Song lyrics – Lee Ann Womack – I hope you dance
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, in response to a request from Gilda, I’m going to talk about a song that I’d never heard before that was recorded and made famous by an American country singer called Lee Ann Womack. The song is called I hope you dance and was a big hit in the US in the country music and contemporary music charts. It even made it to number 40 in the UK charts and we don’t usually listen to much country music.
Today, I’m going to work my way through the lyrics. I’ll highlight and explain the interesting vocabulary and hopefully, the meaning of the song will be clear at the end.
Sense of wonder
There is a lot of interesting vocabulary in this song. The first line is:
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
Your senses are your abilities to recognise and appreciate things. Most commonly, these are your sense of taste and smell. You might say I have a very good sense of smell or sense of taste. It’s possible to talk about a sense of sight or hearing, but it sounds a bit poetic. We’d normally say eyesight and hearing. As well as a sense of smell, you can have a sense of humour. This is your ability to recognise and appreciate that things are funny. Some people laugh at everything. Some people laugh at people falling over and rude jokes. You can say they have a childish sense of humour. Some people don’t find anything funny and you can say they have no sense of humour. A sense of wonder is the ability to be surprised and impressed and filled with admiration at the same time. People often say that children have a greater sense of wonder and that as people grow older, they become jaded or bored and lose that ability to be filled with wonder at the world.
To get your fill
The next lines are:
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
To get your fill means to get enough of something so that you don’t want any more. Normally, it’s used for food, but you can use your fill for other activities. For example, if I spend a long time in a museum or gallery, I get bored and might say I’ve had my fill of art for the day.
Take something for granted
To take something for granted means to stop recognising the value of something and not really think about it because you believe it will always be there. So children usually take their parents for granted. They don’t realise or recognise how hard their parents work for them as this is just how they understand that things work. In the UK, we sometimes take the health service and schools for granted. People don’t recognise how important these things are because they have always been there for most people’s lives. In the song, Lee Ann is willing that you never take one breath for granted. That you recognise how important every breath or every moment of your life is.
In the next line, there’s an interesting phrase that means you hope something doesn’t happen. The line is:
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed
This was something my mother used to say. God forbid literally means may God stop this from ever happening but it really means I hope that what follows never happens. In the song, it means I hope that love never leaves you empty-handed.
Empty-handed is also interesting. I think it’s most commonly used in news reports about burglars or robbers who get disturbed during their crimes and run away empty-handed, that is without any prize or booty. You might hear the phrase on TV on a gameshow. Perhaps a contestant is on a prize show and has lost the final round and won’t be taking the grand-prize home. The hosts might say: you’re not going home empty-handed. We’re sending you home with a t-shirt and a mug or something like that. Lee Ann hopes that love never leaves you empty-handed. I suppose this means that if you love someone, no matter what happens, you feel that you have gained something.
When one door closes, another door opens
Let’s move on to the next part of the song;
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
When one door closes, another one opens. This is a really optimistic way of looking at the world. The phrase is very old and can be traced back to the Spanish writer Cervantes. It means when one plan fails or one situation ends negatively, there is an opportunity to do something else. Some people try to live their lives with this as a sort of philosophy so they can stay positive.
A fighting chance
In the next line, Lee Ann sings:
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
A fighting chance means a chance that something will succeed, even if it will require a lot of effort. If you have a fighting chance, it means that something is possible, but you will have to fight for it. I think it’s most commonly used to talk about sport. The new contenders have a fighting chance of victory at the competition, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Lee Ann wants you to promise that you will give faith a fighting chance. That you will not be closed-minded and cynical, but that you will stay positive and open-minded so that things you have to trust or have confidence in have a chance to come true or at least remain part of your life. Normally, faith when it’s used on its own means faith in god. Do you have faith? This means do you believe in god. But you can have faith in people, in humanity or in nature. Or, you can be a miserable cynic and not have faith in anything.
To sit something out
As we move towards the chorus Lee Ann sings:
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
To sit something out means to not participate. So if you are with a group of friends and they all want to do karaoke, you could say: I think I’m going to sit this one out. This means that you are not going to join in the karaoke. Or if you are in a disco or nightclub and a slow track starts playing, you might say: I’m going to sit this one out – it’s not my sort of music. In the song, Lee Ann is using dance as a metaphor. To dance is to find joy in the world or to try to inspire others to find joy. If you are given the chance to take the easy route, to stop and rest, to sit it out, I hope you dance.
