Their primary goals are chalk and cheese.


This is a line from a student’s written assignment:
‘The companies’ goals and the ways of achieving them are chalk and cheese.’

Is it possible to use the expression ‘be (like) chalk and cheese’ or ‘be as different as chalk and cheese’ to describe things? As far as I understand the expression is usually used to describe people.

Thank you in advance.

“chalk and cheese” is not restricted to people. To judge your sentence it would be helpful to have more information about the point of difference, but I think it would work, for example, if the goals are ostensibly highly ethical, and yet the companies’ actual practices are unethical, or something like that.

Hello Dozy,

The task is to write the Recommendation section of a report.The sentence under discussion is from the Background part of the report.
Two companies have merged, but sales representatives of the two previously independent companies work differently - one team plays by the book, the other is quite aggressive and bends the rules all the time.
Managing Director had to call an emergency meeting to work out a set of new guidelines to stimulate collaboration between the two teams.

Right, I initially read it that the two things being compared were “the companies’ goals” and “the companies’ ways of achieving them”, whereas it seems they are actually “company A’s goals and the ways of achieving them” and “company B’s goals and the ways of achieving them”. Probably in the full context it would be clear that the latter was meant.

To answer your original question, I don’t see any problem using the expression “chalk and cheese” there. It may not be suitable in a super-formal context, but in most everyday and business situations it would be OK.

Thank you very much indeed.

This is an interesting expression. I must say it is very rare on this side of the Atlantic - as an American I have never heard it.

It looks like it’s specifically British English (I didn’t actually know that).

Not have I.

About 30 years ago, I ran across the phrase “at sixes and sevens” in a song lyric, and asked my mother about it, She told me that she hadn’t heard it since the 1930s, but it was common enough then. It seems to have much the same meaning.

I think there are a lot of phrases like this, hidden in closets and alcoves, and when someone dusts it off and uses it well, others are seduced by the term, and use it themselves.

Right now, I’m reading a Dick Francis novel, and the protagonist has a clue on his answering machine. It’s in Cockney rhyming slang, and he’s unable to decipher it, and the guy who left the message is dead.

“When you take the materials from the closet, you should dust it off before using.”
Is this sentence OK?

“materials” is plural, so “it” should become “them”

Because you’re using “it”, it almost sounds like it’s saying to dust off the closet.

In print, the nly "closet’ references I’ve ever seen referred to built-in storage. However, when talking, a lot of people, especially older people (meaning born in 1935 or before) refer to certain storage furniture as a closet.

So I’m going to offer a couple of sentences, depending on what you intend.

  1. Dust off the closet before removing material you need.
  2. Material from the closet should be dusted off before use.

Using “dust” instead of “dust off” is OK in those sentences, since there is no ambiguity. However, since “dusting” can also mean applying a dust (such as facial powder or an insecticide), one must decide whether it safe to omit “off” on a case-by-case basis.