ENGLISCH/771: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (130) - Wear and Tear (SB)


130. "The wear and tear"

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

In my summer vacation I went to Brighton, where I stayed with Mr. and Ms. John Tyler who do bed and breakfast, that means, they let rooms to visitors, but the only meal they offer is breakfast. The Tylers are a charming couple and we soon became good friends. Anyway, one morning having breakfast I happen to mention that they both were very lucky to live in this town. It is a lovely place near the seaside, with lots of fresh air and lots of tourists who want somewhere to stay. I asked them if doing bed and breakfast weren't an easy way to make a lot of money. Mrs Tyler seemed to be a little annoyed then. She told me that earning their living wasn't "t-h-a-t" easy and not so much money. She said I should think of the "wear and tear". What does it mean?

Kind regards
Yours sincerely

Madelaine Simon (from Austria)


Dear Ms Simon

We use the word "to wear" to talk about clothes, like in the following examples:

* She is wearing a coat.
* He always wears a suit.

And if you wear something a lot, it "wears out" or it becomes "worn out". And the word wear in the expression "the wear and tear" refers to the way that clothes among other things slowly lose their new appearance as a result of use. So that is "wear". The other word is "tear". If you tear something, it is damaged. It is no longer whole, or else, you divide it like in this example:

* If I tear one piece of paper in half, I have two smaller pieces.

So, "wear and tear" are what happens to material as a result of use or accident. Imagine the following conversation:

Beth: "I'd really like to get a new carpet. This one looks terribly old and shabby." James: "Well, it had a lot of wear and tear when the children were small. And we have had it for at least 20 years."

Now, in your story Mrs Tyler wanted to make clear, that their income is not pure profit. Furniture and bed-linen become old and worn out and sometimes cups and plates are broken. That is the "wear and tear". English people often use the expression when talking about the costs of replacing old things.

Wishing you a pleasant stay in Britain on your next vacation, yours

Mrs Gobbledygook

20 March 2008