Parts of the body feature in a great number of English idioms. This week we’re taking a look at some of the most commonly used. How many of these have direct equivalents in your language?
Starting with the top of the body, the neck is quite productive! If two people or groups who are competing are neck and neck, they are level with each other and have the same chance of winning: Recent polls suggest the two parties are neck and neck. The strange phrase neck of the woods refers to a particular area. (We usually put the words ‘your’/‘his’/‘her’ etc. or ‘this’ before it): I didn’t expect to see you in this neck of the woods! / Portland – isn’t that your neck of the woods, Gina? If you stick your neck out, you take a risk, often by saying what you think will happen in the future: I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a win for Chelsea.
Moving down the body, a shoulder to cry on is a person who is kind and listens to you talk when you are sad about something in your life: When John left, Laura was a shoulder to cry on.
Something that costs an arm and a leg is very expensive: I’d love some trainers like Sophie’s but they cost an arm and a leg. If you keep someone at arm’s length, you don’t allow them to become too friendly with you: I rather got the feeling she was keeping me at arm’s length. If you twist someone’s arm, you persuade them to do something they didn’t want to do: I wasn’t going to go to the party but Sam twisted my arm.
The word ‘finger’ also features in a number of common idioms. If you put your finger on something, you work out exactly what is wrong or strange about something, especially when this is difficult: There’s something odd about her, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. If you complain that someone doesn’t lift a finger, you mean they make no effort to help: Dan sat on the sofa all afternoon and didn’t lift a finger. If you point the finger at someone, you say that they should be blamed for something bad: It’s very easy to point the finger at management.
If someone doesn’t have a leg to stand on, they are in a situation where they are unable to prove something: If you have no witness, you don’t have a leg to stand on. If a planned project has legs, it is likely to succeed: You asked me what I thought about Lucy’s proposal. I think it has legs.
You may well have noticed that two important parts of the body are missing – ‘head’ and ‘hand’. These will feature in future posts.