The List, or, Vulcans Are Just So Literal

By JadziaKathryn

Rating: PG

Genres: humour romance


This story has been read by 791 people.
This story has been read 1100 times.

Summary: Trip helps T'Pol in the interest of cultural understanding.

Notes: For WarpGirl, who inspired this story. Set sometime late in season 1.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns them; I'm just having not-for-profit fun.

"Is the fruit salad unpalatable?"

Trip Tucker was so absorbed in his reading that he jolted upright at Subcommander T'Pol's inquiry. She was standing in front of him with one of her Vulcan-style padds, apparently waiting for an answer.

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"You have not partaken of your fruit salad since I arrived eight minutes ago."

"Oh," he said, deciding to ignore the questionable practice of timing his eating habits. "No, it's good. I just got caught up in the story an' forgot to eat."

She raised an eyebrow slightly, and Trip got the distinct impression that Vulcans never forgot to eat. "I see."

"My sister sent me this new book everyone back home is talkin' about."

"I will leave you to read."

"Nah, it's fine. How's your readin'?"

She seemed to think for a moment before sitting across from him. "I am compiling a list of human idioms with explication."

"For the Vulcan database?"

"Yes. I believe it could be helpful in promoting mutually understanding conversation. If you do not object, I believe it could benefit from your review."

"Sure, I'll take a look."

She pressed a couple of buttons on the screen and the Vulcan characters transformed into English. "Press here to scroll down."

He wasn't surprised to see that T'Pol had alphabetized the list.

Achilles' heel: weakness, particularly a fatal weakness

Hoshi's casual use of that phrase had started T'Pol's study of the ancient Greeks. Luckily for the subcommander, Malcolm was able to explain The Iliad in detail. This, of course, was after Hoshi explained that she didn't really think derelict ships had heels, or feet at all for that matter.

And I'm a monkey's uncle: what you have said is impossible

Oddly enough, when T'Pol heard Jon say that, she focused on the uncle aspect, since Jon's file clearly stated he was an only child. Trip would've though the monkey part would have been more confusing, unless there was someone on Vulcan spreading rumors that humans adopted monkeys. Which, come to think of it, could explain the attitude of one technical advisor Trip had worked with.

Bite your tongue/ Hold your tongue: do not speak

Trip remembered the first time T'Pol had overheard that in the mess hall. She'd been just ahead of him in line and asked, "Commander, why does Ensign Zucker wish Ensign Palmer to bite her tongue? That is an ill-advised action." Still, that was easier to explain than her next question: "Why did he not simply tell her to cease speaking?"

Vulcans just thought differently than humans.

Break a leg: wishes for a desirable outcome; analogous to 'good luck'

"I take it Vulcans already know about luck," noted Trip.

"Yes. We do not believe in it, but we are familiar with your conception of it."

He hadn't thought Vulcans would believe in luck.

Call it a day: put aside one's work, as in the conclusion of a day's duties

T'Pol's conversation with Jon about that had once provided Trip with decent entertainment with his dessert:

"Is it not, in fact, night, Captain?"

"Yes, but it's the end of the day's work."

"At night. It would be more appropriate to call it a duty shift."

"I didn't come up with the phrase, Subcommander."

"You do not appear concerned about spreading this incorrect use of your language."

"I'm not an English teacher."


Caught red-handed: apprehended in the act of committing a misdeed

When T'Pol asked why a hand would be red, Trip wasn't entirely sure. He guessed it might be a hand covered in blood. In that case, a Vulcan would be caught green-handed. Somehow, that didn't have the same ring to it.

Cry me a river: (sardonic) your circumstances do not merit your complaints

T'Pol's first response on hearing that particular phrase had been, "That is physically impossible for all species with whose physiology I am familiar."

Do not look a gift horse in the mouth: it is improper to critique gifts

"I think you've only got half the point of 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth," said Trip.

"What is the other half?"

"Appreciatin' what you've been given."

"Even the 'gifts of fate' to which Lieutenant Reed referred?"

"Especially those."

"Very well." She reached for the padd and started typing. "I am adding 'and one should show proper appreciation for gifts and favorable circumstances.'"

"That covers it."

