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A guide to expressions of caution and disapproval

Heads Up!

Sometimes we’re warned to watch our head, but when you think about it, that doesn't seem physically possible.

How can you watch your head?

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan analyze phrases and expressions involving the word ‘head’.

The phrase ‘heads up’ is one that many people are familiar with, usually meant to provide an advanced notice of something. However, many people may not know that it is a military term meaning straighten up, going back to the 18th century. Curzan explains that over time the phrase evolved to its current form of ‘heads up’ taking on the meaning of being at attention.

There are other expressions using the word ‘head’ that have some interesting meanings, such as ‘out of your head’ or ‘over your head’. Curzan emphasizes the importance of context to understand the meaning behind these expressions, as some are intended to be metaphorical, while others tend to take on a more literal meaning.

Did you have any trouble wrapping your head around this? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
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