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July 17 , 2003

Slang of the Week: like white on rice (adverbial phrase)
very closely

When Krispy Kreme Donuts opened their first shop in Boston this summer, the locals were on it like white on rice.

Celebrity quote:
“We wanted an unknown actor which is what we got… A few weeks later Speed came out and turned Keanu into a star. All of a sudden the studio that had been leaving us blissfully alone descended upon us like white on rice and all of a sudden we were being made to include things. One of the questions that came up was, 'Can you include a bus in it?'!”
-Science fiction author William Gibson, explaining why the film adaptation of his short story Johnny Mnemonic was not a good movie

Before moving to Boston many years ago, I had never heard this expression, and figured it must be a regional phrase. However, I learned later that it is actually more associated with the South than the North. My roommate, originally from Virginia, had brought it up with her.

Other similar expressions are better known. For example, most people are familiar with the vintage phrase like a cat on a hot tin roof (nervous) from the Tennessee Williams play and anyone who didn’t know like a bat out of hell (fast) learned it in 1977 when once-famous singer Meatloaf released a hit album of the same name. More recently, like a big dog (intensely) became popular in the 1980s with college students.

Like white on rice dates from the same decade, but it got its most famous use in the mid nineties. That’s when Sharon Stone said that if Bill Clinton had not been married, she would have “been on him like white on rice.” I imagine Bill was delighted to hear about her recent decision to divorce.

What’s new at Slang City?
This week, Slang city invites you to revisit the pain and agony of your childhood. Remember those cherished days of schoolyard taunts with Cruel Childhood Nicknames in our INSULT department. (Includes pronunciation in realistic bully voice!)