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The genie is out of the bottle

  • The genie is out of the bottle is an idiom that may not be as old as you think. 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 idiom the genie is out of the bottle, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

     

    The genie is out of the bottle means that something has been done that cannot be undone; a secret may have been revealed, forces may have been put into motion, privileges may have been granted that cannot be retracted, etc. When the genie is out of the bottle, things cannot be restored to the way they were before. The negative, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, is also often used to mean what has been done cannot be undone. The expression the genie is out of the bottle is derived from Arabian mythology that was introduced to the West with the publication of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales published in English at the turn of the eighteenth century. The expression the genie is out of the bottle did not become popular until the 1960s and may be related to the advent of the nuclear bomb. The word genie was first used in English to mean guardian spirit in the 1650s; the word is derived from the Latin word genius. Coincidentally, genie resembles the Arabic word jinni, which means a spirit.

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    Examples

    Although the pendulum has swung back in recent months – with in-person outpatient visits returning to pre-pandemic levels and some insurers pulling back on reimbursement – all indications are, as Seema Verma, the administrator of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), stated, that “the genie is out of the bottle on this one” and there’s no going back on telehealth. (Harvard Business Review)

    An experienced COVID-19 doctor who helped remove crew from the ill-fated Ruby Princess says Melbourne’s outbreak shows the “genie is out of the bottle” in Australia. (Brisbane Times)

    Teen vaping rates skyrocket and governments frantically rush about trying to put the genie back in the bottle. (South China Morning Post)


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