The purpose of You Don’t Say is to explore the many different aspects of the English language. This week it’s music and the idioms that have evolved out of it.
You’ve likely become tired of someone who can’t stop blowing their own horn, long enough to pay the piper. Someone who always wants to call the tune, marches to his own drummer, while trying to drum up support for someone who will fiddle while Rome burns. It’s enough to play it by ear, ignoring the ear-worms and never sing from the same song sheet as everyone else, but when they won’t play second fiddle to anyone, it might be time to cue the fat lady and ring the curtain down.
There’s a whole brass band of idioms for you:
Blowing your own horn is generally taken as someone who is bragging about themselves, although sometimes if you don’t blow your own horn, no one else will. Just take your colleagues into account.
Pay the piper, means you’ve got to make good on promises, pay the price for whatever you’ve been doing. It originates in the old story about a piper, a rat catcher, in the German city of Hamelin, who for a fee, uses his magic flute to charm all the rats into following him out of the town and into the river where all but one drowns. When the townsfolk renege on the deal to pay the piper, he uses the same magic to lead all the children from the town never to be seen again.
Calling the tune is the term for someone who insists on having their say over events or activities. Generally it’s the person who pays the piper gets to call the tune, although there’s always someone who wants to butt into line.
Marching to his own drummer is a term for someone who is different than everyone else. Like a band marching to the beat of the drum, someone out of step may be imagining their own rhythm. And speaking of drums, a person who beats the drum loudest is the one who gets attention. It’s an old device for getting everyone’s attention to promote a cause or drumming up support.
Ever run into someone who doesn’t pay attention to the main thing in a crisis while focusing on trivial matters? They may be considered as fiddling while Rome burns, a reference to Roman Emperor Nero who was preoccupied making music while the city was burning around him. History says however that there were no fiddles in the time of Rome. If Nero played anything at all it would have been a harp-like instrument called a Lyre. And that’s the truth!
If someone is playing it by ear, it doesn’t mean earlobes are involved. It means they’re making it up as they go along, not sticking to the musical score (the script or instruction sheet). The downside? It may cause ear-worms (insidious bits of music that drill into your mind, your consciousness, and repeat over and over again until you can’t take it anymore! ARRRRGH!
People who won’t sing from the same song sheet are not team players. They’re like the ones with their own drummer. They don’t harmonize with others, and are often singing solo.
You’ll not likely find them playing second fiddle however, which refers to musicians who play second and third parts in an orchestra, no less important, but generally the most skilled gets to play the lead, or first fiddle. They want to be right out front getting all the glory. Eventually though, people will tire of the act and cue the fat lady to sing, which refers, not to an idiom, but a proverb (according to wikipedia). “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings” means don’t presume to know the outcome of something before it’s played out. The phrase is attributed to Wagner’s opera, The Ring, and the (stereotypically obese) Soprano’s aria, or solo, which goes on for twenty minutes and leads to the end of the work. Thus, when the fat lady has sung, it’s truly over. At that point, you can ring the curtain down, end the program, close the show.
And it’s curtains for us this week.