Let's Speak English

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Now a RED RAG often irritates a bull and makes him charge. That's why a red cape is used in bull-fighting to attract the bull's attention. In fact, it makes the bull SEE RED or, in other words, makes him furious. The phrase to SEE RED comes from the red spots a man's supposed to see in front of his eyes when he's very angry. So if you buy an expensive hat and your husband sees the bill, don't be surprised if he SEES RED too.

To DRAW A RED HERRING ACROSS THE TRACK means to distract someone's attention in an argument by raising an irrelevant subject. The phrase comes, like many English idioms, from the hunting field. When hounds are exercised, a RED HERRING is sometimes drawn along the ground at the end of a string to provide scent. Even if the herring is drawn across the track of a fox, the theory is that the hounds will follow the herring and not the fox.

RED HERRINGS seem to abound in committee meetings in Palestine. The subject seems continually to change and you hardly ever end a meeting in this country talking on the same thing with which you started. That's why meetings in Tel Aviv usually finish at three in the morning. Perhaps the RED HERRINGs have something to do with the herrings that are a favourite food in that city.

We'll now turn to another colour - WHITE. What's the meaning of the phrase A WHITE ELEPHANT? In idiomatic English, a WHITE ELEPHANT is something you own but for which you have no use. Occasionally at a charity bazaar you'Il see a stall marked 'WHITE ELEPHANTS'. Don't think it's a Zoo: they're merely selling all the unwanted ornaments and bric-a-brac that generous people have given away.

My wife once had a WHITE ELEPHANT, a particularly hideous vase, luckily only one of a pair. So she gave it a·way to a bazaar. Unfortunately she didn't tell me, so when I saw it, I bought it back again so .she might have two to match.

But why is it called a WHITE ELEPHANT? Apparently the Kings of Siam used to keep valuable collections of rare white elephants. Whenever they wanted to confer an honour on a deserving subject, they gave him a WHITE ELEPHANT. He didn't dare to sell it or give it away but had to feed it for life - and elephants can live a very long time.

Now A WHITE ELEPHANT is one thing but a BLACK SHEEP is another.

A BLACK SHEEP is a man who has shewn himself to be good for nothing and a rogue. You sometimes hear that "So-and-so's the BLACK SHEEP of the family". That means he's the only BLACK SHEEP in a white flock. In the nineteenth century, the BLACK SHEEP in each family were all shipped off to Australia. That, I believe, is why Australia today produces so much wool.

Most of the BLACK SHEEP, when they arrived in Australia, PULLED THE WOOL OVER other people's EYES. That's another idiomatic phrase which means to deceive people by hiding the truth from them. When someone thinks he's being deceived, he says "Oh! no. You can't PULL THE WOOL OVER my EYES" .

But the BLACK SHEEP from England successfully PULLED THE WOOL OVER THE EYES of their victims in Australia and then proceeded to FLEECE them. A


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