As a card-carrying book nerd, I have been known to get worked up about the vagaries of the English language. I’m not one of those purists who decry the lack of predictability in grammar—though I do pity the poor souls who have to learn English as a second language. I’m the type of person who finds endless amusement in the foibles and ambiguities in the written and spoken word, so naturally, I have a solid appreciation of books that explore these oddities.
One book that makes a great addition to my collection is Jim Westergard’s See What I’m Saying? Though primarily an art book showcasing the artist’s brilliant wood engraving talents, it is also a fun, amusing look at the idioms of the English language—and how a true artist can put his creative thinking to good use.
I’ve pulled out a few choice text-image pairings so you can get a taste of the delightful work of art for yourself.
Cutt Off the Nose to Spite the Face
The phrase ‘to cut off the nose to spite the face’ describes a vengeful overreaction in which a person does as much damage to him- or herself as to the object of his or her ire. The expression has a bizarre origin.
In 867 A.D. St Ebba was Mother Superior of a monastery at Coldingham Priory in Scotland. She received word that Vikings had landed and were headed in the direction of the cloister. Ebba was fearful that she and the nuns under her direction might lose their virginity when the raiders arrived. She suggested that they should make themselves less appealing to the Vikings by disfiguring themselves and to do so she cut off her nose and upper lip. When the Vikings arrived they were so revolted by what they saw they burned the building to the ground. But St Ebba’s virginity remained intact.
My Mind Is Made Up
When there’s a negotiation in progress and someone says their ‘mind is made up’, save your breath. Their brain has gone into lock-down mode and they’ve very likely thrown away the key.
This face was inspired by the faded memory of a brutal grade-nine algebra teacher, many, many decades ago.
Turn a Blind Eye
When someone ‘turns a blind eye’ they are said to be ignoring or denying something they know to be true. The phrase originated with British Lord (then Vice-Admiral) Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. His commander signaled with flags from another ship, ordering Nelson to withdraw from the battle. Nelson had lost his right eye and right arm in two different battles years earlier. When he was told of the signal to withdraw he moved his right eye to the eyepiece of the telescope and announced that he couldn’t see the signals. He then gave orders for his ship to continue fighting. The battle ended with a truce between the British and the Danish and Norwegians.
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I love these little gems. English idioms have such interesting origin stories! Don’t you feel like you learned something? These and many more illuminating illustrations can be found in See What I’m Saying?, available in print and as an ebook. Get your copy today.