Talk is cheap

Talk is cheap is an idiom that has been in use since the 1800s, though its exact origin is not known. 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, 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. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as kick the bucket, let the cat out of the bag, cut the mustard, barking up the wrong tree, dime a dozen, let sleeping dogs lie, Achilles heel, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the phrase talk is cheap, how it came into being, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase talk is cheap means it is easier to talk about doing something than to actually do that thing. Many people say they will do something but never do it. The expression talk is cheap may be seen as a challenge to accomplish something, but it is usually a commentary that someone is not following through on a guarantee or promise. In other words, one may promise to accomplish any number of things, but the words mean nothing unless that person follows through and actually accomplishes those things. The phrase talk is cheap is an example of an idiom that was longer at one time. The population was so familiar with the second have of the idiom, it was seldom quoted. Today, the second half of the idiom has generally been forgotten. There were a number of idioms popular in the 1800s that began with the phrase talk is cheap. Some examples are talk is cheap but it takes money to buy a farm, talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whiskey, talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer. That last quote is attributed to P.T. Barnum in the 1850s. The source of the construction talk is cheap but…is attributed to the T.C. Haliburton book Attaché, published in 1843. It is likely that the phrase was in use before this time. The sentiment was expressed by John Bunyan in The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ published in 1692: “I know words are cheap, but a dram of grace is worth all the world.” Today, the expression talk is cheap is often quoted, without the second half of any of the original idioms.


Talk is cheap, and teachers know a lot about cheap in Louisiana, because Louisiana has been a very cheap state when compensating teachers. (The Shreveport Times)

Which is hardly surprising, because talk is cheap and this film was made for practically nuppence ($20 million). (The Evening Standard)

“Talk is cheap now … we must now play,” said De Bruin, who handles the back division. (The Independent)

EMMA MHIC MHATHÚNA has told The Later Late Show that she is glad the government is listening to her but that “talk is cheap”. (The Journal)


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