"Thank you."


Trip took a bite of fruit salad while waiting for T'Pol to return the padd. He cracked a smile when he saw the next phrase.

Downright Newtonian: (used exclusively by engineering personnel) extremely outdated

Hess's favorite expression had made the list. She used it so often that it was really catching on in Trip's department.

Fever of a horse: (French) abnormally high body temperature

Trip hadn't heard that one, but Crewman Breaux was sometimes quite literal in his translations.

Fubar: acronym for 'fouled up beyond all repair'

"Uh, Subcommander, I think someone gave you the edited version on this one."

She looked at the phrase he was pointing to. "How so?"

"How familiar are you with our swear words by now?"


"So you can probably figure out which f word this really is." For some reason saying that f word around T'Pol would feel like using it in front of his grandma or mom, and Trip really didn't want to analyze the implications of that.

"Yes," she said, taking the padd for a quick edit before handing it back to him.

Go MacIntyre: (Boomer) to become so overconfident in one's abilities that one takes needless risks; refers to Jeffery MacIntyre of the ECS Athena

Jeffery MacIntyre's ship was lost with all hands when he foolishly engaged a small fleet of pirate ships. According to Travis, Boomer parents used the example of MacIntyre as an example similar to Trip's father's favorite saying: "Don't get cocky, it might get rocky."

Good on you: (Australian) you have done well; analogous to 'good for you'

When Trip was first told that by Lieutenant O'Hara, he'd been a bit distracted and very nearly asked, "On me? Where?"

Have a cow: express extreme displeasure

According to Rostov, who'd come into Engineering one morning laughing, T'Pol and Ensign Villay had been discussing that in the turbolift. T'Pol wanted to know how possession of a bovine related to emotional outbursts. Villay had then tried to explain it actually meant give birth to a cow. Rostov related the subcommander's response as, "Her eyebrows flew up and she said, 'It is not possible for a human to give birth to a bovine.' Then poor Villay was trying to explain that it's just a saying, and she wanted to know what's so unique about cows and how they're related to emotional outbursts. Then," Rostov had paused to laugh again, "Then she wanted to know if the idiom came from an experiment where a human tried to give birth to a cow!"

Clearly, Vulcans didn't have a very high opinion of human science.

Have a field day: derive great enjoyment from a task

T'Pol had learned this one just that morning in the briefing. Scans had located an unusual ecosystem, and once Jon approved a mission Trip had casually noted that T'Pol's department was going to have a field day.

She's turned to him as though he were particularly slow on the uptake that morning. "As I stated, Commander, this is an unusual rainforest. The mission will, therefore, be a rainforest day."

Hit below the belt: commit an immoral and/or illegal act as a tactical strategy

T'Pol's response to that had been, "I have seen multiple Starfleet personnel hit below where a belt would be worn." That was early on, before she learned to accept that not all sayings could be explained logically. (Or rather, than not every saying could be explained logically by crewmembers. Some of them made more sense when she did research.)

In a tick: (British) in a very short time

During one boring stretch of space, Crewman Cutler had heard Malcolm say 'in a tick' and was momentarily hopeful that there might be a bug she could study.

It is raining cats and dogs: the rain is falling very hard

T'Pol hadn't even known where to start on that one. Trip and Hoshi had spent an entire shuttlepod ride back trying to explain it to her. She'd only been somewhat reassured when they told her nobody (at least anymore) thought that cats and dogs actually fell out of the sky.

Apparently, if Vulcans even had idioms, they kept them carefully up-to-date with current science.

Keep your shirt on: an admonition demanding patience

Unfortunately, Trip had been unable to explain to T'Pol where that phrase originated. "Did you ever find out what this comes from?" he asked.

She glanced at where he was in the list. "Dr. Phlox investigated the origins of that idiom when he was on Earth. According to his research, it dates to your nineteenth century, when men wore stiff shirts. In order to fight, a man had to first remove his shirt. Thus 'keep your shirt on' was an exhortation to remain calm and not resort to physical violence."

Privately, Trip thought that maybe if Vulcans had starched shirts, Surak might've approved.

Like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs: (southern American) exceedingly apprehensive

He suspected he was the only person on board who used that one.

