ENGLISCH/755: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (124) Use Your Head (SB)


124. Idioms with head

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I'm looking for expressions or idioms which are based on the word "head". Could you give me some examples and explanations?

Ernestas Tatlauskas (Kaunas, Lithuania)


Dear Mr Tatlauskas

Now the first idiom that comes into my head or "heads my list of English idioms based on the word head" is the well-known expression "use your head". When do you use your head? When you think. And native speakers of English very often use that expression in the imperative, the command-form. Look at the following piece of conversation, which will explain when it is used and why:

A: "I need to get in touch with Heather immediately but I can't find her phone number or her address and she isn't in the phone book, so there is nothing I can do about it."

B: "Of course there is."

A: "Is what?"

B: "Something you can do about it."

A: "What?"

B: "Use your head!"

A: "What do you mean?"

B: "Well, her brother lives round the corner. Go and ask him for Heather's phone number."

A: "Oh, yes. You do have some good ideas sometimes..."

So "use your head" means, "go on, think again". By the way, that last idiom is the origin of a Cockney expression "use your loaf" which means the same thing, "think". In Cockney which is a very special dialect which is spoken in part of the East End London they have so- called rhyming slang. The expression "loaf of bread" rhymes with "head". So people used to say, "use your loaf of bread". But then as often happens in Cockney slang - and that's what makes it so unusual - they left out, they omitted, the part of the expression that actually gives the rhyme. So in this case they omitted "bread" and it remained: "Use your loaf." And that expression has pasted the general English slang. But being slang it is of course very informal.

Mrs Gobbledygook

5 December 2007