I came across an interesting web site that teaches non-native English speakers how to speak like an American. The catch of the site reads “Leave the accent behind. Your accent gives you away.”

I understand it means “Part with your local accent. Your accent gives you disadvantage.”

Dictionaries at hand carry both idioms of “leave stg. behind” and “give stg. away,” but I find none of the listed definitions that seem to be pertinent to the above particular phrase.

Can you explain what “leave something behind” and “Something gives somebody away” mean and the scope of usage of these two idioms?

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    What is this website? Can you give the URL (the address) Apr 25 '12 at 23:16

To leave something behind is to let it remain in a location that you depart from. If, for example, you forget your keys when you go out of your house for dinner, you have left your keys behind: you left the house, they stayed in the house.

(Something) gives you away means that the thing reveals a fact about you, usually a fact that you would prefer to stay hidden. A classic example is someone who is playing poker with you, and who tries to bluff you; but their tendency to hold their breath when bluffing means that you just wait to see if they hold their breath, and if they do then you know they are bluffing: their breath-holding gave them away.

So in this case they are saying "don't bring a foreign accent with you when you go to America, so you won't let people know immediately that you are from another country."

The scope of usage for these two phrases is very broad. If someone shows up at work and does 3 stupid things in a row, you could ask them "Did you leave your common sense behind this morning?" If your boss then tells you that your co-worker is pregnant and the reason she did those stupid things is because she has morning sickness, you could say "I didn't realize you were pregnant at first, but the boss gave you away." (Any time you learn something about someone that they don't tell you directly, you could say that whatever caused you to figure that thing out about them "gave them away".)

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    Now my interpretation of the phrase in question is “Lock up your local accent which betrays where you are from.” Readers English Japanese Dictionary I consulted certainly provided the usage of “give away” as “betray, reveal, disclose.” But I wasn’t able to associate those meanings to the quoted phrase.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Apr 8 '12 at 3:00
  • @YoichiOishi: Close, but strike the word "local" from your interpretation. (If your accent matched the accent of the locals, you would blend in, not be "given away").
    – J.R.
    Apr 8 '12 at 4:07
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    This reminds me of when the military first moved me away from home (home being the northeasthern U.S., i.e., near Boston). After a few years away, I returned home on leave. While in a conversation, a high school friend of mine started laughing as I spoke. I asked him, "What's so funny?" He answered, "You have an accent now." I replied, "Yeah, either I got one, or I lost one – it depends on your point of view!"
    – J.R.
    Apr 8 '12 at 4:13

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