Like the cat who caught the canary: exceedingly proud of one's self

According to Malcolm, when T'Pol first heard that, she suggested that perhaps a larger avian would be more challenging for a feline, and thus more appropriate for extreme pride. Trip was guessing Vulcans didn't keep birds as pets.

Looking for a needle in a haystack: attempting a highly improbable feat

A few weeks back, Jon had explained that one to their first officer. He later told Trip, "She suggested that a simple scanner would make the task easily accomplished."

Mad as a wet hen/ Madder than a wet hen: exceedingly irate

That was another memorable one. Trip had commented that Malcolm was madder than a wet hen because Trip had refused his latest proposal on the grounds that it could short out power to half a deck. (The two of them had distinctly different ideas of what constituted acceptable risk.)

"Are barnyard fowl known for their anger when wet, Commander?" T'Pol had asked.

"Uh, it's just a sayin.'"

"You have a great many sayings. How does a hen behave when wet, and how does Lieutenant Reed's reaction exceed that?"

He'd admitted, "I've never actually seen a wet hen, Subcommander."

T'Pol had arched an eyebrow and concluded, "Your sayings are peculiar."

Trip would have liked to have argued that they made perfect sense if you grew up with them, but he figured it was a losing battle and saved his breath.

Mind your peas and queues: be on your best behavior

"We use the letters here," said Trip, pointing to the phrase. "Not the words." It was an understandable mistake.

"That does not make the idiom more logical."

"Wasn't sayin' it does, Subcommander."

Not worth a damn: without value

T'Pol had asked what the monetary value of an average-sized damn was. It took everyone a minute to figure out that she meant the water-retaining kind of dam.

Quiet as a church mouse: very quiet

Trip had entered the gym in time to hear Travis say, "I don't know, Subcommander. There aren't any churches between Draylax and Vega Colony. Or mice, for that matter."

T'Pol had therefore turned to Trip and asked, "Commander Tucker, have you any experience with church mice?"

"Nope. Believe me, Grandma an' the other ladies would've been scandalized if there was a mouse settin' up house in the church."

"Perhaps that is why a church mouse would need to be silent," she'd suggested. Trip figured that was as good an explanation as any.

Sick as a dog: Extremely ill

Trip hadn't seen or heard about T'Pol's reaction to that, but he was pretty sure it would've been something along the lines of, "Are canines prone to serious illness?"

Sleep on it: consider an idea overnight

One evening Trip had entered the mess hall for a snack just in time to hear T'Pol ask Hoshi, "How will sleeping on your padd improve your translation attempts? Would that not result in lessened sleep quality?" That had Trip envisioning Hoshi as the princess with the pea. Hoshi was not amused. At least T'Pol left before he had to start explaining fairy tales to her.

Smell like a rose: appear to be ideal and untainted
That came up during a movie night that T'Pol had (rather reluctantly) attended. After the film, she asked, "Is it not human females, not males, who use artificial scents that mimic floral aromas?"

When explaining that, Trip had learned that Vulcans didn't even like the smell of roses. Apparently it was a similar smell to a very poisonous plant on Vulcan. Go figure.

Stick it to the man: act contrary to the interests of authority figures (with particular emphasis on governmental or corporate authority)

Explaining that, Trip was told, had not been fun, and Travis had accidentally brought it on himself when he recommended a book to the subcommander. The book contained 'stick it to the man,' which resulted in T'Pol wanting to know what 'it' was, to what man it was being stuck, and why this action was being taken.

Strike while the iron is hot: act when an appropriate opportunity arises

That one, at least, had been easy enough for T'Pol to reason out, once she reminded Malcolm that they did not have iron on board, as it was ill-suited for interstellar travel.

Tastes like chicken: (humorous) a common human response to new foods, particularly meat

"I don't think you've quite got the funny part," he told her, tapping the line on the padd.

"I do not understand why it is humorous."

"Well, see, there's this tradition of comparin' meat to chicken..."

"Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Mayweather explained. I simply fail to see humor in the comment, a frequent occurrence."

"Okay then."

