Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A "Nose" for Language - VOA

Nose to the Grindstone


Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

A person’s nose is important for breathing and smelling. The nose is also used in many popular expressions.

Some people are able to lead other people by the nose. For example, if a wife leads her husband by the nose, she makes him do whatever she wants him to do.

Some people are said to be hard-nosed. They will not change their opinions or positions on anything. If someone is hard-nosed, chances are he will never pay through the nose, or pay too much money, for an object or service.

It is always helpful when people keep their nose out of other people’s business. They do not interfere. The opposite of this is someone who noses around all the time. This kind of person is interested in other people’s private matters. He is considered nosey.

Someone who keeps his nose to the grindstone works very hard. This can help a worker keep his nose clean or stay out of trouble.

One unusual expression is that is no skin off my nose. This means that a situation does not affect or concern me. We also say that sometimes a person cuts off his nose to spite his face. That is, he makes a situation worse for himself by doing something foolish because he is angry.

More problems can develop if a person looks down his nose at someone or something. The person acts like something is unimportant or worthless. This person might also turn up his nose at something that he considers not good enough. This person thinks he is better than everyone else. He has his nose in the air.

In school, some students thumb their nose at their teacher. They refuse to obey orders or do any work. Maybe these students do not know the correct answers. My mother always told me, if you study hard, the answers should be right under your nose or easily seen.

I think we have explained the nose expressions. What about ears? Well, I hope you are all ears or very interested in hearing more expressions. We might even put a bug in your ear or give you an idea about something. We also advise you to keep your ear to the ground. This means to be interested in what is happening around you and what people are thinking.

If you are a good person, you will lend an ear to your friends. You will listen to them when they have a problem they need to talk about. Our last expression is to play it by ear. This has two meanings. One is to play a song on a musical instrument by remembering the tune and not by reading the music. Play it by ear also means to decide what to do at the last minute instead of making detailed plans.

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This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Jill Moss. I’m Faith Lapidus.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Water Expressions" from VOA's "Words and Their Stories"





Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Expressions about water are almost as common as water itself. But many of the expressions using water have unpleasant meanings.

The expression ”to be in hot water” is one of them. It is a very old expression. “Hot water” was used five-hundred years ago to mean being in trouble. One story says it got that meaning from the custom of throwing extremely hot water down on enemies attacking a castle.

That no longer happens. But we still get in “hot water.” When we are in “hot water,” we are in trouble. It can be any kind of trouble -- serious or not so serious. A person who breaks a law can be in hot water with the police. A young boy can be in hot water with his mother, if he walks in the house with dirty shoes.

Being in “deep water” is almost the same as being in hot water. When you are in deep water, you are in a difficult position. Imagine a person who cannot swim being thrown in water over his head.

You are in deep water when you are facing a problem that you do not have the ability to solve. The problem is too deep. You can be in deep water, for example, if you invest in stocks without knowing anything about the stock market.

“To keep your head above water” is a colorful expression that means staying out of debt. A company seeks to keep its head above water during economic hard times. A man who loses his job tries to keep his head above water until he finds a new job.

“Water over the dam” is another expression about a past event. It is something that is finished. It cannot be changed. The expression comes from the idea that water that has flowed over a dam cannot be brought back again.

When a friend is troubled by a mistake she has made, you might tell her to forget about it. You say it is water over the dam.

Another common expression, “to hold water,” is about the strength or weakness of an idea or opinion that you may be arguing about. It probably comes from a way of testing the condition of a container. If it can hold water, it is strong and has no holes in it.

If your argument can hold water, it is strong and does not have any holes. If it does not hold water, then it is weak and not worth debating.

“Throwing cold water” also is an expression that deals with ideas or proposals. It means to not like an idea. For example, you want to buy a new car because the old one has some problems. But your wife “throws cold water” on the idea because she says a new car costs too much.

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This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Christiano. I’m Rich Kleinfeld.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Fish Expressions in the English Langauge" from VOA.




Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

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Americans use many expressions about fish and fishing. For example, if something sounds fishy, it may not be true. Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water when I go to a party and everyone but me is doing the latest dance. When I ask my friend if she likes my new dress, I would like her to say something nice. In other words, I am fishing for a compliment. You might tell someone to fish or cut bait if he repeatedly attempts to do something he is unable to do.

Sometimes a lawyer will ask a witness many questions in an effort to discover the facts of a court case. This is called going on a fishing expedition.

Some expressions involve different kinds of fish. Information that is used to draw attention away from the real facts of a situation is called a red herring. If you want to express a feeling of surprise, you might cry "holy mackerel!" although we do not know why a mackerel is holy.

Once I went to a county fair and tried my luck with a game of chance. It was so easy; it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then I went on the fastest, highest and most frightening ride: the roller coaster. At the end of the ride, I did not feel so well. A friend said I looked green around the gills.

I grew up in a small town where everybody knew about my life. There were times when I thought I was living in a fishbowl. So I moved to Washington, where things were different.

Now I take the train to work every day during rush hour when many other people travel to their jobs. Sometimes the train is so crowded that we are packed in like sardines. Sardines are tiny fish that lie close to each other in cans.

One man who works in my office is a cold fish. He is unfriendly and does not like to join us at office parties. Another man in my office likes to enjoy alcoholic drinks at parties. In fact, you might say he drinks like a fish. We need to help him stop drinking.

Last week, my sister's car broke down as we were driving to a friend's marriage ceremony. "This is a fine kettle of fish," I said. "Now we will be late."

My sister attends a small college where she is one of the smartest students. She always wants to be a big fish in a small pond. Recently, my sister broke up with her boyfriend. I told her not to worry, she will find another one because there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

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This VOA Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find more WORDS AND THEIR STORIES at voaspecialenglish.com.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Mouthing Off" from VOA




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Now, the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories.

People use their mouths for many things. They eat, talk, shout and sing. They smile and they kiss. In the English language, there are many expressions using the word mouth. But some of them are not so nice.

For example, if you say bad things about a person, the person might protest and say “Do not bad mouth me.”

Sometimes, people say something to a friend or family member that they later regret because hurts that person’s feelings. Or they tell the person something they were not supposed to tell.

The speaker might say: “I really put my foot in my mouth this time.” If this should happen, the speaker might feel “down in the mouth.” In other words, he might feel sad for saying the wrong thing.

Another situation is when someone falsely claims another person said something. The other person might protest: “I did not say that. Do not put words in my mouth.”

Information is often spread through “word of mouth.” This is general communication between people, like friends talking to each other. “How did you hear about that new movie?” someone might ask. “Oh, by word of mouth.” A more official way of getting information is through a company or government “mouthpiece.” This is an official spokesperson. Government-run media could also be called a “mouthpiece.”

Sometimes when one person is speaking, he says the same thing that his friend was going to say. When this happens, the friend might say: “You took the words right out of my mouth!” Sometimes a person has a bad or unpleasant experience with another person. He might say that experience “left a bad taste in my mouth.” Or the person might have had a very frightening experience, like being chased by an angry dog. He might say: “I had my heart in my mouth.”

Some people have lots of money because they were born into a very rich family. There is an expression for this, too. You might say such a person “was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

This rich person is the opposite of a person who lives “from hand to mouth.” This person is very poor and only has enough money for the most important things in life, like food.

Parents might sometimes withhold sweet food from a child as a form of punishment for saying bad things. For example, if a child says things she should not say to her parents, she might be described as “a mouthy child.” The parents might even tell the child “to stop mouthing off.”

But enough of all this talk. I have been “running my mouth” long enough.

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WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, in VOA Special English, was written by Jill Moss. I’m Faith Lapidus.