keep a civil tongue in one's head

Speak politely, as in The teacher won't allow swearing; she says we must keep a civil tongue in our heads. This expression uses tongue in the sense of “a manner of speaking,” a usage dating from the 1400s. An early cautionary version was “Keep a good tongue in your head, lest it hurt your teeth” (1595).


Nearby words

  1. keener,
  2. keening,
  3. keenly,
  4. keenness,
  5. keep,
  6. keep a low profile,
  7. keep a sharp lookout,
  8. keep a stiff upper lip,
  9. keep a straight face,
  10. keep a weather eye out

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.