Body Parts as Metaphor

By Maeve Maddox

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Many of the nouns used to name body parts have corresponding verbs that describe the literal functions performed by the body part in question.

A fighter knees his opponent in the ribs.
A dog noses through the garbage.
An aggressive shopper elbows others out of his way.
A musician tongues a note or fingers an instrument.
Dancers foot the light fantastic.
A woodsman shoulders a log.
A party-goer eyes the last eclair on the table.

In each of these examples, the body part is physically put to use.

Then there are the figurative uses.

to head
to be at the head of; to lead

She also was the first woman to head the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board.

to eye
to consider (a company, property, business opportunity, etc.) with a view to acquisition or development.

Developers are greedily eyeing up all those galleries with a view to turning them into fancy apartments.

to nose
To detect or discover as if by means of a keen sense of smell.

For while Jan [Morris] is less of an extrovert in person than in her writing, she nonetheless possesses a remarkable ability to nose out a story.

Nose is used as a verb in several other idioms:
to nose around: to search furtively for something, to pry
to nose ahead: to gain a slight advantage
to nose out: to defeat by a narrow margin

Look out for guys in bad suits nosing around your target property.
Iberia Airlines Sees New Distribution Tactic as Way to Nose Ahead of Rivals
Ford is now expected to nose out Toyota by winning 16.6% of the U.S. market.

to mouth
to utter words or statements rhetorically or insincerely; to pay lip service to.

To all politicians: stop mouthing platitudes and do something about affordable housing.

Other verbal uses of mouth:
to mouth off: to express one’s opinion in a forceful, uninhibited or indiscreet manner; to be abusive or offensive; to brag.

to bad-mouth
to abuse or deprecate verbally; to criticize, slander, or gossip maliciously about.

You get fed up, you mouth off to the wrong person, you’re out of a job.
When I tell them I won’t bad-mouth her, they tell me she says plenty about me.

to shoulder
to take upon oneself as a burden, such as an expense or heavy responsibility.

The most vulnerable members of society can shoulder the biggest relative burden.

to finger
to identify an offender

More important, the British military can justly finger the politicians for any shortcomings.

to stomach
to tolerate, put up with.

Why is it that when someone is happy, the friends just can’t seem to stomach it.

to foot the bill
to pay or settle a bill, especially one which is large or unreasonable, or which has been run up by another party.

They leave and the place is a mess and we, the tax payers have to foot the bill.
Costs do matter, especially if we are demanding that someone else foot the bill.

This idiom comes by way of another figurative use of foot, the accounting practice of adding up a column of numbers with the total sum at the “foot” of the column.

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2 Responses to “Body Parts as Metaphor”

  • ApK

    Let’s give a big hand to Maeve. I thought at first she was pulling my leg, but she really hit it on the nose.

  • Maeve

    ApK,
    Your comment really tickles my funny-bone. You are a reader close to my heart.

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