Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Animal Phrases

Our association with animals is so immediate and constant, it only makes sense our language would include numerous references to animals or their behavior. Just last week I wrote about the phrase "Mad as a March Hare" (blog entry 3/13). That got me thinking about other odd phrases involving animals and I was curious as to why those phrases got started.

Ever hear the term "Mare's Nest?" I've always known it to mean "a tangled mess, a muddle." If I came downstairs in the morning, without brushing my hair, I was told that my head looked like a mare's nest. Odd. I mean female horses don't lay eggs and they most certainly don't build nests. Could this have been a reference to Greek Mythology and the flying horses known as Pegasi? Were they the elusive equine nest builders? But if so, why were their nests so untidy?

Research into origins led to the phrase's first definition. A Mare's Nest was a hoax or a fraud. This seems to make more sense. If you'd found a mare's nest, you certainly had found something wonderful that simply did not exist. How we moved from the term meaning a sham to the term meaning a shambles is not easily found out. At least it wasn't found out by me. I can only put it down to the extraordinary adaptability of the human being.

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