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Today, in an informal context I was asked what was the best strategy to keep a good weight according to my experience. I said that keeping my mouth shut was quite a good strategy.

Can I use the word shut in this context, or close would have been a better word? Does shutting the mouth always imply shutting up?

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    The way I would understand that sentence is "I don't comment on other people's weight, and they don't comment on mine".
    – Davidmh
    Jul 29, 2016 at 9:54

11 Answers 11

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"Keep your mouth shut" is a idiom for "don't talk" so it sounds strange to hear it be used for food. "Keep your mouth closed" has the same kind of meaning.

There's nothing technically wrong with using them but they don't make the right connection for the listeners. They will connect it with talking, not eating. Something along the line as "don't eat as much" would be better understood.

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    I have actually heard this exact phrase used in this exact context before. I agree that some listeners might not understand, but think they would be the minority. The slight misdirection makes it more humorous, if anything. Jul 28, 2016 at 19:03
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    The title of this question did confuse me in exactly the same way. So while it could be a funny joke, if you or your conversational partner aren't that fluent, it might be interpreted wrongly? So depending on situation it could be a good one, but it is not the most clear tbh
    – Nanne
    Jul 29, 2016 at 7:50
  • As a Brit, if I asked this question and Pablo said "I suggest keeping your mouth shut", I might take him to be responding rudely to my (implied) comment about his weight. "Eat less" is clear and safe.
    – helveticat
    Jul 30, 2016 at 10:08
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As others have mentioned, there is an issue regarding the idiom. However you mentioned

Today, in an informal context I was asked what was the best strategy to keep a good weight according to my experience.

I imagined the conversation went something like this

Person: What's the best strategy to keep a good weight?
You: Keeping my mouth shut.

I thought this was funny because this is not the typical strategy. It's usually

Eat right and exercise.

So, having the conversation (that I imagined) in mind, I didn't think there was any ambiguity. I thought you meant stop eating/eat less, and in fact, I thought it was hilarious.

I agree that in other instances it could be ambiguous, but I'm not so convinced that this is one of them.


  1. Can I use the word shut in this context?

A simple definition of shut is

shut
: to close (something)

So, yes, you can use shut in this context. It is clear from context that you do not mean to be quiet, but instead you mean to imply stop eating (excessively), eat less.

  1. Close would have been a better word?

Not necessarily. In terms of meaning, they mean the same thing (from context). The only difference that I can think of is that shut might be considered rude or aggressive to some people. So using close instead of shut might be better, in that sense.

  1. Does shutting the mouth always imply shutting up?

It seems you are referring to the meaning "to be quiet". However, you just constructed an example in which it does not mean to be quiet. So, no, it does not always mean to be quiet.

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    As a native English speaker, I too would have thought it amusing. I would have understood it as "the best strategy would be to eat less, but really I don't want to talk about this subject", all wrapped up in one neat pun.
    – abligh
    Jul 27, 2016 at 10:34
  • The pun is that an idiom is used but the words should be interpreted literally. The brain first thinks, "how can not talking make me thinner", Half a second later it dawns on you that the literal meaning is "Keep your mouth shut so that food cannot get in". Voilà, slight amusement ensues! Jul 28, 2016 at 11:41
  • Might be clearer to quote the adjective form of shut rather than the verb. Jul 28, 2016 at 19:01
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Yes, "shut" is fine. Lots of the answers say that you're wrong to use "keep your mouth shut" but, actually, I think your answer was clever and witty. Normally, "keep your mouth shut" idiomatically means "don't say anything" but, in this case, you're using the words literally to mean "don't open your mouth". Since you can't eat without opening your mouth, it's clear that the advice you're giving is "eat less."

However, you couldn't say "keep your mouth close." As an adjective, "close" means "nearby"; you mean "keep your mouth closed." That's a perfectly fine answer to the question but it's much less witty. Note that "close" the adjective and "close" the verb have different pronunciations – the "ose" part of the adjective sounds like "toast"; the verb rhymes with "toes".

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    Close can mean near in distance or it can mean move or cause to move so as to cover an opening. The real problem with close here was the tense used (close instead of closed)
    – Skyl3r
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:43
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    @Skyl3r The first of those is an adjective; the second is a verb. In the sentence "Keep your mouth close", "close" is functioning as an adjective, with the meaning I stated ("Don't let your mouth get far away"). And I'd argue that "closed" is an adjective in "keep your mouth closed." Jul 27, 2016 at 19:58
  • I think this is a little misleading, because s/he obviously intended to use close correctly, s/he just used the wrong tense.
    – Skyl3r
    Jul 27, 2016 at 20:02
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    @Skyl3r I don't think anything I've said is misleading. And adjectives don't have tenses: in "keep your mouth closed", "closed" is an adjective (compare "keep your cat happy"). Jul 27, 2016 at 20:04
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I was tempted to speak, but I kept my mouth shut.

