Phrase of The Week – ‘Play It By Ear’ 

This week, we delve into the origins of the phrase ‘play it by ear’. The nature of the phrase has somewhat changed over the last 500 years, since its first appearance in the 16th century idiom vocabulary. Its origin belongs to the music world, where ‘playing something by ear’ meant playing a piece of music without reading or referring to the written notes or sheet music. 

By today’s definition, it’s commonly used to convey a decision to refrain from taking on-the-spot action in a situation, and to wait and see how it evolves before taking any further steps. 

Used in context: 

“Are you going stop eating all the cheese before you regret your decision?” 

“Eh… I’ll play it by ear.” 


Image: ‘Roland The Roadie’