No One Is Twisting Your Arms to Learn English

02 June, 2018

Now it's time for Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English. On this program we explore expressions used in American English.

People who visit our website or listen to our broadcasts want to learn English. They come freely. No one is forcing them.

That's right. In other words, no one is twisting their arms.

Exactly. Having your arm twisted hurts. It gets pulled in the wrong direction. Wrestlers know this. That is why in the sport of wrestling, twisting an opponent's arm is a good way to gain control.

One definition of "twist" is to bend or turn something into a shape or position that is not normal. If you do that to your arm, or any part of the body, it can hurt a lot. So, if you are wrestling with someone and twist their arm, your opponent may likely give up. You would be the winner.

Migran Arutyunyan of Armenia and Adham Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim Kahk of Egypt compete in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Migran Arutyunyan of Armenia and Adham Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim Kahk of Egypt compete in Greco-Roman wrestling.

The expression to twist someone's arm means to force someone to do what you want. You put pressure on them.

Several websites say this term first became popular back in the middle of the 1900s. It meant using physical force to get something done.

These days, it can mean using something other than physical strength. You do not have to be stronger than someone else to effectively twist their arm. If a small child wants to go to the store, she can twist your arm into taking her. She just will not take "no" for an answer. She asks and asks until you give up!

People who are good at selling products or raising money are usually skilled at twisting other people's arms.

Let's say you want to raise money for a cause that you care about -- saving the rain forest, for example. Because the issue is important to you, you do not mind twisting arms to get others to donate money. You email your friends. You start up an online campaign to raise as much money as you can. But you don't stop there. You throw a party where you look people in the eye and ask for money. They might say, "You don't need to twist my arm. Saving the rain forest is important! Here's my donation of $200!"

With a few small changes, twisting someone's arm can become a noun. If someone is good at arm-twisting, they are good at persuading others to do what they want. We can say they are skilled in the art of persuasion.

We have other expressions for making someone do want you want.

You can also strong-arm them. This term is similar to arm-twisting. It suggests that you are stronger, or are in a stronger position. So, you can get others to do what you want.

However, we often use arm-twisting in a lighthearted way. But not so much with "strong-arm." More often than not, we don't use strong-arm in a nice way. Bullies are good at strong-arming people. Besides, "bully," two other common verbs that mean "strong-arm" are intimidate and coerce.

When used as an adjective, strong-arm goes before a noun. For example, a man used strong-arm methods to get what he wanted.

Now, if arm-twisting or strong-arming does not work for you, you can always try putting the squeeze on someone else. When you squeeze something, you add pressure to it. For example, when you squeeze oranges, you press down on the fruit for its juice. So, when you put the squeeze on others, you pressure them to do what you want.

Some people are not good at arm-twisting, strong-arming or putting the squeeze on others. If you are like one of them, you may want to try a more subtle method of persuasion.

Your personal belief is, "you get more bees with honey than vinegar." This means when you are nice or sweet like honey to people, they are more likely to help you. If your words are sharply acidic like vinegar, they may just turn away.

You would rather sweet-talk or coax someone into doing what you want. These are both nice, subtle ways to twist someone's arm.

Here at VOA Learning English, we don't need to use any of these methods. English learners seek us out.

This is better than trying to force English on someone. If you have to twist someone's arm to learn something, chances are they won't.

And that's Words and Their Stories for this week. I'm Anna Matteo.

And I'm Bryan Lynn.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

wrestle v. to fight (someone) by holding and pushing instead of by hitting, kicking, or punching : wrestler n. someone who competes in the sport of wrestling

online adj. connected to, served by, or available through a system and especially a computer or telecommunications system (such as the Internet)

bully n. someone who frightens, hurts, or threatens smaller or weaker people – v. to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person) : to act like a bully toward (someone)

intimidate v. to make (someone) afraid

coerce v. to make (someone) do something by using force or threats — usually + into "He was coerced into signing the confession." "Soldiers coerced the residents into giving them food."

subtle adj. clever and indirect : not showing your real purpose

acidic adj. acid-forming

persuade v. to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action

coax v. to draw, gain, or persuade by means of gentle urging or flattery