Put-put for the fun of it…

There are endless idioms that make strange use of the word put. So many, in fact, that this will be part one of a two part post on Put. These idioms can either help you out or even get you in trouble, so it’s pretty important to know how to use them before you really put your foot in it.

  • Put up with – to deal with or stand for something like לסבול
    The teacher said “I won’t put up with this kind of behavior in my classroom”
  • Put down – this can either mean to insult or offend, in which case it can either be a verb phrase or a noun; or, in the context of animals, it is the way to say kill for the purpose of saving them pain
    Don’t put down your sister by telling her she’s lousy at math; it’s not good for her self confidence.
    When he told me I was a lousy swimmer it was a real put down
    It was so sad when we had to put down
    our dog, but he was really suffering.
  • Putting me on – to joke or kid
    I thought he was serious when he told me he was a professional puppeteer but it turns out he was just putting me on.
    I won the prize? Don’t put me on
    , be serious with me.
  • Put something away – I know it sounds really strange, but this can mean to eat or drink.
    Boy, Ralf really can put away the burgers, that guy is a bottomless pit.
    I can put away
    a whole bottle of wine but don’t expect me to be on time for work the next morning.
    Woah, that guy can really put it away
  • Put a dent in – it comes from car speak but it can be used to refer to making progress in something big.
    She had been working for three hours and had hardly put a dent in her homework.
    How can you be done with lunch, you’ve hardly put a dent in
    that sandwich.

And put-put was just mean of me to include, because it’s pronounced to rhyme with cut-cut and has nothing at all to do with the word put, but actually is the way you say mini-golf in the Mid-West. Stay tuned for next week’s second installment of other useful Put idioms.


Put up or shut up

 Another week, another opportunity to learn more English. But language is kind of like muscles. You can read about it all you want, but you won’t really make a difference if you don’t go to the gym. Maybe that metaphor didn’t work so well but what I’m trying to say is that if you don’t practice speaking English, you won’t really be able to make use of these things. When I started learning Hebrew someone told me that there’s a rule of three – you hear a word or expression once and you become familiar with it, you hear it a second time and you remember what it means and then the third time you use it yourself and then you own it. People have been asking my advice pretty frequently “how can I improve my English” and my answer is like a broken record: Talk. Ok, that’s a pretty short broken record and who the hell remembers what records are anyway? But you get the point.

So now that I’ve lectured in my own best interest (everyone speaking English), here are the idioms I promised a few weeks ago. Let me know if you start to notice how frequently they’re used now that you recognize them…

  • Hard put – this means to be in a difficult situation or struggle with something.
    You remember everything we did on the trip and I’d be hard put to even remember the name of the city we stayed in.
    I’ll be
    hard put to finish the proposal by the end of the week, but I’ll do the best I can.
  • Put it past someone – this is particularly useful. It is something you say when you think someone is capable of something, not necessarily in a positive way.
    I wouldn’t put it past Marcy to forget our anniversary entirely.
    That Joe is such an overachiever, I wouldn’t
    put it past him to finish the proposal and make it on time to his son’s school play.
  • Put one over – this means to get away with tricking someone.
    I signed up for the service but I have a bad feeling they’re trying to put one over on me.
    You have to get up pretty early in the morning to
    put one over on Sergeant Dickens.
  • Put you out – to make you do too much or go out of your way. This is a great thing to say to Americans, it has everything to do with being polite about other people’s time and putting yourself in a position where you are asking for something, but in a way that appreciates other people’s effort. The closest translation might be רק אם  זה נוח לך
    I wouldn’t want to put you out, but if you’re making yourself a copy can you make an extra for me?
    It would be great if you could pick up Billy after baseball, but only if it wouldn’t
    put you out too much.
    If it wouldn’t
    put you out, can you swing by on your way home from work? Only if it wouldn’t put you out too much.
    One warning to the wise is that when using this you have to be careful put the word YOU between put and out – otherwise you will wind up saying put out, which is something else entirely.
  • Put out – this means annoyed
    I have been really put out with Josh ever since he insulted my singing.
    The only thing you have to be careful about here is that put out has another meaning, but that kind of language is outside the scope of this post and you’ll have to look it up yourself. Suffice it to say that you’ll never need it at work. J
  • Put a damper on – this is actually a great saying. It means to tone something down.
    Emily’s new roommate really puts a damper on all the fun at the weekly parties.
    Can I please ask you to
    put a damper on all that noise so we can get some sleep?


I don’t know about you, but that’s all the put idioms I can put up with for one night.


 My grandmother passed away last night. She was my last living grandparent and lived until she was 97 years old. She was a woman of few words, my grandmother, and unlike me didn’t really like to tell a story. But she did talk about what it was like to be a woman many years ago and how few options women had; and despite that, she was one of the most independent women I’ve met, living alone and driving herself around until she was 92. She collected teacups, made delicious cinnamon cookies, played a mean game of canasta and read every book she could get her hands on.

Which is what I’ve been telling the well-wishers who have been calling and writing all day. And all day I’ve been translating between Hebrew to English and back again. So here’s a list of what you’re supposed to say to English speakers when someone dies. First rule is this: don’t say die or dead or croaked or kicked-the-bucket any other form of the definitive end-of-life. The “gentle” way to talk about death in English is to refer to a person’s passing or loss.

  • I’m so sorry for your loss – this is pretty standard and pretty tame. You can say it to just about anyone in the extended family and it works well. If someone at work loses a family member (loses means death, not that someone wandered off at Costco and you can’t find them anywhere near the jumbo jars of Advil where you left them) you would do well to send this empty sentiment in an email. In general being really sorry is a good thing when it comes to death. You can just hold someone’s hand and say “I’m so sorry,” or send an email that says “I’m really sorry to hear about your uncle,” and you’re covered.
  • My condolences – Condolence means sympathy, or sympathy with someone else’s sorrow (I thought that was empathy). So this is probably the closest you can get to the Hebrew משתתף בצערך which is actually pretty nice, but doesn’t really translate well – you can’t say “I participate in your sorrow.” Condolence is actually pretty cumbersome to use. You can basically only say it like a vague offering “my condolences,” unless you’re sending them through someone else, which works better “please send Paul my condolences.”
  • May you be comforted with the mourners of Zion –Apparently, we Jews say this to each other. In my family we call it the “hukkum mukkum” because that’s what it sounds like people are saying. I’ve personally never really connected with this phrase on any level, and it seems ghastly long for something you need to say when you’re already feeling awkward, but in an email, well, knock yourself out.


The bottom line is that when your colleague tells you that the thing you’re waiting for is going to be late due to a death in the family, your email response has to acknowledge their grief in some way before dealing with the business at hand. I always go back to a previous boss who, when told that one of his employees was going to be late for work because of his grandfather’s funeral, responded in email with “ok.” Ouch. It doesn’t get a lot colder than that in Alaska.

For my part, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea and look at some pictures of Grandma Jean. And if you’d like to participate in my sorrow, you’re welcome to stop by for a cinnamon cookie.