In one ear and out the other

In one ear and out the other is an idiom with roots in the first century, C.E. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom in one ear and out the other, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

In one ear and out the other describes the act of not heeding someone’s words or not remembering someone’s words. For instance, if a child is told not to cross the street and then crosses the street, the warning may be said to have gone in one ear and out the other. The expression in one ear and out the other is first found in English in 1385, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, Troilus and Criseyde. However, the idea dates back at least to the Roman orator Quintilian, who worked in first century C.E. and said: “The things he says flow right through the ears”. The imagery is that of an empty head, with no brain to absorb the information imparted.


The conversations were nice and suggestive at first, Ben said, but he realized it was going in one ear and out the other for his active parents. (The Owensboro Times)

“Emily was always so good about letting it go in one ear and out the other, not ever saying anything. … It’s got to be hard on a child-player who also has their dad as a coach. ” (The Chronicle Tribune)

But Connie’s words go in one ear and out the other as Charlie discharges himself – without Connie’s knowledge – and goes to the local pub to continue boozing. (The Sun)

Peter (the adorable Yashua Mack), clad in a dirty red school blazer, encourages his new recruits to let worries go in one ear and out the other, because he’s seen others fall to adult pressures. (The New York Post)

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