What did you understand?
Do some quizzes. Listen again to answer the questions. Don't check the transcript yet!
Mike: What do you mean by you're ‘on the fence’ there?
Owain: Thanks for playing along. Yeah. So basically I'm kind of undecided about whether it's a useful focus for us or not. And so on the fence is obviously the idiom here, um, and on the face of it is quite a simple, um, phrase, isn't it? What does it what does it mean, Mike? If I...if you say I'm on the fence, I'm undecided, but what else would you think about using this?
Mike: Well, in its literal sense, you you might have kicked a football over your neighbour's fence, for example, and you've gone to...gone to in to get the football. And in doing so, temporarily, you are sat on the fence.
Owain: Yeah. Rather uncomfortably.
Mike: Rather uncomfortably. Yes. Yes.
Owain: And then eventually either you drop down one side of the fence and you get your ball and then you go back again. But obviously, while you're there, you may be in that situation where you can either go forwards, you can go to one side of the fence, or you go to the other side fence and you have to make that decision to to move. Right? So, that's obviously not what I...what I meant before, though, is it? What, what was I talking about for?
Mike: I think in...so in your example, you were saying that you'd be undecided, you were weighing up the options and you're thinking the pros and cons of...of using, in this case, idioms, talking about idioms. Is it going to confuse listeners? Is it going to make it clearer for them? This is, I think, what you meant by sitting on the fence. So waiting perhaps for some more...waiting for listeners to tell us, is it going to be useful to talk about idioms? (Owain: Yeah) and then you make a decision.
Owain: Well an...an...there two...well, there are two things that I find really interesting about is, first of all, it's used quite a lot this idiom, I think, and the whole phrase would be 'sit on the fence', as you said. But I said, I'm still 'on the fence'. So, I didn't even mention sitting, which is quite literal, quite quite descriptive....um...But what I really like is the fact that, you know, it's also really figurative. So we have these...that's the essence of idioms: you can have the literal meaning of the words, but then, of course, you got the figurative meaning, which isn't quite so obvious....er...And in this case, it's...you know, you could be talking about your political ideas, for example. You're not sure which political party you're you agree with. And in that sense, you're on the fence.
Mike: That's right. So any particular issue, for example, say, do do you think the age of voting should be lowered in your country? In England, it's 18. Should it be 16? Mm....I'm not sure. I'm going to sit on the fence a little bit. I'm on the fence about that particular issue.
Owain: But what are the most interesting things about this is that we're almost completely unaware of of how this can be quite difficult for non-proficient speakers to perceive - the the the layers of meaning. So if you're not if you don't have a very high level (of) English, you may initially think, well, why are they talking about fences? And and and then...only then, if you think about the whole context, you get the idea: ok, yes, political decisions, are they talking about one party or the other? And so, yeah, I mean, that's what I love about idioms. I think I think they are interesting, but not necessarily those kind of idioms that are really obvious idioms like 'don't count your chickens until they've hatched' which is kind of the typical idiom people...people use as an example. But, um...
Mike: Yeah, I don't have any chickens, so no worries about that.
Owain: We'll come on to...come on to your one now Mike. Any ideas when this one...when this idiom comes...where it comes from or...or when it came into use?
Mike: So what immediately springs to mind is, is there has to have been a fence at this point. So it can't have been that that far back 'cause obviously there was a time when fences were not around. So, I don't know, I, I...maybe something to do with farming or...Has it, has it got origins in farming (somewhere)?
Owain: I think it...um...the word 'fence' came into the language in around...in the Middle English, the Middle English period, which is kind of like from, um, the 12th century to the, to the, um, 15th century. Um, but it wasn't actually used as an expression like this until kind of the1800s. So it's a couple of hundred years old. Um, so there you go: 'on the fence'. How about you mate? Have you got, have you got an idiom for us today?
Mike: Yeah. So my brother lives in Africa. He lives in Mozambique and we have a 'Whatsup' family group chat, uh, in which he regularly posts rather annoying photos of him, sitting by a swimming pool, or sitting in a very warm setting, when we're really, really cold in the UK. And he looks very happy with himself. And and I'm delighted that he is happy, of course. But often we will reply to these messages by saying, OK, Toby, don't rub it in, don't 'rub it in' that you're having such a nice time. And what do I mean by 'rubbing something in'? Well, it means don't make things, even don't...mm...How would you describe it? (Don't make things even...).
Owain: Well, hold on a minute. I was just going to say, Don't, don't I get a chance to to guess?
Mike: Yes, sorry, sorry mate. I'm...I often do this listeners as you might've um, might've picked up. I often just dictate.
Owain: So if I was t...(Mike:...take over the reigns.) if I was taking it literally, then first thing I think about is some kind of substance, maybe an ointment or some kind of cream that you're applying to your skin. And I would kind of put it on my skin if I, you know, had a...an injury or something or hurt myself physically. And I would rub in this ointment, rub the ointment into my skin. Um, that's the first thing I would think of, but obviously...
Mike: So...so, in fact, this is exactly where the origins of the phrase come from. (Owain: Oh.) You rub salt into the wounds (Owain: Mmm). OK, that's the origin...origins of rubbing something in, because when you had a wound, you'd apply salt to the wound and the salt would make it really, really sting; it would like be really, really painful. Now, we've shortened the idiom from 'rubbing salt into the wounds' just to say 'rubbing it in', meaning you, you exaggerate something, you make something worse. Yeah.
Owain: Yeah. That's a good...it's a good one that one, because it is really...again, it's something we use all the time...
Mike: We use it quite a lot, don't we.
Owain: We have...we don't realise how kind of impenetrable it is for people who are not using the English language on a day-to-day basis.
Mike: Right. Can you think of...Can we think of another example of when we might use that one?
Owain: I mean, any situation where you've, you've...I mean, I, I can't think about the last time anybody said it to me or anybody did something where I would say, when I would respond, 'Oh don't rub it in!'.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, we'd always use it with the word don't. Yeah.
Owain: Yeah, yeah that's pretty typical, isn't it, yeah (Mike: Don't rub it in. That's, that's...) Somebody some somebody falls over and they're they're they've hurt themselves and then you say, I don't know, well, you laugh at them, essentially. Maybe you you laugh at them and say, 'Oh...' or maybe....No that's not quite right, is it. You would say, Oh and you've got your clothes dirty or something, I don't know. So you're your're kind of, er, compounding their, the, the suffering they're already going through, right.
Mike: Yeah, so I think either it's somebody else who's who's who's suffered something and you're making it worse by saying something, or you, perhaps, want to make somebody...maybe like an Instagram post or a Facebook post where you you put yourself, you show yourself having this amazing time and then somebody else back in., you know, some of your friends are not having such a good time. And you're you're basically rubbing it in, rubbing it in (Owain: Yeah, look at me! Look at me!) like you're having a great time. Look at me...
Owain: ...in the sun. Yeah. (Mike:...exactly.) Yeah. Great.
Mike: So I'm just I think this is a good good point to stop to say if you've got any idioms in your language, er, which you'd like to share with us, it would be great, great to hear from you. We'd be really, really curious to know what what your idioms exists in your language, so...
Owain: Yeah. OK, great. Yeah. All right. Well, let's leave it for today.
Mike: Alright, happy waffling!
Owain: Happy waffling!