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Creative writer who often procrastinates with history and English language. I’ll never use a semi-colon and you can’t make me.
This little guy knows what traffic lights look like — Photo By Militant Bishop, edited by author

So I was browsing the web the other day and was stopped by one of those Google Captcha things, and it got thinking about my favourite movie of all time, Blade Runner.

If you haven’t seen it (which is probably unlikely), here’s the deal:

In the movie the line between man and machine is blurry at best, and Rick Deckard (the main guy played by Harrison Ford) begins to question his own humanity as he tracks down and kills murderous replicants (what the movie calls androids), while ultimately sparing the one he loves. These replicants look like humans, act like…


Wikimedia Commons — edited by author

You could be said to be “opening a can of worms”, figuratively speaking, if you are taking (or intending to take) some course of action that would have far reaching, often unforeseen, negative consequences.

For example, when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the EU referendum in 2016, that was a can of worms that resulted in him resigning and the country bickering for 5 years and counting. A spicy can of worms to say the least (although whether those consequences were unforeseen depends on your outlook).

But anyway, let’s look at why we say it — why are worms…


Photo by Jonathunder — edited by author

In a modern context, this is something you do to cut something out entirely.

We say “going cold turkey” to mean we are giving up some drug or other addictive and harmful thing (like Twitter). Not cutting back, not gradually reducing, not replacing with something else (like Facebook), but stopping altogether.

Often, for drugs such as heroin and other highly dangerous drugs, “going cold turkey” is a pretty bad idea. But why, exactly? And what doe turkeys have to do with drugs?

Let’s talk turkey

Okay, so before we look at where this phrase comes from, what does going cold turkey actually look…


Prince Felix Yusupov (1914) and Grigori Rasputin (1916) — (public domain, edited by author)

Much like the ‘Mad Monk’ Iliodor, Prince Felix Yusupov seems to occupy that same space just outside of mainstream history: a footnote of the Russian revolution and a member of the supporting cast in the life of Grigori Rasputin. But it is worth looking further, to understand the man behind the murder that would define his legacy.

Yusupov was a character filled with complexity and almost constant contradiction.

He was a devoted husband and father, yet struggled with his sexuality his entire life. He longed to serve his country at the height of the war, yet was too idle and…


Wikimedia Commons — public domain

When someone says “it’s raining cats and dogs” what they’re really saying is “gee, isn’t it raining heavily outside.”

It’s a phrase you might mutter to yourself or hear someone else say without giving too much thought: understandable given the expression has existed since at least the 17th century.

It has all sorts of possible explanations attached: ranging from etymology and bogus historical claims, all the way to simple poetic imagery and ancient mythology.

But what the hell does it mean?

Short answer: who the hell knows

Okay, cards on the table here — there is no definitive answer to where this expression comes from, although…


Photo By Matthew T Rader, https://matthewtrader.com, taken from Wikimedia Commons

If you’re on cloud nine, you’re extremely happy about something. In a state of tremendous bliss and euphoria.

Example:

“Oh, honestly Betty, it’s like a fairytale. I’m in love. I’m on cloud nine!”

“You aren’t on cloud nine Sheila, you’ve got your bloody head in the clouds!”

So if Sheila is so happy, why is she on cloud number nine of all things? Why not another number? Why a cloud at all? Well, as for the number, the most common thought comes from an 1896 atlas of clouds (a riveting read I’m sure) where they were originally divided in to…


Photo by Richard Sagredo on Unsplash

It was hot today, much hotter than usual for this time of the year, but that was to be expected.

Frank climbed through the attic window and hauled himself, his deck chair, and his cooler on to the roof of his house. He wanted to make the most of today, and was wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses, a buttoned shirt with the top three buttons undone, and one of those brim hats that fishermen wear (whatever you call them).

He was in a good mood and was humming a little tune, something that had been stuck in his head…


Wikipedia Commons — Public Domain (edited by author)

Whether that be your dwindling bank balance, that hard to deal with child of yours, or anything else that seems more hassle than it’s worth, sometimes it’s better to ignore a problem rather than confront it.

This is what it means to “turn a blind eye”. To pretend not to see an issue, and choose to look the other way. This would usually, as in the examples above, be when there is something you disapprove of, and it is both beneficial and convenient to knowingly ignore the problem.

Not just blind eyes but also deaf ears

The origin of the phrase comes from a pairing with deaf ears…


Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. That’s right, you heard me — Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

English is a slippery little devil, isn’t it? On the surface, it appears so simple, yet as a language, it contains so many exceptions, so many variations, so many contradictions, and so many gosh-darn words that mean the same gosh-darn thing.

On one hand we have social media — the veritable Wild West where anything goes and no one is safe, and on the other we have language tools like Grammarly which will not rest until all humanity is sucked out of it. Two extremes, and as is usually the case these days, no middle ground.

As a native speaker…


Wikipedia Commons — edited by the author

“When pigs fly”, or “pigs might fly” if you prefer, is a way of saying something will never happen, akin to “when hell freezes over”.

It is what we call a Adynaton: an exaggerated/hyperbolic figure of speech taken to such lengths as to suggest a complete impossibility. This is not a rare or unlikely thing, but a purposely absurd idea usually used sarcastically or ironically in response to someone or something.

For example, when your slacker roommate tells you they are going to start looking for a job and will be good for rent this month, you might reply, “yeah…

R P Gibson

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