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Last updated at 11:46 BST, Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The skin of your teeth


What does Jennifer mean when she says that she's caught the train by the skin of her teeth? Li wants to see whether Jennifer's teeth have skin. Listen to more of their conversation about the expression 'by the skin of your teeth'.


Do we have skin on our teeth?

The script for this programme

Li: Hi, I'm Li, and welcome to The English We Speak. I'm here today with Jen.

Jennifer: Hi!

Li: You look a little… flustered? Are you ok?

Jennifer: I woke up late and had to run to the train station. There's only one train an hour. I ran all the way there and made it by the skin of my teeth, just as the doors were closing. Phew! Is there any coffee…?

Li: Hang on… how did your teeth help you to run for the train?

Jennifer: Sorry?

Li: You said "I made it by the skin of my teeth." I've got to see this! Show me your teeth! When did they grow skin?

Jennifer: There's no skin on my teeth. That would be disgusting. Yuck.

Li: So what did you mean?

Jennifer: If you do something 'by the skin of your teeth' it means that you did it by a narrow margin – so you just managed to do it, or almost failed.

Li: So, if you got to the train by the skin of your teeth, it means that you nearly missed it?

Jennifer: That's exactly right. Let's hear some more examples of the phrase in action:

  • My brother's so lucky – he never does any revision for exams but always manages to pass by the skin of his teeth!

  • Hi, I'm stuck in a traffic jam – I might still make it to the presentation, but it'll be by the skin of my teeth.

Li: So when you just manage to do something, you can say you did it by the skin of your teeth?

Jennifer: That's it.

Li: That's a really funny phrase. I like it.

Jennifer: It's good to be able to get your teeth into English phrases like this.

Li: My teeth? What about my teeth?

Jennifer: It's just another phrase, silly. If you get your teeth into something, it means that you become really involved in it.

Li: Well in that case, I do love getting my teeth into a new phrase… Teeth… hang on… Oh no! I've just remembered, I have a dentist's appointment at twelve o'clock – it's ten to twelve now, I'll never make it!

Jennifer: You go, I'll finish the programme – if you run you might make it, but by the skin of your teeth!

Li: Thanks Jen – bye…

Jennifer: Join us again for another edition of The English We Speak and visit our website, Bye!


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