Body Part Idioms: What are They and How to Use Them?

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Have you heard of a phrase which real meaning you’ve never quite understood, such as play it by ear or let your hair down? They obviously use body parts but somehow the meaning is not literal.

Idioms are very common expressions, and together the meaning of the words is different than each individual word. So, together the words have a different meaning than when used individually or separately. Idioms are very creative and fun ways to use language. So if you’re studying for your IELTS or TOEFL exam, or generally you just want to impress someone with your English, then learn to use a few idioms.

There are hundreds of idioms, and a few of them may be similar to what are already used in your own language. There are many idioms that are very commonly used, while a few others are not. Today we will be talking about the common ones.  These are everyday idioms that you hear people use often in many situations, and they are all to do with the human body.

Let’s get started!

1. To get something off your chest

When you have something on your chest, it means you’re holding it and it’s very heavy, and you just want to get it out. You want to express something. It could be a secret, it could be a feeling you have for someone,  or it could be a complaint you have and something you’re not happy about.

When you get it off your chest, you’ve been holding it inside for so long, it’s sitting on your chest and you don’t want to carry it anymore. You just want to get the heaviness out. So, when something is bothering you or when you have a problem and you need to tell someone about it, then you need to get it off your chest.

For example, you gather up the courage to go to your boss and say, “You’re a terrible boss. I don’t want to work for you anymore.” Or maybe you like a girl very much and finally, you go up to her and say, “I have something to tell you. I’ve been in love with you for four years and I can’t hold it anymore. I have to get it off my chest so I’m telling you.”

Other examples are:

“Thanks for listening to me complain about my neighbor! I just needed to get it off my chest.”

“He’s been frustrated about his workload for months! He just needs to talk to his manager about it and get it off his chest!”

“Mom, I need to get something off my chest. I’ve been waiting to tell you about it for weeks!”

After you get something off your chest, you’d feel much better.

2. To get cold feet

During winter time, when you don’t wear your socks and boots, your feet will naturally get cold. But this is not what it means. To get cold feet is to get scared. You’re about to do something, you’ve been planning it, you know it’s coming, you wanted to do it, but then at the last minute, you get cold feet. You get scared so you don’t want to do it anymore and you’re backing away from doing it.

A common example is just before your wedding. This happens to a lot of men. So, for example, tomorrow is his wedding and tonight he thinks and realizes, “Oh my God, this is my last night of freedom. I don’t want to do this. Wedding’s off!” In this scenario, the groom gets cold feet.

It doesn’t have to be just weddings. It can be anything like starting a new job or you’re about to move to a new house. Then at the last minute, you got scared–you don’t want to do it anymore. This is a feeling you have when you’re really nervous right before an important event or a big event.

Another example is you decided that you will learn rock climbing. So you went and have all the gears ready and you’ve put on the right attire for it. When you’re there, you suddenly look up and realize how high the rock is, and you get cold feet. You got really nervous and you realize you don’t really want to do it after all.

Other examples are:

“He was so nervous before his performance, I thought he was going to get cold feet!”

“So, how did the audition go? Or did you get cold feet?”

3. To be in over my head

This is from the scenario when you go into the swimming pool right below the surface so that the water is over your head. You’re literally in over your head. The same idea is used in situations where you’re doing something that you can’t handle anymore. When it’s too difficult for you, then you’re in over your head.

So, for example, you got a job and you’ve just finished university. Someone hired you and gave you a supervisor position to manage one part of operations. You enthusiastically take it on and say, “Sure! I can do that!” You have no experience doing it but you accepted the offer. So you go in and right away you noticed that it’s too difficult. There are too many reports to write and the staff doesn’t listen to you. You don’t know what to do because you’re in over your head. You’ve taken on a job that’s too big for you.

4. Pain in the neck

This is someone who is really annoying and drives you crazy! It can also be an annoying situation.

Examples:

“They said that my car was going to be at the shop for repair for two weeks. It’s such a pain in the neck!”

“I hope he doesn’t bring Britney to the party. She can be a real pain in the neck.”

“Come on, stop singing that stupid song! You’re being a real pain in the neck!”

