Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Years ago I heard the term Glossolalia. Biblically it means speaking in tongues - uttering incomprehensible syllables, usually as part of a religious experience. Although it has strong links with Christianity, it is also a practice used by shamans, the Oracle of Delphi and really bad actors :)

This got me thinking of all the idioms in English that refer to the tongue, when communicating. Here is a list from the site learn-english-today.

bite your tongueIf you bite your tongue, you stop yourself from saying
what you really think.

Often a very hard exercise that may or may not be helpful. 
Probably it's better to hold what you really want to say for 
a better time or a better way of saying what maybe needs 
to be said. Enough said!

get your tongue around

If you are able to pronounce a difficult word or phrase,
you can get your tongue round it.

As in, "Say not that the struggle naught availeth."

 Just because you can say it, doesn't mean that 
you have to know what it means.

give rough edge
of tongue
If you give the (rough) edge of your tongue, you
scold someone severely or speak to them very 
aggressively or rudely.

Helpful when you have to tear a strip off a person.

hold your tongueIf you hold your tongue, you stay silent and
say nothing.

This is a bit like biting your tongue only maybe 

not as painful :)

keep a civil tonguePeople who keep a civil tongue express
themselves in polite terms.

I often fail this one when speaking to the civic
employees at city hall.

slip of the tongueslip of the tongue is a small spoken error
or mistake.

Probably similar to a Freudian slip - calling
someone by the wrong name, for example.
It's often the fatal error in spy movies!!

on the tip of your 
To say that a word or answer is on the tip of your 
tongue, means that you're sure you know it but
have difficulty finding it.

A very graphic expression for a very irritating situation.

tongue in cheekIf you describe a remark as 'tongue in cheek' you
mean that it is not meant to be taken seriously;
it is meant to be funny or ironic.

I like the term but hate the gesture. Tongues can 

be so expressive.

tongue-lashingWhen you scold someone severely, you give
them a tongue-lashing.

Again similar to giving the rough edge, but 

presumably the body remains in tact, just 
beaten up badly.

tongue-tiedIf you are tongue-tied, you have difficulty in
expressing yourself because you are nervous
or embarrassed.

Another graphic expression. It's often better to change 

the topic, as in "Oh what lovely Geraniums you have" - then 
trying to un-knot the moment.

tongues are waggingWhen tongues are wagging, people are beginning
to spread gossip or rumours, often about someone's
private life.

This always reminds me of a dog. Fortunately they 

rarely spread gossip!!


Other terms not included in this list are:

Speaking with a forked tongue - telling lies or trying to deceive someone. Possibly an illusion to being two-faced or speaking out of both sides of your mouth. I always think of snakes, as in the snake-oil salesman.

Speaking with a silver tongue - Maybe not a snake-oil monger, but probably a politician. It means speaking eloquently so that people will follow you.

Cat got your tongue - obviously the opposite of the dog image - go figure. Remaining silent or refusing to speak, withdrawn.

Find tongue - finding a way to say something.

Loosen one's tongue -  take someone out for a drink to get some inside information. Get the person relaxed in an informal setting. It's a deceit, but so many of these expressions are about being deceptive.

Mother Tongue - one of my favourites, though I envy those who can speak in many tongues!

I think, though, that Ogden Nash said it best:

I hope my tongue in prune juice smothers, 
If I belittle dogs and mothers.

Have a great day

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