Mind if we chew the fat for a while? Not spend time gnawing on some chunky piece of lard, of course, but talk – and in particular, about some toothy idioms, such as…well, “chewing the fat.”
An idiom is a turn of phrase, an expression that can’t be understood literally. Rather, it means something totally different and separate. Often, it’s tough going to translate idioms from one language to another, but all languages have them.
And more often than not, they have some basis in their literal meanings. Let’s look at “chew the fat” again. Imagine a person chewing on a buttery piece of meat: It looks kind of like talking. The word “ruminate” – to think deeply about something – relates to a similar expression: chewing the cud. Picture a cow, an animal known as a “ruminant,” peacefully chewing her cud on a grassy knoll.
Since teeth are a critical part of our existence, it’s not surprising that so many idioms use teeth. Here are 5 familiar ones:
- Armed to the teeth
This old expression – dating to Middle English – means “to be armed completely.” When we use it today, though, we may not be talking about actual weapons but merely saying, in a more colorful way, that we’re thoroughly, totally prepared.
- By the skin of your teeth
This phrase comes to us from the book of Job (19:20): “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” Teeth not actually having skin, of course, there’s some argument as to what this actually means. We use it today to mean a narrow escape – without a scrape.
- Cut your eye teeth on
When children’s first teeth begin to erupt, it’s often described as cutting teeth. To cut your eye teeth – the canines – on something means to learn the ropes of something new for you, usually eagerly. (Why are the canines called “eye teeth”?)
- Grit your teeth
If you have to go through a difficult situation, you toughen up and soldier through. You may even literally clench your teeth together. Of course, you don’t want to do this habitually – well, unless recurring headaches and associated pain are your thing.
- Long in the tooth
This means old – or getting there – and comes from the belief that as you age, your gums recede so your tooth roots are exposed. Such teeth look longer. However, gum recession is neither inevitable nor unheard of among younger folks. In fact, it’s a problem we’ve been seeing more of in recent years. For more on its causes and solutions for it, see our previous post on the topic.
Image by cordyceps, via Flickr