Idiomatic English Phrases Referring to Human Body Parts – Part 2


Hello again, my language buffs! Have you been progressing in your learning of English? Do you read something new every day (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.)? A wise teacher who taught me Spanish some years ago once remarked that reading is most effective form of improving your grasp of another language. I think that this has always held true in my case anyway. In this month's blog I would like to continue imparting some useful colloquial expressions that relate to the fascinating topic of human body parts! As if we were conducting an anatomical assessment, let's start from the top down. Have you ever heard of the expression to have a long face? If you heard a native speaker using this phrase, you might just assume that they were referring to the actual shape of someone's face, but you would most likely be incorrect. This expression in fact refers to a state of unhappiness that displays itself visibly on a person's face. I'm not sure that there is a logical physical explanation for the phrase (as an unhappy person does not necessarily have to open their mouth wide and stretch their face muscles to show how they're feeling!). However, when we smile we tend to stretch our face muscles in a horizontal direction rather than a vertical one, so perhaps for this reason the idea of feeling dissatisfied has come to be represented by the opposite : the concept of having 'a long face.' Just my humble opinion.

Long Face

If someone describes themselves as blue in the face saying something, they are indicating that they have said it too many times to someone who is clearly not listening to them and a feeling of frustration is starting to creep into their veins (hence the reference to blue, signifying a lack of blood flowing to the face)!

Someone who is capable of taking something on the chin is a person who is resilient and stoical in the face of unpleasant circumstances, whereas someone who is spineless is an individual who lacks courage and perhaps a degree of self-respect. In idiomatic usage, the word 'shoulder' can have either a positive or negative connotation... If you stand shoulder to shoulder with someone in relation to a particular cause, you stand firmly behind them (i.e. in support of them). However, if an individual or social group shoulders the burden in specific circumstances (e.g. a financial burden or a burden of responsibility for something or someone) this means that they have to take on an unfair and disproportionate amount of problems or duties.

Spineless

If you have your finger in every pie, you are an individual who has an interest in a great number of activities. This is an expression that is often used in praise of somebody who is talented and displays prowess in what they do. However, an alternative (slightly altered) version of the phrase inverts this meaning: to have your finger in too many pies. This implies that, far from being successful at the activities you are engaging in (e.g. business interests), you have overstretched yourself (taken on too much work) are unable to manage all of your affairs and are at risk of encountering serious problems, or even catastrophe...

 In arriving at the conclusion of what I think is a very interesting discussion topic with regards to the English language (or indeed any language), I would like to conclude this month's blog with two final body part related expressions, which refer to the lowest parts of the human body: to get cold feet and from top to toe. These two phrases certainly have very different meanings. The former relates to the idea of changing one's mind at the last minute or, at the very least, have serious doubts about  an activity or mission one is about to embark on. To my mind, the most common context in which the expression is used is in relation to serious relationships such as a couple that are thinking of getting married. A sample sentence might run as follows: "With one month to go before the wedding that had been planned for two years previously, the groom suddenly got cold feet and admitted to his wife-to-be that his heart wouldn't let him proceed with the plans." Lastly, the expression from top to toe invariably refers to individuals in a physical sense, serving as a means of describing someone's physical appearance (at a particular moment, e.g. the way they are dressed, the expression on their faces, the state of their skin). If someone is glowing from top to toe, they are radiating a sense of contentment, confidence and beauty through their bodily gestures and no doubt their smile. Whether a person is dressed glamorously or raggedly, wherever the expression is used in relation to clothing, it describes their (temporary) physical features as a whole (not merely referring to a single part of their body).

Cold Feet

I hope you have enjoyed reading the contents of this blog. I think it is the longest one I have written so far. Have you been able to follow everything? Do remember that if you have any suggestions about a particular topic you would like me to focus on in relation to English language learning, I would be most glad to hear from you! And, I regret to have to mention, if you are a spammer writing comments that are designed to look genuine, please remember that you are not fooling me or any of the other bloggers! We have our ways of recognising you 😉        

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