Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

Be out of your hands • Get out of hand • Live hand to mouth • Take the words right out of my mouth • Say a mouthful • Words for disgust • St. Patrick's Day!

Hello, everyone! In today’s newsletter, I have some sayings and phrases about hands and mouths, some words for disgust, and a bit about the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!

First, here’s the video version of the section on sayings involving hands and mouths.

Find the podcast version here, and of course, follow along with the text below, as well.

Given how important our hands and mouths are, it’s probably no surprise that there are plenty of English idioms and sayings associated with these parts of our bodies.

Let’s start with “to be out of your hands”. When you say that a situation “is out of your hands”, it means that it is not in your control. You are powerless to influence what will happen. Note that this phrase uses “to be” as the verb. You might say someday, “I wish I could help you with your problem, but it’s out of my hands!”

A similar phrase is, “It got out of hand.” When a situation “gets out of hand”, it means that the people involved lost control. Often, it means they became angry, started shouting, and maybe even had a fight. Note that this one uses the verb “to get”, instead of “to be”. I can envision someone telling a police officer, “We were arguing over a parking spot, and then it got out of hand. The next thing I knew, he had punched me!”

Next, here’s a saying that involves both hands and mouths. When someone is very poor and has to spend every dollar they earn just to survive, we say they “live hand to mouth”. Think about ancient times when humans would gather food from nature. They might pick a berry and eat it right away. Their food went immediately from hand to mouth. They couldn’t save anything for later. People with very low incomes often can’t save, either. They “live hand to mouth”.

Suppose you and a friend, or business colleague, are having a conversation. You find that you agree completely with what he or she is saying. You can say, “You took the words right out of my mouth!” The idea is that you would have said the exact same words if you had spoken first. In this situation, you might also say, “You said a mouthful!” That also means that you agree completely. This one is very informal, though. “You took the words right out of my mouth” can be used in all settings, from business meetings to everyday conversation.

One additional item today regarding American culture - Wednesday was Saint Patrick’s Day. The word “saint” can be shortened to “St.”, so you’ll often see it written as St. Patrick’s Day. A saint is a person that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as having been especially holy.

It should come as no surprise that St. Patrick’s Day memorializes St. Patrick, who is most revered in the country of Ireland, where he is said to have introduced Christianity to the island.

That’s all well and good, of course. But in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is now most often associated with drinking alcohol, throwing big parties, and having fun. The holiday became popular as more and more Irish people immigrated to the US, and now many Americans of all backgrounds use the holiday as a reason to celebrate.

The city of Chicago famously even dyes its river green on St. Patrick’s Day. Green is the color traditionally associated with Ireland.

What do you think of the color of the river? Maybe you need this graphic to help you express yourself! 😁

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