Talk out of both sides of one’s mouth

  • Talk out of both sides of one’s mouth is an idiom with a hazy origin. 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 talk out of both sides of one mouth, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    To talk out of both sides of one’s mouth means to change one’s advice or opinion depending on who one is talking to or what situation one finds oneself in. For instance, someone who is in the company of people who do not like cucumbers may state that he doesn’t like cucumbers. Later, when he finds himself in the company of people who do like cucumbers, he may state that he does like cucumbers. His opinion is not an honest one; it is a statement he makes to ingratiate himself with the group. People who talk out of both sides of their mouths are looked down upon as hypocritical, undependable, and insincere. The origin of the idiom talk out of both sides of one’s mouth is unknown. Some trace it to a passage in the Bible, Proverbs 4:24, but this passage does not use the term “both sides of one’s mouth” in any form; it talks about lying. A more likely inspiration for the idiom is the ancient idea that the right side of anything is the positive or godly side, and the left side of anything is the negative or evil side.



    Wasserman Schultz, who said she can translate “DeSantis-ese,” said the governor is “talking out of both sides of his mouth.” (Sun Sentinel)

    His recent move makes it look as though he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth, what with one day stating he’s not going to lift the mask mandate, but two days later, goes and says restaurants can be back at 100%. (Times-West Virginian)

    A man little known for dexterity, Gov. Jim Justice has proved a relentless rhetorical contortionist, harumphing out of both sides of his mouth while producing his own brand of Doublethink, only not so cleverly Orwellian. (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

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