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Idiom

Play it by Ear: Origin and Meaning

Meaning
To decide what to do in a situation as it develops, instead of planning ahead or keeping to previously arranged plans.
Origin
play it by earThis idiom is related to music. When musicians try to play a song from memory or try to reproduce something they have heard without using music sheets, they need to use their ears to check if what they are playing is correct – in other words, they “play it by ear”. Nowadays, this phrase is used when you are in any situation and you need to improvise.
Examples
“My brother is coming to visit this weekend so I’m not sure I’ll be able to meet you on Saturday. Can we play it by ear?”

“I don’t have time to prepare for my meeting tomorrow. I’m just going to have to play it by ear and see what happens.”

Sue: “I’m really bored. When can we leave?”
Jen: “Let’s play it by ear – I think they’re going to do the birthday cake soon so the party might get better.”

Rob: “Should we play tennis tomorrow?”
Ian: “I’d love to but I think it’s going to rain. Let’s just play it by ear.”