I was reading a great article recently about the myriad of clichés that we use in our modern-day writing and speech, and how many can be traced back to Shakespeare. This one doesn’t seem to be traced to the bard, but then again I cannot find a source for its first use in English anywhere, despite the Oxford English Dictionary claiming it is a U.S. idiom.
The phrase I am talking about is “like a hot knife through butter.” Great image, right? Well, that’s how clichés get to be so common; they are precise, and they are often full of imagery that aptly describes something. In this case the metaphor is about how quickly and easily something is done.
But as far as I know Fiona’s song is the first literary use of the phrase which puts it in a romantic/sexual context. Maybe you can find another example? I find it hard to believe an Etta James or Nina Simone hasn’t already sung a sultry hot knife song, but this is the only one I’ve found.
And how she puts the old phrase to music, harmony and sings it in a round with herself–well, quite frankly, I find it stunning, and I think it qualifies as an example of what Ezra Pound insisted on for art, that motto of his, “Make it new.” Of course, his motto seems to be able to be traced back to the Shang Dynasty, but I’m okay with that; some of the best ideas are classic, tried and true.
Tell me if you think that this use of an old cliché qualifies as “Making it new.” Personally I found this a joy to listen to and watch, but it’s especially gorgeous in the car in full surround sound.
- Fiona Apple – Hot Knife (seriousmoonlighters.wordpress.com)
- Hot Knife by Fiona Apple (lyricandlyrics.wordpress.com)
- New Music Video – Fiona Apple “Hot Knife” (thescenestar.typepad.com)
- Fiona Apple, neat and shaken. (basspoet.wordpress.com)