This is an idiom: keep one's mouth shut to mean not talk, especially not to reveal or divulge a secret or other sensitive information See the Google search for "keep one's mouth shut" define.

Since it is such a common idiom, with such a specific meaning, it can seem a little out of place if you say it to mean not to eat, even when the context is how to avoid weight gain or maintaining a good weight (that is, dieting). It's not wrong, but if English is not your native language, your use of it might send a mixed signal: is pablo using the idiomatic meaning or the literal meaning?

For example, we don't know which meaning is used in the following:

I was tempted to eat, but I kept my mouth shut.

It could mean to not talk, depending on the exact context. Even when it did, it could still be related to dieting

I was tempted to order chocolate cake for desert, but I kept my mouth shut.

The primary meaning of kept my mouth shut in the sentence above is didn't open my mouth to order chocolate cake but it also implies didn't open my mouth in order to eat the chocolate cake. It's actually a play on words.

The sentence

My strategy for avoiding weight gain is to keep my mouth shut.

suffers from the same possible double meaning. But the primary, natural meaning of the sentence is to not eat.

Therefore, how you use it, and exactly what you say regarding dieting can be problematic for the non-native speaker. If people look at you as if they don't know what you mean, you might want to explain your meaning.

Using closed is almost as problematic, since there is more than one reason to keep your mouth closed (to not talk, to not eat), but there is no idiom keep one's mouth closed.

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Because this is ELL, and for the advantage of learners, I'll say that NOT using this construction is probably the safest path if there is any uncertainty.

It doesn't take much to turn this from amusing to clearly insulting. Consider the following exchange:

Fred: I'm getting fat. What can I do to be more like you?

Jim: Keep your mouth shut.

There is a pun here - but also the potential for hurt feelings, insult and confusion, as the line can be taken many ways: "shut up now", "you talk too much", "you eat too much"... and none of those are going to be taken as a compliment.

As a learner, one should always try to be clear. A new language will in itself cause enough confusion, and while people allow a lot of leeway for mistakes, puns from learners are not expected, so may not be spotted.

Even if they do understand your meaning, they may well think you don't understand the idiomatic meaning of the phrase, and will think less of your language skills, and maybe even derail the conversation into a lengthy explanation of what it means, and what idioms are, and other annoying stuff. Which, OK, is probably more interesting than talking about dieting, but still.

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As a native British English speaker, "keeping one's mouth shut" almost always implies being quiet, i.e. shutting up.

As a roughly equivalent phrase for losing weight by not eating, while still keeping a similar tone, can I suggest "putting down the fork"?

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In the context you describe, the use of shut would not imply "ceasing to speak." Without the preposition up, it is equivalent to closed (Note: not "close"):

Keeping my mouth closed is quite a good strategy.

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What you said sounds quite funny to me, but it's the kind of joke that can be misunderstood and create an uncomfortable situation (because you basically have to explain to a person that you were not attacking them, but that they are too stupid to get the joke).

You could say something like: "By keeping your mouth shut. (Short pause). Especially if you want to order chocolate cake. "

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"keeping my mouth shut was quite a good strategy"

In an informal situation this is an excellent response - I'm amused by the slightly oblique way of saying "avoid eating". As someone else mentioned it could also be interpreted as meaning "avoid asking for food". It's also amusing to me because it brings to mind the advice of "keeping ones legs shut" as a birth control method.

Shut and close or closed are almost always interchangeable - shut is usually considered less formal and could be seen as more aggressive.

"Shut up" means to stop talking.

"Close up" would refer to an aperture closing or narrowing or could refer to a shop closing for the day or permanently.

"Shut up shop" means a shop closing but is also an idiom for withdrawing or not interacting socially i.e. "Bob was the life and soul of the party but someone asked about his ex-girlfriend and he shut up shop - just sat on his own drinking after that"

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If you wish to advocate not eating (i.e. avoiding food for a period of time), the word you're after is fasting.

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    In case someone asks: no, I don't think fasting is a good strategy for weight loss :) Jul 27, 2016 at 5:24
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When someone has a broken jaw, it is wired shut (ouch!) until it has healed.

So you could say; "By getting my mouth wired shut". This would be understood by any Brit.

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