Wednesday, 25 April 2012
As I set at my desk at work, I overhear plenty of conversations. Today I heard the familiar phrase " open a can of worms" and it got me to thinking about how that phrase originated. I thought that I would look it up, and while in the process share some other phrases and meanings.
open a can of worms
Metaphorically speaking, to open a can of worms means to inadvertently create numerous new problems while trying to solve one. Experts disagree on the origin of the phrase, but it is generally believed to be a Canadian or American metaphor coined sometime in the 1950s. Bait stores routinely sold cans of worms and other popular live baits to fishermen, who often discovered how easy it was to open a can of worms and how difficult it was to close one. Once the worms discovered an opportunity to escape, it became nearly impossible to keep them contained.
Go To hell in a handbasket
It isn't at all obvious why 'handbasket' was chosen as the preferred vehicle to convey people to hell. One theory on the origin of the phrase is that derives from the use of handbaskets in the guillotining method of capital punishment. If Hollywood films are to be believed, the decapitated heads were caught in baskets - the casualty presumably going straight to hell, without passing Go.
The allusion is to the dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes. Opiates were widely used by the English literati in the 18th and 19th centuries. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the best known users, and it would be difficult to claim that the imagery in surreal works like Kubla Khan owned nothing to opium. Lewis Carroll, although not known to be an opium user himself, makes clear allusions to drug use in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has his hero Sherlock Holmes visit an opium den - although that was for research rather than consumption.
This is an adaptation of the Chinese kung - work, and ho - together. The Anglicized term gung ho became widely known in English as a slogan that was adopted in WWII by the United States Marines under General Evans Carlson.
Pretty interesting, right ?