Thursday, 23 August 2007

Origin of the Saying " To Turn a Blind Eye"

This saying means to consciously ignore something when you know its happening. What’s nice about this saying is that there is no doubt as to its origin. Unlike other phrases that have multiple interpretations, for example “ The Whole Nine Yards”, there is consensus to the origin.
This saying was inspired by Admiral Lord Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Nelson was in command of a fleet that engaged a combined Danish/Norwegian fleet. During the engagement Nelson was ordered by his Commander to withdraw from the battle for some or other tactical reason. Nelson did not agree and continued doing what he was doing. This pissed the Commander off somewhat, and he began sending signals telling him to back off. Most probably by furiously waving a bunch of flags with an aggressive attitude. Nelson ignored them. His Second in Command brought this to his attention, most probably not wanting to appear before a court martial on getting back home, and gave him a telescope to look at the “signals”. Nelson put the telescope to his blind eye and said “"You know, Foley, I have only one eye - and I have a right to be blind sometimes... I really do not see the signal."
Nelson carried on, and, fortunately for him, managed to do justice to the occasion.
To turn a deaf ear has the same connotation
EDIT: 10 July 2009
I was under the impression that this saying was set in concrete, and these words were uttered by Nelson. All sources I could find at the time were unanimous as to the origin. Having said that I recently found this passage in "The habit of Victory", Story of the Royal Navy by Captain Peter Hore, Page 156.
"given this eyewitness account from someone who was close to Nelson throughout the battle, the story about Nelson putting a telescope to his blind eye appears to be a later embellishment"

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