Ages ago we discussed celebrities (ok, not ages ago, but about 6 months ago).
A fantastic idiom came up:
“Once a(n) ___, always a(n) ___.”
I didn’t get a chance to go into this one in detail during the lesson, so I wanted to write about it here on my blog! Hope it’s useful.
First off, how do we use this expression?
Once a(n) N1, always a(n) N1.
N1 represents a noun. As you can see, we use the same noun in both parts of the expression.
- Once a liar, always a liar.
- Once a father, always a father.
- Once a criminal, always a criminal.
You may also have noticed that it is basically a very long interjection. In other words, it’s not actually a sentence, but we do not use it in a sentence either. It is used by itself.
It can be used with adjectives, though it usually isn’t.
- Once a stinking criminal, always a stinking criminal.
- Once a bad boyfriend, always a bad boyfriend.
Ok, so that’s how to use it correctly. But what does it mean? When is it used?
It is used to refer to a person, people or people in general. It means that as soon as a person becomes something, they cannot escape that identity.
Okay… that’s not very clear is it? Let’s take a look at an example to see.
“Once a liar, always a liar.”
The speaker must be referring to at least one person, but s/he may be referring to several people, or people in general. He means this:
“If someone becomes a liar, they will always be a liar. There is nothing they can do to change that. Even if they only lie once, they will still be a liar for the rest of their lives.”
There is another way in which it is used. The expression is also used as a warning or declaration of predicted future behavior.
Umm… so what does that mean?
Well, let’s look at the same example:
“Once a liar, always a liar.”
This expression is often used by a speaker to a listener to warn the listener about the behavior of someone else. It may be, for example, about a friend of the listener’s. In this case it means:
“Your friend lied to you. That means s/he will definitely lie to you again. If someone lies once, they will always continue to do it.”
Here is another example
“Once a surfer, always a surfer.”
The speaker is saying that after someone becomes a surfer, they will love or enjoy it so much they will never stop being a surfer.
As you can see, the expression is much shorter!
So when would a native speaker use such an expression? Let’s see.
“My son is now an 18-year-old man… It may sound odd, perhaps not, but a part of me mourns his childhood. Those beautiful moments of innocent wonder are gone forever… But that makes me no less a dad. No matter what the future holds: once a father, always a father. Your heart is forever involved and nothing on heaven or on Earth will change that.” (slightly edited, here is the original text).
Here is another example:
A: “I can’t believe he lied to me about that.”
B: “I know. It’s terrible. You should really break up with him.”
A: “Break up with him? But I love him!”
B: “Well, you know what they say: once a liar, always a liar.”
A: “Yeah, I know…”
I hope that helps! If you have any questions about this expression, let me know!