To settle for something
The second verse starts with:
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
This verse is about not being afraid of a challenge. The first challenge is the mountains in the distant. Don’t be afraid to climb or cross the mountains. Lee Ann sings never settle for the path of least resistance. This has two interesting parts. The first is the phrase to settle for. This means to accept an outcome that probably wasn’t your ideal, what you hoped for, but what’s acceptable to you. So if you are selling your house, you might get an offer of less money than you put as the sale price. You will then usually offer a lower price as a compromise and haggle a bit before settling on a price that you and your buyer are happy with. When you settle, you are not getting what you really wanted, but you are getting something close enough that you are happy. In your life, you may have goals and dreams for your future, but you will usually have to settle for some sort of compromise. However, Lee Ann sings never settle for the path of least resistance.
The path of least resistance
I can’t find who came up with this phrase, but the concept is often described using a river as an example. When water flows from a mountain to the sea, it will flow along the route that is easiest. If there are barriers or other objects that provide resistance, it will flow around them and not over them. If you avoid confrontation and difficulties in your life, you are choosing the path of least resistance.
A mistake worth making
The song continues:
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
I think the collocations take chances and make mistakes are well known. To say that something is worth doing means that the benefits outweigh the costs. The good results will be better than the problems that you face. A chance is a risk, but it’s worth it to take a risk, it’s worth taking a risk as the benefits will outweigh the costs.
To be hellbent on something
The next line has a colourful adjective:
Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
Now, I always understood hellbent to mean really determined. You can be hellbent on something. She’s hellbent on studying medicine. He’s hellbent on moving to Canada. In these cases, the people have plans that are so strong that there is nothing you or anyone could do to change their minds. I don’t really know what a determined heart is, perhaps someone who is so determined to achieve their own goals that they have no time for you.
To sell out
There are two more phrases I want to talk about in the next two lines.
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
To sell out means to give up on or betray your cause or your principles for money. It’s used a lot to talk about musicians that start off interested in the music, but who become more interested in money and success. So there are rock bands that started their career with a bit of a punk anti-establishment ethos or spirit. When they get older, big companies ask them if they can use their music to sell cars or petrol. If they accept the money, it means they are abandoning their rock cause or spirit and they are selling out. Another example could be a writer who published a really popular novel. If a big Hollywood studio wants to turn it into a film but they insist on changing bits of the story to make it more commercial, if the author agrees, then they may be sacrificing their principles or ideas to make money. They would be selling out.
To give something a passing glance
The last phrase I want to look at is a passing glance. Lee Ann sings:
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
If you give something a passing glance, you look at something but only for a short time. You don’t give it your full attention. To glance simply means to look at something for an instant. You might glance at a clock when you are working if you have a tight deadline. You might glance at the person sitting next to you because you don’t want them to see you looking at them. If you do something in passing, it means you do it only briefly and without much effort usually because you are more focused on something else. So if you are in a meeting about an important topic, perhaps you need to buy something expensive for your company. You might have three options. Two are serious and the third is not really serious. In the meeting, you might mention the third in passing, but not spend time discussing it as you were really focused on the other options. In the phrase a passing glance, passing is similar. So if you are reading a report and the bit you are most interested in is on page 3, you might give page 2 a passing glance, but you would not pay much attention to it.
And then then we’re back to the chorus and some lines from the earlier verses are repeated.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
This was a complicated song to talk about. There’s loads of interesting vocabulary so I hope you found it useful. I think that this might be the longest Learn English Vocabulary podcast so far so Thank you Gilda and I really hope you have found this useful.
I advise everyone to listen to the full song again to hear Lee Ann Womack sing these phrases. She has a lovely voice and the country style is not too ‘yee-haw’. I’m not going to try to explain that; I really love lots of American music and folk and even Americana, but country is not for everyone. I’ll put a video with the song on the page for this podcast with an activity that you can use to test yourself on Learn English Vocabulary.co.uk.
If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a rating or a review. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. If there are any songs you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.
Thanks for listening.