Seaside Magazine Bird

Posted On May 31, 2019 By In Regulars With 289 Views

What’s the Word? Notes on Nature

by Jo Barnes –

Come join me for another trek down the word trail. Last time we sailed the sea of nautical phrases, but today we venture into the great outdoors where interesting idioms sprout up all over.

So off we go; there’s nothing like the great outdoors. Being in it can make you feel “as fresh as a daisy.” The little flower is attractive enough, but why do we think of it as being fresh? The flower’s name is based on the old English dæges ēage or “day’s eye” due to the fact that the flower opens in the morning and closes at night. The phrase alludes to being fresh and open to a new day just like a morning daisy.

But daisies aren’t the only plant along our way. What’s this, a four leaf clover? Finding one of those in the clover bunch is like “finding a needle in a haystack.” But what does a needle have to do with a haystack anyway? The phrase possibly originates with Sir Thomas More who in 1532 referred to an even more fruitless search when he wrote “looking for one line in all of St. Austin’s works were to go to look a needle in a meadow.” It’s no wonder his phrase was so descriptive that it grew in popularity in a slightly altered form, that of hiding that elusive needle in a haystack, an item often found in medieval meadows.

As we continue along, the views are spectacular. But wait, the path looks fairly steep. Maybe I’m just exaggerating the incline and “making a mountain out of a molehill.” It’s an old idiom thought to be first used by Nicholas Udall when he described ancient Greek teachers as analyzing so much as to make an elephant of a flye and a mountaine out of a mollehill. I’m sure our path is do-able.

This is my favourite part of the trail. It has something you’ll want to see. Can you guess what it is? I don’t mean to “beat around the bush” which interestingly enough dates back to Medieval bird hunts. Some participants would beat the bushes to rouse the birds and flush them out for capturing. The sight I was telling you about is an eagle’s nest nearby! Maybe we could get a better view if we climb that rocky outcropping. But it looks dangerous; I’m not sure the view would be any better. Ah well, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” Like those 15th century falconers who prized the valuable asset in their hands rather than risking what was out of their reach, we’ll settle for the splendid view today.

That wraps up today’s journey down the word trail. But next time we’ll explore what phrases are “waiting in the wings!” 



Your West Coast Culture. A magazine about the people and places that make the Saanich Peninsula the little piece of paradise we call home.

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