Number one for English language teachers

Your English: Idioms: tongue

Type: Article

Have you ever experienced a slip of the tongue or set tongues wagging? Tim Bowen articulates his thoughts on some idioms.

If something is easy to pronounce, it can be said to trip off the tongue. If, on the other hand, something is difficult to pronounce, it is difficult to get your tongue round it, as in ‘I had trouble getting my tongue round some of their names’.

You may need to bite your tongue to stop yourself from saying something you would like to say because you will upset someone or make them angry.

Alcohol can loosen someone’s tongue if the person drinking it discloses some information that they would not have spoken about had they not had a drink, as in ‘Three-quarters of a bottle of wine had loosened her tongue so she told us all about her arguments with Pete’. 

If tongues wag, people gossip about another person, usually saying unkind things about them, as in ‘Leaving his car parked outside her house was bound to set tongues wagging’.

If you say or write something with your tongue in your cheek, you intend it to be humorous and do not mean it seriously, as in ‘He had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he described the rioters as enterprising’. 

A slip of the tongue is used to describe a situation where you say something that you do not mean to say, an in ‘He apologized for calling his opponent an idiot, explaining that it was just a slip of the tongue’. 

If a word, a name or a fact is on the tip of your tongue, you know it but you cannot remember it at the time of speaking. Similarly, if you are tongue-tied, you are unable to speak because you are nervous or embarrassed.

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