Now, you''re going to have to be patient with me for a few lines or as we say or anyhow as most people say nowadays, you''ll have to bear with me. I''m going to quote from Shakespeare. No, it''s all right. It''s not complicated, I promise you. I''m taking something from King Lear. What you have to know is that poor Lear is very old and going a bit senile or putting it quite crudely, potty. He has two very difficult daughters who are out to get him (trick him) because they want his lands. But he does have a lot of mates in the aristocracy and one of his very best is the Duke of Kent.
Kent always says what he means and means what he says and is very upset that his great pal, King Lear is being treated so badly. That''s why he decides to stop being a duke for a while and disguise himself as a common man to find out what''s happening in Lear''s household. That way he can say what he likes and this is how he replies when asked why he dislikes one of the servants who works for one of Lear''s terrible daughters.
Sir, ''tis my occupation to be plain
I have seen better faces in my time
Than stands on any shoulder that I see
Before me at this instant.
It would be good if we could all take a leaf out of Kent''s book (do the same as he does) and that would help anyone learning English, wouldn''t it? But unfortunately life isn''t that simple and English has this habit of using idioms and speaking and writing idiomatically.
What is an idiom? The word is derived from Latin or Greek (you can choose) and suggests ''private'' ''personal'' and comes to mean ''made your own''. Putting it another way it''s a construction or a group of words that take on a special meaning. The important thing is that you can''t break the expression up into separate parts to find out the meaning like that because the expression has to keep the exact words all together. A few lines above I used the idiom ''take a leaf out of someone''s book'' and I explained that it meant copy what someone else has done. So you can''t use ''page'' instead of ''leaf'' and you can''t use ''volume'' in place of ''book''. If you do, you have destroyed the idiom.
Let''s have a look at some of these idioms. There are thousands of them but I assure you I won''t start talking about the whole lot. We''ll settle on some from one particular source and probably it''s best to start at the top. I''m talking about the head. When it''s cold, it''s a good idea to put something on your head like a hat. I can talk through my hat, I can keep something under my hat, I can take my hat off to you and I can also eat my hat. What am I on about? I''ll explain the meanings in the same order: I can talk nonsense. I can keep a secret. I can congratulate you. I can also express absolute surprise and shock. Now, back to the head. If you keep an eye on someone, you''re checking what someone is doing and if you keep your eyes open, you''re watching what''s happening all around you. April 1st is traditionally the day when people play tricks on you.
Teachers on that day have to keep an eye on their students and keep their eyes open in case the class has prepared some joke at their expense. Next, the ears. Keeping your ear to the ground could literally be very uncomfortable but if you do that idiomatically, you are keeping yourself well informed about what''s happening around you. Those who are wet behind the ears are inexperienced. And if your ears are burning, someone is talking about you but you don''t know who or where. When you buy a second hand car, make sure it''s not too expensive because if you pay too much, you are said to pay through the nose and the person who is selling it to you is, I fear, leading you by the nose, getting you to do what they want. You''ll have to work really hard now without stopping by keeping your nose to the grindstone in order to pay for all that money you spent on the car.
Going down a bit more we come to the mouth. Let''s hope you are not now down in the mouth (depressed) at this rush of information. It was honestly not my intention to shout my mouth off - talk in a loud manner and show off my knowledge of idioms. There are after all sometimes teething troubles (problems that arise when you start something new) but in the end once you have got your teeth into idioms (really started to learn them vigorously) there will be no need to gnash (grind) your teeth (become angry). As you are now probably fed up to the back teeth (extremely tired of) with all these expressions, I''ll stop and refer once again to Shakespeare. This could well be sound advice I think for me from Henry 6th, part 2 -
Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.
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