Alternately, you can also use “pain the butt” or “pain in the ass”, but these two are a little cruder and somewhat rude. You definitely wouldn’t want to use this with someone you just met. But when you’re with friends, or hanging out with cousins, you can say pain in the butt or pain in the ass. They have the same meaning.

5. To stick your neck out

This usually happens when you stick your neck out of a window or door and it’s too risky because you may hurt yourself or get your head cut and die. This idiom means to take a big risk. When you invest in something and you put all your money in a business, then you’re sticking your neck out. You can also use this expression when you go help a friend. Your friend is in trouble with the teacher or the boss, you make a stand for her and speak on her behalf. This could potentially get you in trouble. Doing this might mean you could get low grades if the teacher gets upset with you or lose your job because your boss doesn’t like your friend. So with that, you’re sticking your neck out for your friend.

This also applies when you’re in a group and you give your opinion which is not too popular or you know would not be accepted by the group. But when you express it anyway, you’re sticking your neck out. You’re showing people what you think and who knows how they are going to react to you.

6. I’m all ears

It means that you’re fully listening and you’re paying attention. Your full attention is on what someone is saying.

Examples:

“Give me a minute to finish laundry then I’ll be all ears.”

“Well, if you have a great suggestion then I’m all ears.” (If you’ve got a great suggestion, then tell me about it. I’m listening.)

7. To play it by ear

This is when you wait for whatever happens, you deliberately don’t plan, and so whatever comes up you just go with it.  You make it up as you go, you’re being flexible, and you do whatever you feel like at the time.

For example, the family talks about going camping at the lake, then the mother begins to plan the schedule and activities.  But the father and the kids vote not to have anything planned and to just play it by ear, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll go there and we’ll play it by ear.”

This is another way of saying, “Whatever happens we’ll adjust. We’ll work our way around the situation.”

Another example:

“We don’t really have a plan for tonight. We’re just going to play it by ear. If we’re hungry we’ll eat. If we want to go to the boulevard, then let’s go have a walk there. If we want a beer, let’s go to the bar down the street.”

8. To cost an arm and a leg

This means that something is really expensive.

Examples:

“Taking a family of five on a trip to Kuala Lumpur is going to cost an arm and a leg!

“The school fees are costing an arm and a leg! I don’t know how we can put our son through college!”

9. To keep an eye on something

This means to take care of something or to watch over something to protect it.

“I’ll keep an eye on your bag while you go use the restroom.”

“Beth said she’s going to keep an eye on our dog while we’re on vacation.”

10. To let your hair down

At first look, this statement may seem applicable only for women, but it can be for men too. This means to just relax, have fun, enjoy yourself, and do whatever you like.

This expression is most commonly used for women, but for men, we also say “loosen your tie“. Both expressions have the same meaning. When you tell a guy to loosen his tie, it means “don’t be so serious” or “don’t be too uptight and stiff”. 

Tomorrow is another day to worry about problems, so for today just let your hair down. Loosen your tie and just take it easy.

11. To go over your head

It means you don’t get it and you missed the meaning. You haven’t quite understood what is happening or what is being said. When you’re learning a new language, this happens all the time! Someone says something to you and you’re not quite sure what it means. It’s gone over your head!

It did not go into your head so that you understood what it means–it just went over your head. Imagine an object that suddenly flies over or above your head, and you did not recognize whether it was a bird, a bat, a butterfly, or something else.

This is an expression that you can easily use when you’re in a conversation and somebody says something you didn’t quite understand. You’re not sure about the meaning, so you can say to them, “Sorry, that went straight over my head! Can you say it again?”

‘To go over your head’ actually has another meaning. This is when you speak with a more powerful or important person to get what you want or need.  For example, “If Douglas doesn’t start behaving like a manager and treating his staff fairly, I’ll have to go over his head. I’ll go straight to the CEO and tell him the problem.”

So, these are idioms that use the human body. I hope you’d pick up a few helpful expressions that you can try out soon! You can even impress your friends or English teacher by dropping one or two of these idioms in your conversations.


author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.