Expression: By The Skin Of Your Teeth

Learn Australian English in this Expression episode of Aussie English where I teach you the expression BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

Expression: By The Skin Of Your Teeth

G’day guys.

How’s it going?

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English.

Thank you once again for joining me guys.

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So, welcome to everyone who’s listening for the first time.

Thank you so much for joining me.

Anyway, let’s get started guys.

In this episode we’re going to be going over the phrase BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

And this is often used when you do something BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, you achieve something, you do something BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, as usual, we’ll go through and define the different words in the expression BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, BY is a preposition that identifies the thing or the agent that has performed an action, or that is performing an action.

And it can also be used to indicate the means of achieving something.

So, that’s a little bit complicated. I’m sure a lot of you know how to use BY or that it’s a preposition.

So, for instance, “He got help BY asking someone for help.”, “She succeeded BY practicing every day.”, “I got here BY car.”, etc.

BY, the word BY.

The word SKIN.

SKIN is a noun, and it’s the layer of tissue forming that naturally covering on a person or an animal, some kind of organism.

And it’s often said that it’s the largest organ in your body.

I remember being a kid and people would always be like, you know, in biology class or whatever the teacher would say, “What’s the largest organ in your body?” and we’d all sit there and think and be like, “Is it our brain or is it our lungs? Is it our heart?”, and we would never think, “Oh, it’s actually the SKIN on the outside of our body”.

Anyway, the SKIN, the SKIN is the largest organ in the body, and it’s that thin layer on the outside.

Your SKIN.

And it can also be used to talk about an outer layer or covering or something.

So, for example, the SKIN of an apple is that outer covering on it.

Or you could say, if you were wearing a wetsuit that it was acting as like a second skin.

It’s a layer on the outside.

It’s covering.

If you’re wearing a wetsuit when you go surfing or go for a scuba dive or something.

The word TEETH.

The word TEETH is another noun, and this is the plural of A TOOTH.

So, a TOOTH and TEETH, or a TOOTH is a set of hard boney enamel-coated structures in your mouth.

So, that was a pretty complicated sentence, but it’s those hard boney things in your mouth that you use for biting and chewing.

We all know what a TOOTH is and what TEETH are.

So, when you do something BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH, when you do something BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH, this is a bit of a peculiar expression I know, because your teeth don’t have skin, right?

Like, there’s no… there’s no skin on my teeth.

There’s no skin.

But it means to narrowly succeed at something, to barely succeed at something, to only just succeed at something.

So, to nearly fail at something, to only just manage to do it, only just.

So, it’s usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster or something incredibly severe.

So, I tried to come up with a good way of thinking about this expression, BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

To do something BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

And I want you guys to imagine that you are hanging over the edge of a cliff, so, over the edge of a mountain, over a cliff, a sharp drop over the edge of a mountain, by a rope.

So, you’ve got a rope in your mouth and your teeth are holding onto that rope. Your hands are tied.

So, for whatever reason your hands are tied.

You can’t hold onto the rope with your hands.

You have to do it with your teeth.

And your friends are pulling the rope up to try and save you, but as you’re getting pulled up the ropes starting to slip out of your mouth.

So, it’s slipping through your teeth.

Anyway, you manage to hold on, and you could say that you were literally holding on BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, if the rope was at that point where it had only just, only just stayed inside of your mouth, it’d almost slipped out of your teeth, then it was just hanging on BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

Literally, by the very edge of your teeth.

Using “Skin” here as a metaphor for it just being right near the very very edge of your teeth.

So, only just managing to succeed or avoid failing at something.

So, you managed to succeed at holding onto the rope BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

I looked into where this expression originates from, and this’s actually quite interesting guys.

This expression originates from the Geneva Bible.

I hope I’m saying that right.

The Geneva Bible from the year 1560 in the passage Job 19:20, and it was literally translated from Hebrew, and the passage was, “I’ve escaped with the skin of my teeth.”

So, apparently that’s where this originates from.

Anyway, let’s get into some examples of how this would be used in modern day English and how I would use this.

