‘It runs on the smell of an oily rag’ – intended to convey super efficiency of a machine, i.e. it’s so efficient it runs on just fumes, let alone the actual fuel.
It’s one of those phrases that we grew up on – no-one’s really sure where it came from, and no doubt it causes all sorts of grief when it’s translated into other languages.
Anyway, I’ve got no idea why the cliché popped into my head, but when it did I thought ‘time for a makeover’. Surely there’s a more contemporary, sophisticated, relevant and renewable phrase we can conjure to get the same meaning across?
So here are my top 12 attempts, for what they’re worth [and I’ve sanitised this as far as I’m willing to go – for any remaining offence I do apologise];
- Thin Air – sounds great but there will be a slew of physicists out there who’ll point out why this won’t work.
- Dirt – the rev heads will say ‘yeah you bet it runs on dirt, it flies mate!’… maybe not;
- Old Boots – might work but my mind says ‘I wonder how many old boots are actually available?’ And isn’t running in old boots kinda slow?
- The Swish of a Unicorn’s Tail – suitably rare, it might just work, but I wonder if it sounds too pink?
- Love and Fresh Air – a regular supply of either may be uncertain, one can end up being very expensive… maybe more complex than I first thought…
- Master Chef Tears – hang on… that’s a lot…
- Reality TV Integrity – sorry, can’t help it… it’s not the contestants’ fault..
- The Solar Feed-in Tariff – well, it is scarce and becoming more so, but perhaps the reference to something that is quite well known may confuse
- On a Bee’s Fart – assuming they even do, would no doubt be tiny. Possible candidate [‘missed it by a bee’s whisker’ has prepped us well]
- On the Breeze of a Bat’s Wing – not bad. Definitely light, but there’ll be a whole personality set trying to visualise how to build the contraption..
- On a Snowflake – I did read recently about some new invention [so claimed] that is able to catalyse sea water into hydrogen fuel [so claimed], so this one might just be within the realm of workable physics. And I like the poetry. Good candidate I think.
- On Moonlight – another good candidate. And according to this little article I found we may just have the tech to do this now. This invention is claimed to be able to focus even moonlight to generate electricity at night.
The combination of the hight tech potential, the beauty of the design, the ability to integrate this with building fabric, and the poetry of the moonlight connection – all make this one my favourite candidate.
Choosing the right language when promoting sustainability is half the challenge, so it doesn’t hurt to every now and again clean it up a little.
What would your favourite alternative be?