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Got Something to Hide? Try 'Sweeping It Under the Rug'

Colorful Iranian rug
Colorful Iranian rug
Got Something to Hide? Try 'Sweeping It Under the Rug'
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On today’s show, we go into the home! We talk about a common object that gives us some useful expressions.

That object is a rug. Rugs are floor coverings that serve many purposes in a home. They add color and style to a room. They protect the floor. Rugs can make a home more comfortable and quiet. They can also make a slippery floor safer to walk on.

But since they are on the floor, rugs can trap a lot of dirt. When we clean the floor, it is a good idea to remove the rugs first. This way, you can sweep away all the stuff that gets trapped under it.

But if you don’t have time or are feeling a little lazy, you can always clean the floor quickly and just sweep around the rug. The dirt under the rug cannot be seen. It’s like it's not there.

And that brings us to our first expression: “to sweep something under the rug.”

When we “sweep something under the rug,” we try to hide something. What kinds of things do we try to hide? Things that are illegal, unethical, embarrassing, or just wrong.

For example, the corrupt politician won re-election because he swept all his failures and dirty dealings under the rug.

Here is another example:

Before meeting her new boyfriend’s family, my friend carefully and completely swept all her past mistakes under the rug. She wanted a fresh start. She decided to keep her complex past hidden.

You might also hear someone say “brush something under the rug.” The word “brush” in this case means to clean something off.

Now, as we said earlier, one purpose of a rug it to make the floor safer. But there are also ways that a rug can be dangerous. If someone pulls a rug out from under your feet, you most likely would fall. And you could get hurt.

So, when we “pull the rug from under someone's feet,” we put that person in a difficult and unexpected situation. We suddenly take away support or help from them.

For example, I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under my feet when I found out my apartment building was being torn down. I had only one week to find a new place to live!

You can also say, “to pull the rug out from under someone.” It means the same thing.

We finish today’s program not with another expression but with a joke.

As we discussed earlier, a rug covers and protects the floor. But the word “cover” has many meanings. “Cover” can also mean to give protection or to pay for something. So, let’s say I go out to dinner with a friend and she forgets money. I can say, “I have money. I’ve got this covered.” That means I will pay.

Here is another example:

Some home insurance policies do not cover flood damage. The policies do not protect against high water damage.

Knowing that definition of “cover” helps you understand this joke.

Once there was an old floor in an old house. It learned that the owner of the house wanted to put in a new floor. The floor cried and cried about the bad news. Hearing the floor crying, the rug wanted to make the floor feel better. So, what did the rug say to the floor?

“Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.”

That joke is a pun on the word “cover."

And that’s all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

style – n. a method, manner, or quality that is felt to be very respectable, fashionable, or proper

slippery – adj. causing or tending to cause something to slide or fall

lazy – adj. not liking or willing to act or work

unethical – adj. not conforming to a high moral standard : morally wrong

embarrassing – adj. causing a feeling of self-conscious confusion and distress

joke – n. something said or done to provoke laughter

insurance – n. coverage by contract whereby for an agreed payment one party agrees to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril

pun– n. a form of joking in which a person uses a word in two senses


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