C1 Vocabulary / CAE Use of English Part 4 – More expressions with “head”

An earlier post included a look at the expression ‘off the top of my head‘ to talk about an idea or answer that you think of spontaneously or cannot give because you need to investigate the information.  Here are some examples:

  • How many times has Mourinho won a national league title?  I’m not sure, I’d have to check but off the top of my head I’d say at least 5.
  • I don’t know the total population of Portugal off the top of my head, I’ll have to look it up.
  • Off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you which athlete holds the most Olympic gold medals, I’ll take a guess and say Carl Lewis?
  • I haven’t thought about this too much, but off the top of my head, here are my top 5 music videos of all time…
  • My Five Favorite Songs about Los Angeles (off the top of my head.)  http://astropus.com/2011/02/25/my-five-favorite-songs-about-los-angeles-off-the-top-of-my-head/
Each of the examples suggest this idea of spontaneity and because we might feel we are exposed to making a mistake, there is an idea of concession in this expression.  It’s like saying…”I’m not 100% sure.”  “Off the top of my head” is often used as a kind of protection mechanism against the idea that our answer might be wrong or that our memory might have let us down and failed to remember an important point.
So, there is a logical link here between “head” in the expression and the mind and the memory.  Here are some more expressions with “head.”  Which seem to suggest some idea of the mind/memory/brain/mental ability?  Check your ideas with my thoughts below.
  1. She’s fallen head over heels in love.
  2. We need to put our heads together and find a solution to this problem.
  3. She has a good head for business.
  4. I can’t work it out in my head – I need a calculator.
  5. Who has been putting such strange ideas into your head?
  6. Try to get some sleep and put the exams out of your head for a few hours.
  7. I could not make head nor tail of what she was saying.
  8. There was no way I could make him see my point of view.  It was like banging my head against a brick wall.
  9. Don’t worry so much about him, I’m sure he’ll do the right thing.  He has a good head on his shoulders.
I would suggest that examples 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 have a direct link to the idea of brains, minds, memories and mental capacity.  Do you agree with my conclusions?
  • Example 2 suggests that getting together as a group to discuss something would be a good idea.  Not only is “heads” a reference to the people being in the same space to discuss something but it is also communicates an idea of thinking about an issue together.
  • Example 3 communicates an idea of mental ability or talent for something.  You might have a good head for business or numbers.
  • Example 4 also links the idea of “head” with the brain power and is most often used to talk about mental arithmetic.  If you can do maths “in your head,” you don’t need the help of a calculator.
  •  “Head” in example 5 is similar to “mind.”  Who has been suggesting ideas to you that make you think this way?  Who has been “putting these ideas into your head?”
  • In example 6, “head” is more like “memory” or “thoughts” – if you can “put something out of your head,” you can forget about it for a while.
  • Finally, for example 7, “head” is part of an expression which means “understand” and can therefore be linked to the idea of a brain trying to interpret information.
Identifying the whole expression
  • Put something out of your head
  • Put an idea/thought into someone’s head
Can you identify the words around “head” in the examples above that make the complete expression?  Put the grammatical words in brackets ( ) in the correct place to make full expressions and then compare your answers to the examples.
  1. To fall head heels love (over/in)
  2. To put heads (our (or their, or your etc.)/together
  3. head business/numbers etc.  (have/a/good/for)
  4. To work something head (out/in/your)
  5. To make head tail something (not/nor/of)
Expressions 1, 8 and 9
(1)  To fall head over heels in love (8)  to bang your head against a brick wall  (9)  to have a good head on your shoulders
Match the meaning and context of the above expressions in the original list with the words below?
(a)  “frustrating.”
(b)  “sensible.”
(c)  “madly, passionately.”
(d)  “infuriating”
(e)  “besotted”
(f)  “without success”
Can you add any other words to this list?
Can you think of ways to paraphrase the expressions in this post?  e.g.  “put the exams out of your head” – “stop stressing out about the exams.”
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