Saturday, November 1, 2003

Silence is golden
Prerana Trehan

I know I have the gift of the gab. I have often been told that I can talk the hind legs off a donkey. I donít know how true that is but I admit that at times I do tend to shoot my mouth off.

Last Sunday I noticed that my friend Suraj was unusually quiet. "Whatís the matter?" I asked him, "has the cat got your tongue?" He then told me that he was planning to quit his job for an overseas assignment but asked me to keep my mouth shut until things were more certain. I was at a loss for words because he always said he would never go abroad but promised not to breathe a word about it to anyone. "Donít worry, my lips are sealed," I assured him.

Later that day I ran into an old friend I hadnít seen in a while and we were chewing the fat when he asked me how Suraj was doing. I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him what I had just heard, but he coaxed me to tell him what was going on. "Out with it!" he said and I finally told him the truth.

As soon as the words were out I realised what I had done and shut up like a clam. But the damage was done and when Suraj heard what had happened he told me I had verbal diarrhoea and said he wished he had never confided in me. I really have to learn how to hold my tongue.

Key to phrases used

The gift of the gab: an ability to speak easily and confidently

Talk the hind legs off a donkey: to talk a lot

Shoot your mouth off: to talk too much, especially about something you should not talk about

Has the cat got your tongue: something that you say to someone when you are annoyed because they will not speak

Keep your mouth shut: to keep something secret

To be at a loss for words: to be unable to think of what to say

Not breathe a word: to not tell people a secret

My lips are sealed: used to say that you will not tell anyone what they have just told you

Chew the fat: to have a long and friendly conversation with someone

Bite your tongue: to stop yourself from saying something even if you would like to say it

Out with it!: something that you say in order to tell someone to say something that they are frightened to say

Shut up like a clam: to suddenly stop talking and refuse to say any more

Verbal diarrhoea: if someone has verbal diarrhoea, they talk too much

Hold your tongue: to stop talking

Interesting origins

An albatross around oneís neck refers to an inescapable liability. This phrase is thought to have originated from Coleridgeís The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), in which the mariner narrates an incident when his ship got stuck in ice and was visited by an albatross, considered to be a good omen. The ship was freed from the ice but for some unknown reason the mariner shot the albatross. A curse fell on the ship, the albatross was hung around the marinerís neck as a punishment and the rest of the crew died. The mariner then saw some beautiful water snakes around the ship and blessed them, whereupon the albatross fell from his neck, the ship was no longer accursed and his life was saved.

This story led to the phrase being used in a metaphorical sense to mean a symbol of personal guilt from which freedom had to be earned. It is also used in a wider sense to refer to any oppressive influence that is difficult to escape from.

(Reference: Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms and A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)