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Newsletter February 08 - 2004FREE email English course

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Head expressions

Now that the New Year has started, I wonder how many of the resolutions that I described in the last newsletter you are sticking to. As I mentioned at the end of that letter I said I''d decide to be more decisive and my decision is that I shan''t be making any! This could be interpreted as "burying my head in the sand" — refusing to accept a situation and choosing to ignore it. And that brings me to an interesting topic concerning the use of that clever little four letter word "head". Not surprisingly considering how important it is to the rest of our anatomy, you can imagine how often it occurs in expressions in English.

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If you simply make no progress in an argument or you try to do something again and again without success you find yourself "banging your head against a brick wall" — not something to be recommended. The other end of the head, in a manner of speaking is the tail. So if you are trying to put together a piece of furniture that has been delivered to your house in a so called flat pack and it just doesn''t make sense because part 24 simply won''t fit into part 56, you may well find that you "can''t make head nor tail of it". In the end you decide to toss a coin in the air and agree in advance that the side it lands on will dictate what you do next. You ask yourself the question: "Heads or tails"?

The head of course is at the top and is an indication of the sort of person you are… You can be said to have "your head screwed on the right way" — you are sensible. To "have a good head on your shoulders" means you are not only sensible but also clever at the same time. When people say you "have a good head for figures", they mean you are good at mathematics or you can work out how much tax you ought to pay. If you don''t panic, then you "have a level head or are levelheaded". And that last word illustrates one of the fascinating or if you like confusing things about the language in that what you thought was a simple straightforward noun can suddenly take on another grammatical function. "Where are you headed/heading"? Means where are you going/in what direction are you going? This year people in the United States are wondering which presidential candidate is "heading for victory". The unfortunate ship The Titanic "was heading for disaster" because it was about to crash into a huge iceberg. Then again this word pops up as an adjective "heady". We use this to describe something exhilarating, intoxicating or elating. You would expect a "heady argument" to come from the mouth of Einstein. If you drink too much of a "heady wine", it might well "go to your head" (affect your clarity of thinking) or make you feel confused so that you don''t know whether you''re "on your head or your feet".

Apart from being sensible or able, you can also show to others another side of your behaviour. You can (and I''m not too sure how this is physically possible) "talk through the back of your head" — talk nonsense. Then people might say as a result that your "need your head examining" or that you are completely crazy and you are "off your head". Comments like that made to the sensitive may have them "hang their heads" — feel ashamed. Other emotions can also play their part. A couple are "head over heels in love" —deeply in love with each other. Their two sets of parents perhaps "put their heads together" (discuss the situation), "scratch their heads" (can''t understand why their children feel as they do) think the two of them are "weak in the head" (not thinking properly), want to "knock the love affair on the head" (put a stop to it) but remembering that they too were young once, decide to "give them their head" (let them do what they want).

"Off the top of my head" (without further research or thought), I was going to say that''s it but I''d forgotten the expressions to do with the removal of the head. "Talking your head off" is to talk incessantly. After an investigation into bad practices within a company or organisation when certain individuals have been found guilty and they find themselves in serious trouble, then the general feeling is that "heads will roll" — they will lose their jobs. And finally when you panic and act in a stupid way, you could be described as "losing your head". And this is what happened to Charles 1st (King of England, Scotland and Ireland 1600—1649) who rather foolishly wanted to rule without Parliament and caused the Civil War. Poor chap he lost his head both metaphorically and literally — he had his head cut off.

Alan Townend

Dear Friend,
If you have any questions or comments regarding this essay, please post your answers on the forum here: Use your head.

Many thanks.

Here comes 2004...Head expressions for you
Womens'' DayA spring in your step
Only three lettersNot really
Have a break!The name of the game
Good bye summerYour choice
In short 
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