Make Your Editor Cry: Curve Your Enthusiasm vs. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Make Your Editor Cry: Curve Your Enthusiasm vs. Curb Your Enthusiasm

In this idiom, the appropriate definition of curb is an edging (as of concrete) built along a street to form part of a gutter. The misuse of curve is most likely defined as to have or take a turn, change, or deviation from a straight line or plane surface without sharp breaks or angularity. People who misuse this idiom and suggest “curving” your enthusiasm assume that enthusiasm should somehow be reduced or diminished by taking some other than direct route.

To understand this idiom, context and origin is important.

In the late 1990s in New York City and other urban areas throughout New England, governments posted prominent signs in areas of high pedestrian congestion that read “PLEASE! CURB YOUR DOG.” These signs were primarily intended to instruct pet owners to lead their dog(s)—or any pet, really—off the sidewalk where people walked, and over to the curb, as in into the gutter beside the curb, so that the animal could go poddy there and not on the sidewalk.

In October of 2000, producer Larry David aired the pilot episode of a show he titled, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” His intended meaning was much the same as the public signs. He was, in essence, asking people to take their enthusiasm out of the public areas and over to the curb so that their enthusiasm could excrete some waste where it would not impede foot traffic.

In TV interviews, David explained the show’s title as reflecting his perception that many people seem to live their lives projecting false enthusiasm, which he believed they used to imply that “they are better than you.” This attitude conflicted with David’s dry style and fatalistic secular worldview.

NOTE: It may or may not be important to realize that I have never seen a single episode of this show in my lifetime, and likely never will.

So, the bottom line with this idiom is this. Leading one’s enthusiasm over to the curb so that it can take a poddy break is very different than leading it on a curving path. Enthusiasm is likely not diminished by taking it on a curved versus a direct route.

As much as I find this entire thing personally distasteful, the correct expression should be “curb your enthusiasm.”

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