AE 517 – Expression: Go Out On A Limb
This is the signal for ‘Big Bill’ Neidjie to begin on of the most important duties in the maintenance of his tribal lands. Only he and the other elders are traditionally entrusted with the task of burning the grasslands. They must clean the country, they say, but strictly according to aboriginal law.
Bill’s son, Johnathon Yarramana, has come to learn just how and when the fires may be lit.
The time is right when the birds begin to migrate. The young animals born in the grasslands have grown to maturity by this time and so can escape fire.
It’s also a comparatively cooler time of year and beneath the dry stalks there is still dampness. Fires will not rage out of control and so the country will be cleansed, but not devastated. If the laws about burning are broken and fires are started later in the season of heat and dryness, there will be great loss of life.
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Anyway, guys, the movie scene at the start there, I hope you like that, that was a snippet from a David Attenborough doco, I’m not sure exactly which one, but I found that on YouTube and thought that I would chop a little part out of it and show you it because it has something to do with what we will talk about at the end of this episode and that is bushfires, ok? And Indigenous Australians use and have used for many thousands of years bushfires to control the land for hunting for many different purposes. Anyway, we’ll chat about that in the Aussie English Fact at the end of today’s episode.
Alright, so, as usual, let’s start with an Aussie joke. So, I decided to try and find a tree joke, a joke about trees, because today’s expression references the limb of a tree, as in a large branch on a tree, ok? So, here’s the tree joke, here is the joke about trees. How did trees get online? How did trees get online? They just log in. They just log in. Do you get it? There’s a pun there with the word log, right? A log is a thick part of a branch of a tree that has been chopped up, right? If you chop a tree down and you chop the trunk up or a large branch up, you get logs. Those small chunks of wood, that’s a log so, how to get online, they just log in, because log in to is to get online. I don’t know. I don’t know. Bad joke.
Alright so, today’s expression, guys, is ‘to go out on a limb’, ‘to go out on a limb’, ‘to go out on a limb for someone’, you’ll usually hear it in that kind of pattern, so this came from Kel, my wife, in the Aussie English Classroom, seemed like a lot of you guys in the Facebook group were a bit busy this week so, we only had two expressions to choose from, Fatima, you almost got there, but next week, we’ll try next week. So, let’s go through and define the words in the expression ‘to go out on a limb’, ‘to go out on a limb for someone’.
So, ‘to go out’. ‘To go out’. This is to move in an outwards direction, right? You can go out of a house, which is to exit the house, to leave the house, to move out of the house. You can go out of the city if you’re in the city and you go out of the city, you’re moving outwards from the city, you’re leaving the city. But if you go out on something, now by saying ‘on’ something we’re talking about moving out, moving outwards, moving in an outwards direction, but now we are on something, right? Like you’re standing on something. So, maybe you go out on a balcony. If you have a balcony in your house you walk out on the balcony, you go out on the balcony, maybe or a tightrope walker and you’re about to walk out on the tightrope you are going out on the tightrope, ok? So, to go out on something is to move outwards on something.
And the last word here ‘a limb’. ‘A limb’ can be an arm or a leg of a person or an animal or maybe the wing of a bird, right? ‘A limb’, but in this sense, it is a large branch of a tree which resembles a limb, I guess, of an animal. You know it’s a long thin part of an organism in that case, a large branch of a tree. So, what does the expression to go out on a limb or to go out on a limb for someone mean? So, if you go out on a limb, it can be that you are isolated, but generally it means that you put yourself in an isolated position in which you’re supporting someone, but you yourself don’t have the support from other people so, you can go out on a limb to support someone, to protect someone, to help someone and the idea there being is that you’re doing it alone, you’re not doing it with a lot of other people’s support behind you. So, maybe as well it could be that you’re in a position where you’re not joined or supported by other people when you’re supporting someone and another definition here was to do something that is strongly believed in, usually in support of other people when it’s risky or extreme and I guess that ties in, it’s risky or extreme because other people aren’t doing it with you, ok?
And the phrase is referring to climbing a tree and going out on the limb of the tree as if, I guess, you were chasing an animal or maybe you’re leaning out and trying to get an apple or some fruit, but you’re taking a risky course of action. You’re doing something that’s dangerous in order to get something. So, you’re putting yourself in a sort of uncomfortable position, to go out on a limb, to go out on a limb for someone.
So, the origin of this expression was that it was first used in a figurative usage back in the late 19th century in 1895, when it was used in the Steudenville Daily Herald, a US newspaper. However, here, it’s not actually referring to climbing trees, but instead it was referring to being having someone isolated, having them isolated so, that they were vulnerable, in a vulnerable position and the quote was:
”We can carry the legislature like hanging out a washing. The heft [the main part] of the fight will be in Hamilton country. If we get the 14 votes of Hamilton, we’ve got them on a limb or all we have to do is shake it or saw it off”.