Throw out the baby with the bathwater: eliminate the positive along with the negative

Trip had overheard Hoshi explaining that one to T'Pol, who was at first alarmed that humans might be discarding their children in such a manner.

Turn over a new leaf:

"You don't have a definition for this one," he noted, indicating the phrase.

"It has not been explained to me."

"Well, turnin' over a new leaf is when you decide to make a lot of changes in your life. Like my cousin Lee; five or six years ago he went back to school, got a better job, and quit drinkin' alcohol. So we say he turned over a new leaf."

"This implies positive changes, does it not?"

Trip thought for a few seconds before concluding, "I don't think I've ever heard it used for negative changes."

T'Pol took the padd and typed for a moment before handing it back to him.

Turn over a new leaf: make positive life changes

"If you don't mind my askin,' what did you think when you heard that?"

She gave him one of her inscrutable looks. "I wondered why Crewman Gilmore was so pleased that his sister was reorienting foliage."

With some effort, Trip managed not to burst out laughing.

Two cents' worth: personal opinion

When T'Pol first heard that phrase, she nearly caused Jon to choke on his peas and carrots. She was having dinner with Trip and Jon when Trip happened to use the expression. Once he'd explained what it meant, T'Pol looked at him, cocked her head ever so slightly, and said, "Does that not imply that you believe your opinion to have a very low monetary value?" For a second there, Trip had worried he'd need to use the Heimlich on Jon.

Up a creek without a paddle: in a challenging situation without proper equipment

Trip, knowing Vulcan was mainly a desert planet, had told T'Pol that might be like being lost in the desert without water or sunglasses. It turned out Vulcans had inner eyelids which eliminated the need for sunglasses and all Vulcans were taught how to locate water sources in the desert. That was fair enough, but T'Pol went on to suggest that perhaps if finding oneself in a creek was a common situation, it would be wise to teach children how to make paddles.

Trip hadn't known how to respond to that, and Malcolm's silent laughter had not helped.

Whole nine yards: sparing no effort

That phrase lost something when Phlox tried to use it. Somehow, conversion to meters ruined the effect.

Wolf in sheep's clothing: antagonist disguised as a protagonist

T'Pol had felt compelled to point out that neither wolves nor sheep wore clothing. Travis had explained the idea of a wolf dressing as a sheep to hunt among them, and T'Pol then announced that the metaphor was flawed because wolves lack the intelligence and opposable thumbs necessary for such an elaborate deception. It was an interesting briefing.

X-rated: sexually explicit

He wasn't brave enough to ask what Vulcans thought of X-rated material.

"Looks good, Subcommander," he said, handing the padd back. "We must sound crazy to you sometimes, huh?"

"I have learned that most often that implies an idiom with which I am not familiar. Thank you for your time, Commander."

Trip stabbed a hunk of cantaloupe, then asked her retreating figure, "Wait a minute - most often?"

She stopped, cocked her head slightly, and explained, "There are times when no amount of explanation renders your discussions logical."

He didn't care for the implications of that, but before he could say anything T'Pol was gone. Trip shook his head slightly. "Vulcans are just so literal," he muttered to himself before going back to his book.




late as always...the whole nine yards refers to the length of the 50 cal. belts of machine gun bullets that certain US fighter planes (WW2 vintage) contained. it implied that the pilot had given the enemy the whole length.

baby with the bathwater goes back to England when a real bath was taken but once a year and in age sequence. lets just say by the time the youngest "bathed" the water was not so clean and care had to be taken that the "baby" was not tossed with the bathwater... 


Silverbullet, "jumping the shark" is a reference to a Happy Days episode that was clearly written to garner ratings and not much else; it involved Fonzie jumping over a shark on waterskis.  The quality of Happy Days as a show took a dramatic downturn after that.  In idiomatic usage, it means the point at which a television show (or something similar, such as a book series) crosses the line from being occasionally annoying to being just bad.

Rognar the Pendantic

Loved the story, quite funny.

A field day however is marine slang for a day spent lazing around, sewing rips in uniforms, polishing boots, stripping down your rifle for maintanance, and other light and easy duties that do not require the presence of senior NCO's or officers. Usually little is accomplished but hanging around and shooting the breeze. As opposed to a regular day of duty, running, marching, digging holes, chipping rust, scrubbing pots and all the other fun stuff that everyone hates.

