Intermediate+ Word of the Day: head

head (noun, verb, adjective) /hɛd/ LISTEN

Head has many meanings. Obviously it is the upper part of the body, as well as the intellect or mind. It is also a position of leadership and the person in charge. As a verb, head means to be in charge (in this sense, the phrasal verb head up is often used) or to be first in something. It also means to move toward something, both literally and figuratively.

Example sentences

  • Maria was always at the head of her class and now she is a great doctor!
  • Tony was the head of the sales department for 30 years before retiring.
  • A new restaurant is opening around the corner and they are looking for a head chef.
  • She headed up the cultural program at the language academy.
  • The Women's Liberation organization headed the protest.
  • To get to the Grand Canyon, you need to head south on this road.
  • The economy of this country is heading for crisis.

Words often used with head

get your head around something (or wrap your head around something; informal): understand something: “This technique is quite complicated; it will take me a while to wrap my head around it.”

fall head over heels for someone (figurative): fall completely in love with someone. Example: “John fell head over heels for Mary as soon as he saw her.”

hold your head up high (or hold your head high; figurative): be proud. Example: “Even though our team lost, they played well, so they can hold their heads up high.”

lose your head (figurative): panic. Example: “It’s important not to lose your head in an emergency, so try to stay calm.”

In pop culture

Beavis and Butthead are animated characters from a popular US TV show. In US slang, a butthead is a stupid person. Watch a trailer for Beavis and Butthead Do America here:

Did you know?

Heads up is a very common expression. Literally, it means the opposite of what you would expect, and we say it when an object like a ball is flying toward someone and they should move their head down or get out of the way. Example: “Heads up! The ball’s going to hit you!” As a noun and spelled with a hyphen, a heads-up is a tip or warning. Example: “Karen gave us a heads-up that our boss was on his way into the office.”

Other forms

headed (adjective), headless (adjective)

Origin

Head dates back to before the year 900. The Old English noun hēafod (Middle English he(v)ed) originally meant ‘the top of the body,’ as well as ‘the upper part of a slope,’ ‘the leader or ruler’ and ‘the capital city.’ It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic haubid and the Proto-Indo-European root kaput– (head). Head is related to the Old Saxon hobid, the Old Norse hofuð (hofuth), the Old Frisian haved, the Middle Dutch hovet, the Dutch hoofd, the Old High German houbit, the German Haupt and the Gothic haubiþ (haubith), all meaning ‘head,’ as well as the Sanskrit kaput– and Latin caput (both meaning ‘head’), and English words such as achieve, biceps, cabbage, caddie, cadet, cape, capital, capsize, captain, cattle, chapter, chef, chief, corporal, forehead, mischief, precipice and triceps. The sense ‘foam on a mug of beer’ is from the mid-16th century, while ‘side of a coin with the portrait’ dates back to the late 17th century. Head has been used as an adjective, with the sense of ‘most important, principal or leading,’ since Old English; this use is an extension of one of the original senses of the noun. The verb, meaning ‘to be in the lead’ or ‘to be at the head of something,’ dates back to around the year 1200, and comes from the noun. The sense ‘to go towards’ first appeared around the year 1600.

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