough, your first impression was right. There's a turtle, on a fence post.

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"What's up? Me. I'm up, motherfucker."

The turtle doesn't belong there, clearly didn't get there on his own, and is completely stuck unless you help it down. So the phrase is commonly used to describe politicians, implying they've been put into a job they have no business being in and are utterly helpless while there. You can go ahead and apply it to any politician you don't like. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Felt good, didn't it? Insults always make you feel like a bigger person. And there's no reason to stop with politicians! The concept of a post turtle can be applied to many people, especially in the workplace. I bet some of your bosses or co-workers have been post turtles, haven't they? Hell, you might be one yourself.

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"Dang."

#3. "The Spherical Cow"

As our greatest minds have pointed out, science is kind of complicated. The good news is that there are stripped-down, simplified versions of many scientific and engineering calculations that we can use when we don't want to strap on the big science hip waders to tackle a problem. There's no need to use relativistic calculations to figure out the trajectory of a baseball.

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Relatively speaking, this is going to hurt.

A baseball is a good example: the basic scientific calculations that describe acceleration and force are pretty straightforward, high school-level stuff. But even these can get pretty complicated when we have to consider friction or air resistance, or objects of an unusual shape. When students are just learning these calculations, they're often instructed to ignore friction or air resistance or, if not, to assume objects have a uniform shape. Enter the spherical cow.

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"WE SHOULD NOT BE."

The spherical cow might show up in a problem about projectile cows or buoyant cows or something like that. And sure that sounds ridiculous, and then a bit more so when you start to consider the sounds they'd make rolling down a hill while a farmer angrily throws his hat in the dirt, but these simplifying assumptions can be useful. Even expert scientists, with black belts and long, wispy beards, will use gross oversimplifications like this to quickly hone in on an approximate answer, which is sometimes good enough for their purposes. And if not, these crude approximations can still be useful for guiding the way for further, more detailed research.


That should stop them from rolling away, at least.

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