Example number 1, imagine that you have an incredibly difficult exam that you have to pass.

So, you’ve had this subject at uni, say it’s maths or physics or something incredibly difficult that you just can’t do very easily. It’s really hard.

So, you’ve got this exam.

You need a 50% in the exam to be able to pass it, to pass the subject not just the exam.

And if you got a 51% you could say that you passed the exam BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, you literally just got in.

It was so close.

You were so close to failing, but you just managed to pass the exam by 1%.

You passed the exam BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

You passed it, you did it, you achieved it, but only just.

A second example could be that you have a flight to catch, but you’re running late for the airport.

You’ve taken an Uber.

He took the wrong directions.

He’s gotten you a bit late.

You didn’t leave enough time for you to get there early before your flight, and you just arrived with, say, 15 minutes until your plane’s about to pull away from the terminal and take off.

And so, you’ve just arrived, you’ve run through, you’ve put your luggage in, you’ve managed to only just get to the plane, to board the plane, to get into your seat, and literally as you got on you were the last person, you could say that you have managed to catch your plane BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, you only just managed to get there.

It was about to pull away from the terminal and take off, but you got there just in time.

You got there.

You caught it BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

A third example could be that you are stuck in a building that’s on fire.

So, this building’s burning down.

It’s burning.

You climb out onto a window ledge, because you couldn’t get down the stairs or you couldn’t get the lift down, you know, you were on the top floor.

So, you climb out onto a window to avoid the flames.

You’re screaming for help.

The firemen are down below.

You can see them.

They’ve brought a truck up, and they’re extending the ladder up to save you.

So, they’re bring that ladder up to try and take you off the window ledge.

They manage to just get there in time.

You get onto the ladder, and literally as you step onto the ladder, into safety, into the fireman’s arms, the building collapses and burns up.

You could say there that you just managed to survive BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

You escaped the burning building BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

You were saved BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.

So, hopefully by now guys you get the idea of what the phrase BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH is.

It’s when you achieve something but only just.

So, when you barely succeed at something, you only just succeed, you almost failed, but you managed to succeed in the end.

As usual guys, we’ll go through a listen and repeat exercise here at the end so that you guys can practice your pronunciation a little bit.

And, I want you to hold that example of escaping that burning building in your mind as we go through this listen and repeat exercise, guys.

Just so that you connect it with this phrase, “To escape BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH.”

So, imagine that you’re in that building, but you just manage to get out alive, to get out unscathed, and to survive.

So, listen and repeat after me guys.

Listen and repeat:

I escaped by the skin of my teeth.

You escaped by the skin of your teeth.

He escaped by the skin of his teeth.

She escaped by the skin of her teeth.

We escaped by the skin of our teeth.

They escaped by the skin of their teeth.

So, I’m going to run through this exercise one more time guys, but at a more natural speed, at a more natural pace of how I would say this.

And just listen out for some pronunciation changes that may occur here.

So, let’s go.

Listen and repeat:

I escaped by the skin of my teeth.

You escaped by the skin of your teeth.

He escaped by the skin of his teeth.

She escaped by the skin of her teeth.

We escaped by the skin of our teeth.

They escaped by the skin of their teeth.

So, a little pronunciation note there guys, if you didn’t catch it, it’s specifically the word “Of” that I want you to concentrate (on) in there.

So, when “Of” is directly followed by “My”, “You”, “Their”, it’s often turned into just “ah”, because all of those words start with a consonant.

So, you’re going to hear “Skin’ah my teeth”, “Skin’ah your teeth”, “Skin’ah their teeth.” But then in the case of words like “His”, “Hers”, “Our” or “Its”, “Of” is often still said as “Of”.

There’s still a kind of consonant sound at the end there.

It’s not “Ah” it’s “Of”.

And this is because it then bounces off the next vowel.

So, you’re going to here “Ov’is teeth”, “Ov’er teeth”, “Ov’our teeth”, “Ov’its teeth”.

Anyway, guys, that’s just one more thing to sort of take note of or to think about, to have rolling around in your head if you want to work on your pronunciation and say things as I do.

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