Ok, so the idea here being I don’t know what the context is for trying to get votes, but if they get enough votes they will have, I take it, the opposition in a vulnerable position and he’s talking figuratively when he says he’ll have them on a limb and all they have to do is shake the limb or to saw the limb off, right? To get rid of them, I guess.
So, let’s go through three examples of how I would use this expression in day to day life, ok?
So, example number one. Imagine you’re working in a factory. So, you’re a factory worker. You are a labourer. You work with big machinery with tractors, robots, conveyor belts, all of that sort of stuff. One day you make a catastrophic error and you accidentally leave a tool in a part or a section of the machinery. So, maybe it’s a spanner or a screwdriver or bolts, nuts, whatever it is and they get sucked into the machine and they do irreparable damage to that machine. They destroy that machine so, you notice that you see that, you freak out, you’re really worried, you think you might lose your job because you stuffed up and you’ve cost the company a heap of money because they need to replace that equipment, but your boss goes out on a limb and he saves you from losing your job. So, maybe he reports to the people above him at the company and he tells them how skilled you are, how important you are, how integral you are, how crucial you are for the company and maybe he explains it wasn’t really your fault or it was a simple accident. So, you don’t get fired because your boss went out on a limb for you. He puts himself in a vulnerable position in order to support you and maybe without anyone supporting him when he does that, but he’s saved your job.
Example number two. Imagine you’re an up and coming footy star. You know you love footy, you play footy, football, Australian Rules Football in Australia, you’re a kid, you’re a young kid who’s been playing all his life, training hard and your dream is to get selected and play on an AFL team so, you go to tryouts and you are showing a whole bunch of scouters, people who are selecting young up-and-comers to go on to these footy teams, and you have to show your stuff, you have to show them what you’re made of, right? So, ultimately, it’s their decision as to whether or not you get on the team. And if one of the scouts sees you, although you haven’t been performing incredibly well, you haven’t done as well as you would normally, but he sees you and he thinks this kid’s got a bit of talent. I think he’s going to go far. He might go out on a limb and support you when he talks to the other scouters and convinces them to put you through into the team, to select you, right? So, he goes out on a limb for you in order to get you through, right? He wants to support you and he’s doing it alone. He’s not doing it with other people’s help. He is isolated, he’s vulnerable.
Example number three. Maybe you are a fisherman on a fishing boat and you’re out at sea when there’s a huge storm with thunder, with lightning and it rolls in before you can do anything, before you can get back to port safely. So, the swell is really huge, you know, the waves are up and down, three, four, five metres you’re really worried that the boat is going to capsize in this swell, that your crew might get thrown off the boat, get thrown overboard and likely drown and, obviously, that you will lose the catch, the fishing catch that you’ve got this trip. So, the coastguard might come out to try and save your lives. So, these are the sailors whose job it is to help sailors or fishermen in distress at sea. So, they come out in their vessel into the storm and they find you, they get you guys on board, they hook your boat up to their boat so that they can tow it all the way back to the port and have your vessel get all the way back to safety without, you know, hopefully too much damage, despite the fact though that they’re putting their lives in danger, right? There’s a lot of peril. The storm could endanger them as well. So, despite the dangers, the coastguard went out on a limb to rescue you and your crew. They were isolated, they put themselves in a vulnerable position, in danger, in order to rescue you. They really went out on a limb to save your lives.
So, I guess, too I might add here because I just realised I haven’t touched on this, you can also use to go out on a limb when you’re talking about something you don’t know much about, right? Or when you put something forth and you’re not really sure. So, Kel came in before and I was talking to me about this suggestion and she had thought about it during IELTS, where if you get asked a question you don’t know much about, you know, maybe they say to you what’s your thoughts on the political situation in Bosnia? You might say okay… you’ve kind of caught me off guard. I’m not prepared, but I might go out on a limb and say that the political situation is not too good, right? So, you’re going out on a limb. It’s like here, it’s like saying you’re going to take a risk, you are going to put yourself in a vulnerable position, right? I’ll go out on a limb and say that this.
So, hopefully, you guys understand the expression ‘to go out on a limb’. Generally, it’s used when you’re putting yourself in an isolated position, but you’re supporting someone or you’re trying to help someone, right? Without the support of other people or it’s to do something you strongly believe in without the support of others when it’s very risky or extreme and it can be also when you want to comment on something that you don’t know much about, right? As in, you’re going to take a risk and give your opinion, you’re going to go out on a limb and say, blah blah blah.
So, as usual, let’s go through a little listen and repeat exercise, guys, where you can practice your pronunciation, and remember if you want to work on your specific accent, if you’re not working on an Australian accent, you’re working on a British, a New Zealand, a US accent, whatever it is, just copy the words that I’m saying, but don’t necessarily copy my accent exactly, but if you are working on an Australian accent then really try and mimic how I say these things, if you want a general Australian accent. Ok? Let’s go!
To go out
To go out on
To go out on a
To go out on a limb x 5
I went out on a limb for him.
You went out on a limb for him.
He went out on a limb for him.
She went out on a limb for him.
