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The human body, probably without even trying, has contributed a number of verbs to the English language.

Some of the actions are downright rude: You might elbow your way through a crowd to get where you want to go. You might elbow your husband in the ribs when he is talking to others about things you'd rather he wouldn't (or so I've heard).

Kneeing people can hurt them, and sometimes that's the point.

The shoulder is a less pushy, often valiant joint. You may shoulder the blame for something someone else has done so that person doesn't get in trouble. You may shoulder responsibilities for friends in need.

"To head" means to be in charge, maybe to be the brains of the operation.

For some reason, "to butt" can mean to hit with the head. Animals -- gazelles, for example -- will butt their horns. In debates, political candidates might butt heads over issues, but not literally.

Depending on their personalities, some people may butt into other people's business or butt into a conversation. Others may be less intrusive and butt out.

When you bang your car into the back of another, you rear-end them.

When parents pay for a daughter's wedding, they're footing the bill.

We hand things to other people. Sometimes information is handed out. You hand over the Wii controller when your turn is up. Juries hand up indictments.

"To arm," when used as a verb, means to provide weapons. News stories often say that soldiers or SWAT teams are heavily armed. If they were lightly armed, would they announce it? But I digress.

A more cerebral use is when lawyers are armed with the latest rulings before heading to court.

Sometimes "to arm" simply means to turn something on: arm the alarm, maybe.

When you toe the line, you give in to what is expected of you.

If you're a runner, you put your toes right up to the starting line, waiting for the pistol. That one is often incorrectly spelled as "tow the line." But, in fact, a towline is a rope that pulls a boat or ship.

Now we move to necking, when two people kiss and behave amorously, often using arms too. I don't know why this isn't called "lipping."

Mouthing is what you resort to when you're in choir and you forget the words of the song. You move your mouth but don't actually sing. Also, you may mouth off to your mom and get a time-out.

"To chin" is to do chin-ups. That always brings to mind the Matthew Modine character in the film Full Metal Jacket, who tries to chin as the drill sergeant harasses him.

You might nose out news or a hidden fact. You might nose your car into traffic. A dog sometimes noses his empty water bowl across the room as if to say, "Hello? I'm parched."

"To eye" is to watch someone. Sometimes that has a creepy connotation. When you eye a piece of pie, you're probably hoping you'll get it.

The American Heritage Dictionary also says that the verb can mean "to supply with an eye." I doubt I will ever be that generous.

"To finger" means to touch. A person may finger a necklace distractedly while trying to decide what to say or write. "To finger," in music, is to find the correct spot on an instrument to get the right note.

A more casual use means to tattle on someone or tell the authorities about a wrongdoer. Fredo basically did this to himself in The Godfather, Part II. His brother Michael was not pleased.

"To knuckle down" is to try hard to do something. When you "knuckle under," you give in. Or toe the line, even.

"To muscle in" is to use your influence to get something done. Usually, you don't do this subtly. He muscled his way to be closest to the enormous platter of shrimp on the buffet.

A good dog will heel, or stay close by his human companion when told. A cobbler may heel your shoes so that you don't need to buy new ones just yet. The American Heritage Dictionary taught me a new use for the verb. "To heel" also means to put a metal spur on a gamecock's leg.

I never seem to keep up with rooster fashion trends.

Sources: American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,, Oxford Dictionaries

Reach Bernadette at

ActiveStyle on 12/04/2017

Print Headline: Give dull English a little body with verbs


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