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Play it by ear

刊登日期: 2019.05.24
作者: Grace Tse  

Nowadays, a lot of jobs, from sales assistants to teachers, require that their staff are able to respond to unplanned situations rather than following pre-set rules or guidelines. In which job do you think that the employees might need to “play it by ear” all the time? 

The idiom “play it by ear” (or “play by ear”) was originally related to music. A London publisher, John Playford, wrote in his book “A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick” in 1658: 

“To learn to play by rote or ear without book.” 

In the 17th century, the expression “play something by ear” meant that someone could play a song from what he or she has heard without the help of music sheets. 

Its figurative meaning appeared in the 20th century. One of the examples can be found in an American literary magazine, “North American Review”, in 1922. 

Jefferson played by ear not only in fiddling and in statesmanship but in his supreme accomplishment of architecture. 

Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father and the third President of the USA, mastered many disciplines such as music, architecture and mathematics. The above example shows that he was able to do something without earlier preparation

In reality, a lot of us may feel stressed if we cannot plan ahead or keep our original plans. 

I have forgotten to bring my presentation notes to school. I don’t know whether I can play it by ear ( 隨機應變; 即興發揮). 

However, some people may find this experience exciting because they can deal with situations by instinct or in impromptu manner. How about you? 


Glossary

Pre-set 

預設

Fiddling 

拉小提琴

Statesmanship 

治國本領

Disciplines 

學科

 

Preparation 

準備

Stressed 

有壓力

Instinct 

直覺

Impromptu 

即興

 

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