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jeudi 6 janvier 2011

“to play it by ear” and other figurative expressions

Le présent article a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera prochainement publiée sur ce blog.


“to play it by ear” means to act according to the circumstances; to improvise

WorldWideWords.com gives the following explanation:

“The phrase by ear goes back a long way in a figurative sense. It’s a metonym, the substitution of a word by another with which it is closely associated.

“It’s in much the same style as Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. He meant this figuratively, asking his audience to lend him the thing their ears contained, their function — in other words to listen to him, to hear him out. In phrases like by ear the process is taken one stage further: not merely the function of hearing but also being able to accurately reproduce a melody one has heard, without needing written music. So we have phrases like he has a good ear for music and she can play anything by ear.

“The saying has been taken yet another step further away from anything literal when people use it to mean doing something in an extempore way, without planning, according to circumstances as they arise.”

Other idioms containing the word ear:

 all ears
acutely attentive: “Tell your story - we're all ears!”

coming out of (one's) ears
in more than adequate amounts; overabundant

have/keep an ear to the ground
to be on the watch for new trends or information

on its/someone's ear
in a state of amazement, excitement, or uproar

up to (one's) ears
deeply involved or occupied fully: “I'm up to my ears in work.”

to turn a deaf ear
to ignore what someone is saying

to be wet behind the ears
to be inexperienced, like a baby whose ears are still wet

to get a thick ear
to receive a blow on the ear delivered as punishment, in anger, etc.

to be out on one’s ear
to be fired, dismissed or thrown out

to strain one’s ears
to make an effort to hear

from your lips to God's ears
may the things you say come true

French also uses “ear” figuratively:

avoir l’oreille de quelqu’un
to have someone’s ear
avoir l’oreille fine
to have an acute sense of hearing,
to have a sharp ear
avoir quelque chose entre les oreilles
to be intelligent
avoir une bonne oreille pour les langues
to have a good ear for languages
casser les oreilles
to make a noise
dire quelque chose dans le creux/tuyau de l'oreille
to have a word in someone’s ear
dormir sur ses deux oreilles
to sleep soundly
dresser l’oreille
to prick up one’s ears
échauffer les oreilles de quelqu'un
to annoy someone
écouter une conversation d’une oreille distraite
to listen to a conversation with only one ear, to only half listen
être dur d'oreille
to be hard of hearing
être tout oreilles / écouter de toutes ses oreilles
to be all ears
faire la sourde oreille
to pretend not to hear
frotter les oreilles a quelqu’un
to box someone’s ears
il y a toujours des oreilles qui trainent
there’s always someone listening
avoir les oreilles qui fanent
to be thirsty
les oreilles ont du lui siffler
his/her ears must have been burning
mettre la puce a l’oreille (de quelqu’un)
to put a bug in someone’s ears
montrer le bout de l'oreille
to show one’s true colours
n’écouter de qu’une oreille
to only half listen
ne pas en croire ses oreilles
not to believe one’s ears
porter qch/venir aux oreilles de quelqu’un
to bring/come to someone’s attention
prêter l’oreille
to lend an ear, to pay attention
rebattre les oreilles a quelqu'un de quelque chose
to endlessly repeat something to someone
rentrer par une oreille et sortir par l'autre
to go in one ear and come out the other
rougir jusqu'aux oreilles
to blush to the roots of one’s hair
s'en aller l'oreille basse
to leave with one’s tail between one’s legs, crestfallen
tirer quelqu’un par les oreilles/

to pull/tweak someone’s ears, to tell somebody off
se faire tirer l'oreille
to need a lot of persuading
tomber  dans l’oreille d’un sourd
to fall on deaf ears
ventre affamé n’a pas d’oreilles
the hungry belly has no ears

Source :         www.expressio.fr – Les expressions françaises décortiquées

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