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En este espacio gramatical que nos ocupa, trataremos un tipo de locuciones muy concreto: los somatismos, o lo que es lo mismo, fraseologías que contienen un lexema referido a una parte del cuerpo humano. Son muchos —precisamente por su alta presencia en el lenguaje común— los somatismos que encontramos en castellano: “hablar por los codos”, “estar hasta las narices”, “dormir a pierna suelta”, “no tener pelos en la lengua”, “no dar el brazo a torcer”, “costar un ojo de la cara”, “estar con la mosca detrás de la oreja”, “poner el dedo en la llaga”, “estar con la soga al cuello”, “tomarse las cosas a pecho”, “andar de boca en boca”, “no dar pie con bola”, “estar hasta la coronilla”, o “ponerse de uñas”, supondrían sólo unos cuantos ejemplos.

Damos paso, a partir de estas notas introductorias, al contenido gramatical que servirá para adentrarnos en los somatismos propios de la lengua inglesa.

Fuentes: Marta Saracho – CVC

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Teachers are here to help their students. They ‘keep an eye on them’ and, when necessary, ‘give them a hand’. When students do well, they may give them ‘a pat on the back’; if a student is doing an exam, the teacher may even tell them to ‘break a leg’!

But what do these expressions mean? They are all English idioms that feature parts of the body. ‘Keeping an eye on someone’ means to monitor their behaviour and activity; ‘to give somebody a hand’ means to help someone. ‘A pat on the back’ is a literal and metaphorical show of approbation, and telling someone to ‘break a leg’ is a theatrical tradition that means ‘Good luck!’ (as it considered bad luck to say ‘good luck’ to someone in the theatre).

As for the expressions mentioned in the Tip of the Week: if somebody has a ‘sweet tooth’, it means they like sweet food. A ‘rule of thumb’ is a generally followed principal (it’s not binding). For example: ‘As a rule of thumb, we should drink two litres of water a day.’ If somebody gets ‘cold feet’ about something it means they are having second thoughts about committing to an action – particularly marriage – and may want to change their mind and not do it. It signifies a loss of confidence or courage in carrying out the action (note that we can say one gets or one has cold feet).

Some body idioms refer to other parts of culture: for example, mythology. An ‘Achilles’ heel’ is a person’s weak spot, despite their overall strength; it refers to the character Achilles in Greek mythology who, as a baby, was taken by his mother Thetis to the River Styx and dipped in the water, which was believed to confer invulnerability. However Achilles’ heel was not submerged in the Styx and so when, many years later, he was shot in the heel by a poisioned arrow, he died soon afterwards. This could relate to any aspects of a person’s character, e.g. ‘Tom has a weakness for beautiful women. It’s his Achilles’ heel.’

An expression influenced by British history is the phrase ‘caught red-handed’. This means to be caught in the act of doing something you shouldn’t be doing. It refers to the blood on someone’s hands after murdering someone, and dates back to 15th century Scotland. Of course it doesn’t literally refer to murder these days! It could be referred to something fairly innocent, for example a child caught stealing from the cookie jar (‘Lee’s mother caught him red-handed’).

If we say that somebody has a ‘big mouth’, it means they talk too much and are likely to say things that should remain private or simply not be said. If your friend tells your boss that you are not in work because you are hungover rather than ill, the next time you see your friend you could say ‘You have such a big mouth!’ or even just call them ‘Big mouth!’

Sometimes we need to say things because not saying them is causing us discomfort. If you have a problem with your partner, say, you could tell them that you ‘have something to get off (your) chest’. This means to verbally unload whatever it is that is upsetting you. ‘I need to get something off my chest,’ Julia told Jack. ‘I am in love with somebody else.’

On the other hand, sometimes we want to say something but know that it would be inadvisable or plain wrong to do so. In this instance we must ‘bite our lip’: this means to consciously decided against making a comment in a particular situation. If your best friend is dating somebody that you believe is totally inappropriate for them – but you’ve never seen them as happy as they are now – you would be advised to ‘bite your lip’ for fear of upsetting your friend and potentially ruining your (and their) relationship.

If you feel like somebody is talking about you to another person, you say that ‘(your) ears are burning’. This refers to the inexplicable sensation that you are being discussed (and sometimes not in a positive way). It can also be used in a question, e.g. ‘Are your ears burning?’ Helen asked David. ‘We were talking about you this morning.’

We have body idioms for listening as well as speaking. If somebody’s words ‘go in one ear and out the other’, it means they are heard but immediately forgotten. Or maybe somebody’s words – a cry for mercy, perhaps – are heard but deliberately ignored. If this is the case, the person’s plea ‘falls on deaf ears’.

Note that in the same way as we can say someone has a ‘big mouth’, we can also say that a person has ‘big ears’! This is used to describe someone who hears things not intended for them – perhaps someone who has a habit of listening to other people’s conversations. Somebody who engages is this kind of behaviour is said to be ‘nosy’ (also spelled ‘nosey’). This comes from the expression ‘to stick (one’s) nose in’, which means to pry into other people’s affairs and interfere in their business, and literally meant ‘to have a big nose’.

These are just a few of the many idioms related to our bodies. Check out our test to see how you do with body-related idioms.


A. Porter

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