We went out on a limb for him.
They went out on a limb for him.
It went out on a limb for him.
Good job, guys! Good job! Now remember, if you want to get the full breakdown of all of these phrases all of these sentences step by step, join the Aussie English Classroom and not only will you get the video for the pronunciation, the connected speech, everything that’s in this section. Not only will you get that, but you’ll get all of the other videos for today’s expression episode including the vocab breakdown and the expression break down for the other interesting parts vocab expressions used in this episode. So, go to theaussieenglishclassroom.com, sign up and check out those videos for this episode as well as 50 other episodes that are up in there as well.
Alright, so I mentioned at the start today that I was going to talk about bushfires. So, that’s today’s Aussie English fact.
As you may or may not know, bushfires in Australia are relatively prevalent. They happen every single year. They’re always on the news during the dry and hot seasons are. So, let’s go through a little bit about bushfires. Bushfires are a frequent and important part of Australian climate and its environment so, prevalent in Australia due to the mostly hot and dry climate that we have here in Australia and fires occur on an annual basis, every single year, primarily during summer or during the dry season up in the North of Australia, and the impact is extensive. It happens all over the place to bushland, to forests and even to suburbia where people have decided to build houses around forested areas around or in forested areas.
So, although on one hand they have the potential to cause extensive property damage and even loss of human life, on the other hand bushfires are an important part of Australian ecosystems and the biology and life cycles of many native flora and fauna, for example, positive effects of bushfires include:
- Heating up the soil, cracking seed coats and triggering the germination of many plant seeds,
- Triggering woody seed pods held in the canopy to open up and release their seeds onto a fresh and fertile ash bed below, and this happens with Banksia plants,
- Clearing thick understorey in forested areas to reduce competition for plant seedlings. So, those seeds when they land in that ash bed are more able to grow quickly because of the ash as nutrients, but they also have less competitors because they have been burnt away from bushfires.
- Also, encourage new growth that provides food for many animals.
- And they also create hollows in logs and trees that can be used by animals for nesting and for shelter.
- And aboriginals in Australia often light bushfires, which is a practice called ‘traditional burning’, and they do this in order to: make access easier through thick and prickly vegetation, to maintain a pattern of vegetation, to encourage new growth and also attract game for hunting. So, they want to attract animals in to eat the new vegetation so that they can hunt these animals. And they also do it to encourage the development of useful food plants for cooking, warmth, signaling, and even spiritual reasons.
So, this practice was done for so long more than 40,000 years that many ecosystems in Australia have adapted to this and they rely on regular fires lit by humans in order to thrive.
That said, there are many negative effects of fires, which include:
- The damage done to vegetation in communities such as rainforests, where it can often take hundreds of years for rain forests to recover from a fire.
- They can kill and injure plants and animals.
- They can cause erosion and the subsequent sedimentation of creeks and wetlands, which is where the erosion goes into the water and it decimates the local flora and fauna. It makes it hard for them to survive them.
- It can also open up areas to the impacts of weeds and feral animal invasion. So, where trees and plants and everything had been burnt away, weeds can come in and live there, animals that have been feral and are introduced into Australia like rabbits, foxes, they can more easily get in too, and also, humans suddenly now have access to these places and they can vandalise these places as well.
How bushfires in Australia are managed? If you come to Australia, you may sometimes see practices such as back burning and prescribed burning taking place in places like national parks and other forested areas around the country near suburbs and this is usually outside the bushfire season. It’s usually done then when they set fires to the understorey, to grasslands, etc. in order to burn away excess wood, excess grass, etc., to make it safer and easier to control during summer and also communities as well as individual households in these areas usually have plans, they’ll be encouraged to have bushfire action plans so that if a bushfire should occur, they know exactly what they need to do in order to get out safely to evacuate the area.
So, let’s chat about the worst bushfire in Australian history. This bushfire was called ‘Black Saturday’, and it was actually hundreds of bushfires all on this one day, and it was the worst Australia bushfire in terms of lives lost. These fires were a series of bushfires that were ignited or were burning across the state of Victoria on Saturday the 7th of February in 2009, it was nine years ago, with the final fire going out or being put out more than a month later on the 14th of March.
The fires occurred during extreme bushfire weather conditions and resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire with a total of 180 fatalities and a further 414 people were injured as a result of the fires. There were as many as 400 individual fires recorded that day with the total amount of burnt area, including more than a million acres so about half a million hectares of land.
What caused these fires? There were various confirmed causes of these fires including:
- power lines,
- and even arson
So, people had actually lit these fires on purpose and more than 3,500 buildings including two thousand homes were burnt to the ground and completely destroyed. So, it was a very tragic event and if you ask any Australian about Black Saturday they will know what you’re talking about and they will know about the tragic loss of life.
Anyway, guys, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode today, I hope you’ve learned a little bit more about English, some expressions, a little bit more about Australian history as well, although, recent Australian history and I hope you guys have an amazing weekend and I’ll see you soon. Peace out!