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Stave off

  • Stave off is an idiom that is hundreds of years old. An idiom is a commonly used 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 like an often-used metaphor 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 common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, 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, because 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying stave off, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

     

    Stave off means to ward off, to avert something, to hold something at bay. For instance, one may ingest vitamin C to stave off a cold, or one may avoid answering the telephone to stave off creditors. The idiom stave off contains an archaic use of the word stave. Today, the word stave is primarily used as a noun to mean the slats around a wooden barrel. In the 1400s, stave was the plural of the word staff. By the 1600s, stave was used as a verb to mean to fend someone or something off with a staff. Related expressions are staves off, staved off, staving off.

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    Examples

    How to stave off dementia: Women who read newspapers and men that use a mobile phone are LESS likely to develop the disease, study finds (Daily Mail)

    PM urges against travel to stave off transmissions as Covid cases soar (Phnom Penh Post)

    It also aptly describes the steps that two female firefighters — Kelly Martin and Lacey England — needed to take to stave off institutional sexual harassment. (Marin Independent Journal)


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