We have all heard of these ‘English is a funny language’ jokes, which provide a long list of the oddities and quirks of the language. These jokes typically focus on spelling inconsistencies, pronunciation oddities and the like, and end with the complaint that it is extremely difficult to learn a language this unpredictable. I believe all languages have their quirks, and English is no ‘funnier’ than other languages. But our theme for today explores this angle a little.

Here are a few identical idioms with different meanings.

Catch on (to understand)

The idiom ‘catch on’ refers to understanding something in a situation. Here is an example: ‘As my birthday approached, my friends were acting weird, and sometimes whispering. But it wasn’t until a day before that I caught on: they were planning a surprise party for me.’ In terms of usage, this idiom carries a little more meaning than just ‘understand.’ ‘Catching on’ is best used in contexts where you are trying to comprehend a situation that you are somewhat unfamiliar with, or a situation where the explanation is not given to you explicitly, and you need to pick up on small clues to understand what is going on.

For example: ‘My neighbour recently started coming over on Sunday mornings, and it took me a month before I caught on to what was going on: He just wanted to watch some TV, since his had stopped working.’ Unlike the simple ‘understand,’ the idiom ‘catch on’ implies somewhat delayed understanding.

Catch on (to become popular)

Let us consider a couple of examples to begin with. ‘We used to think eating ice cream in the winter was a bad idea, but after the heavy marketing by ice cream companies, this practice has really caught on.’ Also: ‘Throughout history, people have preached equality and freedom, but it wasn’t until the French Revolution that these ideas really caught on.‘ When something ‘catches on,’ it takes root and is taken up or practiced by more and more people, becoming well-known and mainstream.

Typically, the idiom is used to refer to popularity of ideas, fashion or style, hobbies, and so on.

Tuck in

This idiom again has two different meanings: ‘tuck in’ can refer to settling in bed for sleeping, or it can refer to eating, especially with some enthusiasm. For example, you might say, ‘When I was little, I could not fall asleep unless my mother tucked me in, and read me a story.’ Used in this sense, ‘tucking someone in’ refers to getting someone--a child, or someone sick--ready for bed, helping them settle under the covers or blankets, and so on.

In another sense, tucking into something refers to eating heartily. For example: ‘After whole day of cricket, we were famished, and really tucked into the dinner.’

nilesh@skillspark.com

Keywords: Englishidiomsmeanings