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The English We Speak

Intermediate level

Thereby hangs a tale

Episode 220606 / 06 Jun 2022


Something unexpected happened to Feifei on her way to the studio. Neil wants an explanation and they both teach you a phrase for when there is a story behind what you see. It's an expression used by Shakespeare!


Hello, and welcome to The English We Speak. I’m Feifei…

… and hello, I’m Neil. Err, sorry to mention it, Feifei, but why is there a big coffee stain on your top?

Because I spilt coffee all over me!

That was a bit silly… and did I notice when you arrived that you were limping?

Yes, I was - and thereby hangs a tale.

Where? Did you trip over a tail? 

No, Neil! I mean there is more to tell you. When we say, ‘thereby hangs a tale’ we mean what I have told you involves a longer explanation – or there is more to tell you. It’s an expression, taken from As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

So, let me explain why I have a coffee stain and a limp.

If it involves me, then no!

It does.

Oh. Shall we have some examples of ‘thereby hangs a tale’?

A: Why are you covered in mud?
B: Well, thereby hangs a tale.

I won that medal for bravery – and thereby hangs a tale.

What a journey! All the main roads were closed so we had to drive cross-country – and thereby hangs a tale.

You’re listening to The English We Speak from BBC Learning English. I’ve been telling Neil about the phrase ‘thereby hangs a tale’. It means there is more to say about what I have already told you. Neil, can you guess what’s happened?

Hmmm, so you have a limp, and you have a coffee stain on your top – were you dancing with a full cup of coffee?

I wasn’t. In fact, I was walking to the studio, carefully carrying my coffee, when I tripped over a bag of potatoes in the corridor.

Ah, that’s my bag of potatoes!

I thought so. But why is there a bag of potatoes in the corridor?

Well, thereby hangs a tale!

I’m all ears!

I’ll tell you later. It’s time to go now. Bye.


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