Music idoms in English

Language and Music are often considered separate but there are a number of idioms that depend on music.

To be tone-deaf (to something): if someone is tone-deaf they have trouble telling the difference between similar musical notes, but metaphorically if someone is tone-deaf to something it means they are insensitive to it. Example “Simon, who only lives a 10 minute walk from work, is tone deaf to complaints about parking troubles.”

To strike a chord: if something strikes a chord with you it means you identify with or like the idea expressed or proposed. Example “Clair’s suggestion that we work from home during the transport strike struck a chord with many employees, but management fear it will be treated as an extra holiday.”

To ring a bell: (well bells are musical instruments) this means you recognise something, a name or a face for example but you can’t quite put it in context. Example: “Her name rang a bell but it wasn’t till I saw her that I realised we’d been at school together 20 years ago.”

To miss a beat: to pause or interrupt something often because of surprise or confusion. Example “Boris Johnson clearly missed a beat when he realised he’d won the referendum.”

To sing from the same song sheet: this means that you agree with someone and probably publicly support their position. Example: “Carla and Tom are always singing from the same song sheet, it’s a pity they don’t get on.”

To be in-tune with something/someone: this means that you naturally agree with them and often think, do, or feel the same way. Example “Sue and Mike are really in tune with each other, I’ve never seen them argue.”

Harmony: Musically this refers to different but complementary notes, but it’s often used to describe a state where everyone is peacefully happy despite any differences they might have.

Discord: this is when notes do not go together well, but it’s also used to describe trouble, arguments, or even violence. Example “Sadly since the referendum there has been a lot of racial discord in Britain.”

To blow your own horn: to boast or be publically proud of yourself. Example “Nobody likes to blow their own horn too much but in a job interview you may need to.”

To march to the beat of a different (their own) drum: to do something independently, differently or eccentric to normal expectations. Example “Anne has always marched to her own drum, it’s little surprise to me that she turned down the manager’s job to travel round the world.”

kevinspiteri

To bang the drum for/against something: this means you publicly state your enthusiasm for something. Example “Oscar is always banging the drum for people getting involved in politics, even the ones he knows will disagree with him. It might be boring to some, but you have to respect his passion.”

There are of course many more, why not leave them in the comments.

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Gambling and Chance in English

Games of chance (otherwise known as gambling) have a long history in many languages, but sticking with English, let’s look at some of the language used both in and out of gambling that comes from games of chance.

Ante: In a card game the ante is the small amount put in by each player at the beginning of the round. This collectively forms the “pot”.

Ante-up: usually used as an imperative verb to ask all players to put into the pot at the beginning of the turn. (Pony up is another variant that can be used a little bit more widely; “There’s a raffle at our street-party and we’ve all been asked to pony up a prize.”)

piggybank

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Penny Ante: most commonly used as an adjective to describe something with low stakes; also used derogatorily about people. “Ron talks a lot about the environment but he’s essentially penny-ante, he’ll never do anything serious about it.”

Show your cards: Normally, at the end of a round all players still ‘in’ (playing) show their cards to discover who wins. Also used metaphorically to describe the moment you reveal your thoughts/plans. As a moment this can be described as ‘the reveal’. “Don’t show your cards before the reveal, you never quite know what the others will be thinking or doing.”

Hold your cards close to your chest: A wise piece of advice for gamblers but metaphorically this includes people who don’t normally (or easily) show what they are thinking. “I think Donna will support us, but she keeps her cards close so it’s hard to be sure.”

Wear your cards on your sleeve: (also wear your heart on your sleeve) if you do this people around you know what you think and feel about things. “It’s been observed in the run up to the referendum this week that Leave voters are more likely to wear their cards on their sleeve than those voting remain.”

Dealing from the top/bottom of the deck: If you’re dealing from the top of the deck you are doing things the accepted (normal way). Metaphorically it’s also used to describe honesty and openness. “We need some advice on this why don’t we ask Susan, she always deals from the top of the deck.”

Having a card up your sleeve: If you literally have a card up your sleeve you are cheating in any normal game of cards. However, metaphorically it can mean having a back-up plan or an extra idea or two in case things don’t go as planned. “New teachers often find having a card up their sleeve is a good idea as some lessons may not go as planned or hoped.”

card up sleeve

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To follow suit: to do something similar, predictable or accepted. In a standard deck of cards there are four suits, Clubs, Aces, Hearts and Diamonds. In many games you have to follow suit if you can.

Not playing with a full deck: If you say someone isn’t playing with a full deck you are calling them stupid, (or at least) not having all the relevant information.

Trump: Some cards can be said to trump others because they are more powerful, or flexible or more valuable within the rules of the current game. Typically the trump cards are the jokers, (also called wild cards) but in many games the trump can move around depending on other factors.

To come up trumps: When something works much better than could have been predicted or expected. “The accidental over-order of umbrellas really came up trumps when it rained every day for a month.”

To trump something/someone: This indicates a victory over or dominance somehow. “Mark felt he was the obvious choice for the new manager; he’d been there a long time and had covered the role when the last manager was ill. However, Claire’s energy, enthusiasm and ambition trumped him.