Animals: idioms, phrases and interesting facts A – D (part 2)

6th April 2022

Alligators and Crocodiles

See you later, alligator

Meaning: informal way of saying goodbye.

Comes from a song written by Robert Charles Guidry, and released in 1955. The lines are:

“See you later, alligator, after while, crocodile.”

Crocodiles are bigger and more aggressive than alligators. A crocodile’s snout is V-shaped, an alligator’s is U-shaped. Viewed from the front, a crocodile will display both sets of teeth while the alligator only shows the top row.


Crocodile tears

Meaning: shedding fake tears

“He acted like he was sad but they were just crocodile tears.”


Blind as a bat

Meaning: to have very bad eyesight

“I can’t see without my glasses, I’m blind as a bat.”

Bats, actually, are not blind but have very sensitive vision, especially for seeing in the dark. However, bats use a form of sonar called echolocation to search for food, and to help with navigation. They do this by producing sound waves above the range of human hearing. Additionally, the belief that bats always turn left when flying out of a cave is simply not true.


To be buffaloed

Meaning: to be confused, puzzled, or tricked by someone. This, I believe, is an idiom from the USA although I have never come across it, either in life or in the media.

Buffalos are native to Africa and Asia, bison in the USA and Europe. Although related, they are different species. Buffalo Bill, a soldier, hunter and showman, should really have been named Bison Bill


The butterfly effect

Meaning: a small, insignificant action can have enormous consequences. Based on Chaos Theory; if a butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil, will it cause a hurricane in Japan ?

The link between butterflies and Chaos Theory is actually based on the patterns made on paper when recording data:


The straw that broke the camel’s back

Meaning: a small but final event that causes someone to react strongly

“My boss kept making me overtime, but when he told me I had to work on my free day, I quit ! It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A perennial question in my Young Learners’ class is “What does a camel store in its hump ?” the answer being fat (not water). Furthermore, camels have three sets of eyelashes. However it is perhaps not so widely known that camel milk is incredibly healthy.


Until the cows come home

Meaning: some thing that will take a long time, last a long time, or will never happen

“Steven owes me money but I’ll be waiting until the cows come home before he pays me.”

In the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup’ (1933) Groucho declares, “I could dance with you ’til the cows come home. On second thoughts, I’d rather dance with the cows ’til you come home.”

Cows have 32 teeth but lack upper front ones. They have great memories and sense organs, being able to smell something up to six miles away.


Like a deer caught in the headlights

Meaning: paralysed with fear, unable to move. Totally shocked or surprised and unable to speak or react.

“When his mum caught him at the mall instead of being at school he was like a deer caught in the headlights.”

The Chinese water deer is the only species of deer not to have antlers. Deers, apart from having a great sense of smell and hearing, have a wide field of vision due to their eyes being on the side of their heads.


Water off a duck’s back

Meaning: something done or said that has no effect

“She kept insulting her boyfriend about his laziness and being a slob but it was all water off a duck’s back.”

See you later, alligator !

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Love and Chaos Part 5(A) How A Coffee Break Started A New Scientific Theory

9th February 2021

Part Five

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The time is the early Sixties; the place, a room in a research centre. We can imagine the entire back wall covered by metallic, grey-blue, wardrobe-like cabinets, housing large, state-of-the-art computers, their spools turning through Perspex windows, emitting a constant hum that is deafening to new arrivals, but now inaudible to the scientists that work there, a security blanket, an audio barrier against extraneous interference.

Now we have The Scientist. Doubtless he is wearing a spotless lab coat, pure white, or, perhaps, as The States were emerging from their Eisenhower conservatism and The Sixties still a swing away, the coat is a dull, conformist grey. Pens neatly arranged in breast pocket.

The Scientist is concerned with the weather. Forecasting it, trying to comprehend its peculiar patterns, its apparent aberrations, its random rumblings.

By analysing data, maybe it could be understood and, if not controlled, at least scientists would know exactly what to expect and when.

That’s where the computers came in. The calculations were so intricate, the figures so exhaustive, that only these cumbersome machines could handle them. What an exciting time; technology now existed that could process the mind-blowing streams of numbers. The scientists just had to sit back and wait for the results.

So our Scientist, while inputting data, and rather desirous of a caffeine fix, decided to take an insignificant short cut.

Wanting to check some previous work, but not wishing to start the calculations at the beginning, he took a reading at mid point, and started the simulation on computer from there.

Instead of feeding in a figure with several decimal points, he decided to round it up to just three, thus 0.506127 etc became 0.506.

This minute alteration should have no discernible effect, would probably have no effect at all, so, safe in that assumption, The Scientist left his room and went to the cafeteria, where he could chinwag with the other boffins about suspected cold fronts, joke about predicating football scores and cast sideways glances at the cute girl behind the counter.

Back to work. The Scientist picked up the reams of paper and looked for the result. He found it, but immediately thought it must be wrong, so he checked. He double checked.

He had been expecting an answer within certain parameters.

The figure before him was far outside his prediction, and he was driving himself crazy by constantly going over the calculation. No, all the figures, the work, was correct, so why the discrepancy ?

Surely it couldn’t be because he had made a tiny adjustment ?

So he re-ran numbers, checking the altered sum from the original figure.

Thus, the first point about Chaos Theory: Tiny, insignificant changes at a starting point, can lead to massive, significant changes at a distant point.

It was therefore an act of Chaos that led to Chaos Theory.

Then came the second point about Chaos Theory : All complex systems are constantly changing and feeding back on themselves.

The Scientist took some data at 9:00 AM and, feeding this into the computer, tried to forecast the weather for the following afternoon.

Three hours later, he fed in new data, how the weather was at 12:00. This he repeated, at intervals.

All the results were different.

The weather was constantly changing, and even minor fluctuations would cause different patterns, which may lead to other alterations which would lead to other situations, which would … and so on.

By rounding up the figure to just three decimal points, The Scientist would popularize theories that had long been in existence, bringing them out of academia and into the modern world where they could be applied by anyone wanting to know the weather, or predict the economic peaks and troughs, or regulate traffic flow, or apply it to an understanding of history or politics.

Or, maybe, just maybe, someone may come up with an theory about trying to understand that most chaotic of human relations: love.

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