Monday, August 04, 2008


The other day I met two friends, both American, and learned something new. Two things, in fact.

The first thing was when I was telling them about a recent meeting I had with Mrs Malaprop, another friend, who occasionally comes out with the most fabulously mixed metaphors. I liked her latest one and was telling my American friends about it.

"She said she had to pay through the teeth for something," I said, and laughed and laughed.

My friends didn't. They stared at me.

"What's wrong with that?" one asked.

"Well, you pay through the NOSE," I said, "and you LIE through your teeth."

"'Pay through the teeth' is used, too," she said.

"Maybe it's not RIGHT, but it's become common usage," added the other. "It doesn't sound strange to me."


I came home and did a search on Google. Pay through the teeth got 1830 hits. Pay through the nose got 221,000.

I think that just proves is that 1830 people got it wrong, and there are more Mrs Malaprops out there than I imagined.

The other thing I learned was when I was telling a story about something. I can't even remember the story now, except that it was not a funny story, so I was surprised when I got to the bit where I said that someone had lost her rag and my two American friends choked on their wine.

I could not understand why they were laughing. "What? What?" I said. "What did I say?"

After they calmed down they told me they had understood from context what I meant by lost her rag, but had never heard it before and wanted to know where it came from.

I didn't know. To me it was just one of those idioms that you use but never think about. It had never occurred to me to wonder about its origin, or to think that it might be funny. Also, I'd thought it was a fairly common expression.

I looked that up when I got home, too.

It turns out that 'rag' is old slang for 'tongue,' at least according to the entry here. (Check under 'chew the rag.') I guess it must not be used in America.

It was a fun evening, even if it was a little disconcertingly educational.


Keera Ann Fox said...

An American here: "Pay through the teeth" is so similar to "pay through that other facial feature" that I didn't get what was wrong either until you said the correct idiom. What I got out of "lost her rag" without context is that it had something to do with feminine hygiene products (yeah, I know, ewww). That's the only slang I associate with "rag" ("be on the rag").

Carrie said...

I'm an American and have never, ever heard of paying through the teeth. It's through the nose, people!

However, I would be taken aback to hear about losing a rag. Keera explained it so I don't have to, thank goodness *lol*.

Badaunt said...

I'm glad I have at least two readers who know the difference between noses and teeth! And the menstrual thing ... well, yes. That's what my friends thought, too, which is why they laughed. My story had been perfectly respectable until then.

Mickey said...

"Losing your rag" is a very common expression here in England. Maybe we have more than our fair share of impatient and bad tempered people? And if it happens in public, the courts will make you pay through the nose! :-)

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

I find I need a translator sometimes when I'm talking to my American friends. There are so many things that we British speakers say (the Brits, Kiwis and Aussies at least) that the Americans just don't get. It always makes for interesting conversation.