Useful Everyday English Expressions and Vocabulary with the Word ‘Under’

Water under a bridge


In the blog I wrote last month, I pointed out some interesting and common English expressions that are formed using the preposition over as a key component. This time, I'd like to do the same in the case of expressions that feature the preposition that bears the opposite meaning: under. The number of examples to be found with regard to the latter are indeed just as plentiful.

There are certainly ways in which we can define the types of semantic features that expressions that use the word under share, despite the fact that they are so diverse in nature. Attached to the word under, there is of course the obvious connotation of a low physical positioning, something which can be adapted in a metaphorical sense to create new meaning. For instance, if you heard the common expression "water under a bridge," the physical reference to water in relation to the bridge would be immediately obvious, even though - prior to it being explained to you - you may not understand the metaphorical significance of the phrase. What it actually implies is a sense of a past event no longer being relevant to the present and therefore not being worthy of further mention or discussion. It is often used in a context of forgetting certain mistakes made in the past and also forgiving those who committed them.

A less obvious reference to the physical concept of one object, element or body being positioned below another crops up in the expression "to slip under the radar," which means to go unnoticed. It may not come as a surprise, however, that the phrase comes from the period in which the Second World War took place. The concept of radar, as a technological tool for tracking enemy planes, was invented by the British shortly before the outbreak of war, and was a considerable asset to their war effort. Undoubtedly, with the quantity of German planes that were headed for Britain's shores on bombing raids, not all of them could be monitored at the one time and shot down from the skies. The planes could just as feasibly have flown at an altitude that was above that of the positioning of British radar systems at a given moment in time (thereby escaping detection), as opposed to below. However, for one reason or another, the expression came to be coined as "slip under the radar" and remains as such up to the present day.


Under the weather


The use of the preposition under in idiomatic fashion can also relate to the concept of lowliness in the context of perceived inferiority or feebleness. If an individual is not expected to do well in a competition, due to either a lack of skills or experience vis-à-vis their rival competitors, they may be described as "the underdog." This contrasts with a similar sounding pair of words that have the opposite meaning: top dog. This refers to an individual whose skill set is regarded as being superior to that of the rest and who is expected to win a particular contest.

On the other hand, if someone is not feeling their best (possibly due to suffering from a cold or flu) they may describe themselves as being "under the weather." For me, this conjures up the image of someone standing under a raincloud and getting drenched!

Did you find this blog helpful for understanding the link between the word under and specific concepts? Next month, I will move on to talk about phrases and idioms that make reference to human body parts (ears, eyes, nose, etc.). Like the other types of references we have seen, they are very diverse and interesting.


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