Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Snake in the grass sighting

On occasion one comes across the odd idiom while out hunting metaphors. Idioms are a much more rare form of metaphor, but provide a pleasant diversion from the task of taking things too seriously. The relative rarity of idioms is due in part to the fact that every aspect of reality can be made part of a common metaphor; idioms must be established by common usage, and this fermentation can take decades.

Today I saw a “Snake In The Grass”.

It was a small snake, and there really was not much grass. I took this picture to provide proof of my sighting. The snake was very still and accommodating as I took it.


This metaphor for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 b.c. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by Charles Leslie.

From what I know of snake biology the act of purposefully hiding in order to get close enough to effectively strike a human would not be a very good survival mechanism. Striking humans is a defense mechanism, and it does not increase the odds of getting food or help to establish some territorial boundary. The snake strikes to dissuade the human from killing, which some humans do because snakes strike and are sometimes poisonous.

So why isn’t this idiom a metaphor for generations of miscommunication becoming codified in a pattern of negative interactions?

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