When I hear idioms like "it's hard finding a needle in a haystack", "you can't have too many lifeboats on a ship", or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", I sometimes wonder if it's actually true, instead of just repeating those phrases.

Is it (and if so, why) off topic to apply skepticism to the literal meaning of these claims ?

It is something that is often done on the show Mythbusters, for instance, and it is often very interesting.

2 Answers 2


The idioms themselves are not necessarily notable claims, though some of them represent a commonly held belief. Of your three examples I would only regard the third one as enough to make a question out of it.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks" represents the common belief that the older you get it gets harder to learn new things. I would regard that as a notable claim and I'm sure there are lots of studies about it.

You can certainly use the idiom as a starting point, but I wouldn't cling to the literal meaning of it. But some idioms can make good questions here.


I completely agree that idioms and proverbs are fun and interesting. I also watch Mythbusters :-)

However, are they notable claims?

In other words: does anyone claim that an idiom—when taken literally—is actually true?

If so, the question is notable and acceptable.

If not, then the question is trivial, not notable and should be closed.

Bottom line: Just because it's a proverb, it doesn't mean it's notable.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .