An occasional feature in which we explain and evaluate a SportsCenter anchor's pet phrase. Today's phrase: "Hotter than a fox in a forest fire."
Anchor: Neil Everett
Context: Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez sends one deep to left off Tampa Bay's James Shields, his third home run in four games.
Origin: Unknown. "It's parody country-and-western guy talk," says Michael Preston, an English professor at the University of Colorado who studies vernacular culture. "You wouldn't expect to come across a woman saying this." In a 1976 paper, Preston's wife, Cathy, also an English professor at Colorado, grouped the phrase "hot as a fox" with similar folk comparisons: "drunk as a skunk," "eyes like a hawk," "busier than a beehive." Says Cathy now: "Since 'hot as a fox' carries kind of a sexual overtone rather than referring to heat or fire, it's possible that it might be a little bit later in date." Whenever it arrived on American tongues, the phrase soon was subjected to a number of comic elaborations, in much the same way that "cold as a witch's tit" would eventually become "cold as a witch's tit on the north side of an iceberg in Alaska," or "flat as a fried egg" would become "flat as two fried eggs nailed to a barn door." In this case, the elaborations were alliterative: from "hotter than a fox" to "hotter than a fox in a forest fire" to "hotter than a fresh-fucked fox in a forest fire" to "hotter than a fresh-fucked female French fox in a fuel-fed forest fire." The initial phrase, "hotter than a fox," is used much like a jazz musician might use an old standard like "Stardust." A sort of personal style is expressed through elaborate, improvised riffs on the original theme.
Analysis: Of the many options available to him, Everett chooses "hotter than a fox in a forest fire." How boring. Unembellished, the simile is mere cliché and lacks the sense of play and discovery that comes from spinning evermore fanciful variations out of a basic phrase. I don't expect Everett to bait the FCC with any "fresh-fucked" business, but a little wit and inventiveness is called for here. I'll defer to Cathy Preston. "When you do get the riffs on the phrase," she says, "then you've got someone who clearly likes verbal play. It's playful. It shows a spark of imagination on an individual's part. I like that."
Humor (out of 5):
Aptness (out of 5): 3
Obscurity (out of 5):
Quality of referent (out of 5):
Total (out of 20):
UPDATE: Everett has e-mailed us to clarify the reference:
Ronnie Van Zandt, former lead for Lynyrd Skynyrd, used to do shows in his barefeet so he could feel the heat on the stage…on one live album, he says, 'it's hotter than a fox in a forest fire"…that's where it came from…aloha, Neil Everett
Scoring has been adjusted accordingly.