How To Shoot Yourself In The Foot And Cut Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face
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So, this week’s podcast. Let’s take a couple of phrases in English which mean something similar. The phrases are:-
To shoot yourself in the foot
To cut off your nose to spite your face
Well, both these phrases seem to be about violence to the self – they would be pretty horrible things to do to yourself, if you really did them. So let’s see what they actually mean.
So ‘to shoot yourself in the foot’. To shoot – this verb is what you do with a gun. And examples of types of gun – Colt45, Smith&Wesson, Kalashnikov – they’re all guns, if you get the idea – so a gun is what you use to shoot with. You can also use the verb ‘to shoot’ if you’re trying to score a goal in football. So ‘to shoot yourself in the foot’ means that you take a gun, and you shoot your own foot. Doesn’t seem like a good thing to do. So this phrase ‘to shoot yourself in the foot’ is supposed to have started in the First World War. The First World War is the war which happened between 1914 and 1918, involving many countries of the world. In the First World War, soldiers found themselves in the trenches – in Northern Europe. A trench is like a hole in the ground, that you dig – with a spade – and a trench is a long, narrow hole in the ground. Life in the trenches in the First World War was horrible, but more than this the chance of dying, the possibility of being dead was very high. So because of this, some soldiers preferred to shoot themselves in the foot, so that they would be removed, injured from the battle and could then actually go home and survive. So that’s a horrible thing to do, just to keep yourself alive.
So from this, you might think that ‘to shoot yourself in the foot’ would mean that you did something to avoid being killed. But that’s not the way that the phrase is used now. Instead picture a person, holding a gun, perhaps cleaning it and then accidentally shooting a bullet into their own foot. I’m sure this has happened. You need to be careful with guns and not hold them loaded. So the person who injures themselves in this way, you could say ‘They’re a bit of an idiot’. It’s an accident – they’ve made a big mistake, it isn’t something they wanted to do. So instead of using the gun against somebody else, they’ve accidentally injured themselves with it. They’ve shot themselves in the foot.
So examples of how you might use this phrase?
So you say that someone ‘has shot themselves in the foot’ if they accidentally do something, which then made everything more difficult for them. In the UK, recently a very well-known, well-respected Nobel Peace Prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt lost his job at a university just because he made sexist remarks about women scientists. So his life’s work somewhat spoiled, ruined because of a sexist remark he made in an after dinner speech. So something he said about women scientists which made him unpopular. So he shot himself in the foot.
Another example at work, if you’re just about to get a promotion, be given a better job, with more money. But you’re told ‘Don’t tell anyone, keep it secret!’ that you’re being promoted to a higher job, a higher position. But instead of keeping quiet and not telling everyone, like your boss asked you, you tell everyone about it. Then your boss, your manager decides ‘No, we’re not going to give that job to you. We’ll give the job to someone else’. This would be ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ because something you did which was badly judged, you made a bad decision over, put you at a disadvantage, meant you had a less good outcome. So that’s shooting yourself in the foot.
The other phrase is ‘Cutting off your nose to spite your face’. It has a similar slightly similar meaning to ‘shooting yourself in the foot’. But ‘cutting off your nose’ – this would mean taking a knife and cutting off your own nose. Sounds horrible – something you would never do – you would have no nose at all. Rather like Voldemort, perhaps. But ‘to spite your face’ means that you would be trying to do harm, to do something bad to your own face. Spite is more usually used as a noun and it means when someone is nasty, horrible, just wanting to do harm to other people. You might also say ‘spiteful’. So ‘to spite your own face’ would be pretty silly. The meaning here then is that you want to hurt someone else so much, that you make bad judgements, you act in a foolish way – and you end up harming yourself in the process. It’s usually used to talk about a situation where somebody got very emotional, probably angry and acted in a way that didn’t make sense, wasn’t sensible – and they ended up harming themselves.
So an example of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ might be that you quit your job, because of an argument with your boss. Quitting your job, giving up your job, may mean you can’t pay your bills, you’ve no money and you lose your house – but you made that decision when you were angry with your boss. So in the end, you hurt yourself, more than the other person.
So ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ means you harm yourself, do something bad to yourself, but it happens when you make a mistake, you do something silly. ‘Cutting off your nose to spite your face’ also means that you do something that harms you, but here it’s motivated by anger, by wanting to hurt or to harm other people.
So, enough of the self-harm, enough of the self-sabotage for today! I hope this has made these two phrases clearer in your mind.
Have a lovely day, speak to you again soon. Good bye.