Published: 21st September 2019
English Blues: Let's talk about a few confusing idioms and phrases
Here's decoding a few idioms and phrases and how one shouldn't always go with a phrase's literal meaning
Student: What is the meaning of the expression “to follow in one’s footsteps”?
Teacher: It means to follow someone’s (often a family member) model or to pursue something that someone else has done.
Student: Can you please explain it with an example?
Teacher: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Mr Edappadi K Palaniswamy has just returned to the State after visiting the UK, the US and the Emirates for two weeks. He is planning to leave for Israel soon. He follows in the footsteps of our Prime Minister Mr Modi.
Student: But Modi and EPS don’t belong to the same family.
Teacher: They both belong to the political family.
A week ago, when I posted the imaginary dialogue between a teacher and a student on Facebook, I had used the idiomatic expression “to follow in one’s footsteps” without “in”. Upon noticing the error in the usage, Professor Vincent Soundaram called me and brought it to my notice saying that “to follow one’s footsteps” is different in meaning from “to follow in one’s footsteps”. For me it was a good learning experience.
What is the difference in meaning between the two expressions? “To follow one’s footsteps” has a literal meaning. It means to go behind a person who, probably, shows someone the way.
- She doesn’t know where the post office is. Ask her to follow your footsteps.
“To follow in one’s footsteps” has a metaphorical meaning. It means to imitate someone or to follow someone’s example or to try to do the same thing that someone else did. Here are examples:
- Mary’s mother is a doctor and she wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps.
What is the difference in meaning between the expressions i) to lose heart and ii) to lose courage? Both the expressions have almost the same meaning. ‘To lose heart’ is more idiomatic than ‘to lose courage’. If a person loses heart, they stop believing that they can overcome a problem or succeed.
- He wanted to ask the boss why he didn’t accept his proposal but he lost courage and didn’t discuss it with him.
If a person loses courage, the person had courage initially but slowly lost it during the process.
- Prime Minister Modi told the ISRO chairman to not lose heart after Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram lander lost contact.
The idiom “to be in a funk” is similar in meaning “to lose heart”. If a person is very unhappy and without hope, we say that they are in a funk. The word “funk” means a state of great fear. It also means depression.
- Ever since he lost his job, he has been in a funk.
- I suggest you meet the doctor. He can help you get out of a funk.
When the word “funk” is used as a verb, it means ‘to avoid something or avoid doing something out of fear’.
- I told the boss that I would meet him in the evening but I funked meeting him.
- Don’t funk your responsibilities.
In British English, a ‘funk’ is a coward.
- Don’t be a funk. Be courageous. Get out of a funk.
“Don’t lose hope. When the sun goes down, the stars come out.”