So when someone has a field day, they mean a little vacation from the usual authority. As in 'the boss is sick, so the employees are having a field day.'




:D Hilarious! So typical, too. I can imagine Soval arching an eyebrow at some of those. LOL>


really comic. From someone who has already passed for similar situations, I can feel how hard was for T'Pol to understand the correct meaning.


Very good. I love all the expressions you used and I believe that if you dig deep enough most all old expressions make sense.


Used to say "That and a dime will get you a cup of coffee." Course will have to update the cost a bit

Malcom might say "Taking the Mickey out of it"  or "You're Joking of course." British women who wanted to embarass a male would  say "Do WHAT?????" when I wa young a favorite saying was "Your Mother's Mustache."

Lady Rainbow

BWAHAHAHA!!! i love this! And I can see how T'Pol would be confused by this. 

My husband and father-in-law are Southern (like Trip) and they've used expressions that I was like, "????" before they explained 'em to me. Like, "Yeah, and a cup of coffee costs fifty cents at the local 7-11." (A response to something that's supposed to be impressive, but not. Like, "Well, DUH!")

Great story! (Sequel??) :p


This was so entertaining. Seeing Vulcans take the idioms literally and try to find logic is quite hiarious, as are the explanations of what they really mean. A cute interlude for our favorite crew. I'm sure most expressions have a meaningful origin which over the years have simply been lost yet we still use it to add colour to our speech.


Human idioms really don't make much sense, do they? Thanks for another great story!


This story was a lot of fun.  It's understable that Human idioms would be very confusing for T'Pol or any member of another species.  It's to her credit that she's willing to document these colorful phrases to further interspecies communication.  Either that or she just wants to show everybody back on Vulcan what she's had to put up with, living on a ship full of crazy Humans.

This was the perfect story for a Sunday afternoon. Thank you.


I think Highlander and I are asking for part II!  Can I add "Don't bite my head off," and "The S&*% hitting the fan," to the list?  :p


Awesome story.  I think you left one ot two out: SNAFU, Go Fly A Kite, Go Jump In A Lake, Whatever Floats Your Boat. Anyway, I could see T'Pol been confused on some of these.  :D


Distracted, I noticed that but I had to reread several times to catch on that's what was going on. It wasn't clear to me, but maybe that's my fault.


Excellent and very amusing.

@honeybee. I may have missed them, but I don't see any passages in this story done from T'Pol's POV.  It's entirely Trip's POV throughout.  The sentences expressing T'Pol's viewpoint are all "as told to Trip", ie: something she said in his hearing or in someone else's hearing who then reported it to Trip.


Good for a nice laygh.  My mother always used 'mind your p's and q's; and I remember my reaction as a kid trying to figure out what she meant.  Your quiet as a church mouse scenerio' was got a lol.  Thanks for starting my day off with some much needed humir.


Absoutely marvelous.

Reminds me that I  have no idea of modern dioms used by the young. Still not sure what "Jump the shark Means."

Loved T-Pol's reactions and the atttempts f the huumans to explain.


Perfect!   Perfect!  Perfect!  You put in "don't have a cow!" This was exactly what I would imagine this kind of interaction to be like.  Very funny.


Very amusing.  :p


A great idea and story. I also learned a lot from reading this fic! Glad to see another story of your hand, JadziaKathryn.


This is just a lovely idea for a fic - and you really nail the characters. One writing note: I have no problem with multiple points of view in a fic and do it myself, but the jumping from Trip and T'Pol's different POVs is very confusing at times here.I had to reread a few times to figure out whose head I was in. But again, lovely dialogue and funny concept. A delighttful confection.


That's a nice one.

I really laught out loud when you came up with the 'have a cow' point... just great :D

Thank you very much for this. :)


Oh thank you this is one of the most perfect things I have ever read. I'm glad I inspired it. Even though it was a complete accident. I have to admit it's creepy because I was reading and all I could think is OMG I'm T'Pol. Some people just can't help it. Seriously though this was brilliant. Kudos Bravo and more please...

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