head in the sand

If you have your head in the sand, you’re refusing to confront or acknowledge a problem, or ignoring unwanted news or events in the hope that they will go away.

This arises from the myth that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when faced with an attack by predators. The idea was apparently first recorded by the Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, who suggested that ostriches hide their heads in bushes.  Perhaps, for ostrichkind, it’s but one small step from bush to sand.

Both the myth and Pliny’s story rely on the supposed stupidity of ostriches, and of birds in general. The notion is that the supposedly dumb ostrich believes that if it can’t see its attacker then the attacker can’t see it. Douglas Adams got away with exaggerating the idea in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the “Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal” was described as “so mind-bogglingly stupid that it assumes that if you can’t see it, then it can’t see you.” 

In fact, birds have a significantly larger brain to weight ratio than many other species of animal. And ostriches are so big (weighty) that they could probably vanquish most predators by merely stomping on them.

And, since we’re talking about birds, here are some relevant definitions:

Chickenshit — small-minded, contemptible, lacking courage (1929)

Clip his wings — control him by taking away his power

Wait in the wings — wait for one’s turn to perform

Now I’ll wing away to find more weird English phrases.

  One thought on “head in the sand

  1. April 14, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    I suppose the term “bird brain” comes from the same attitude toward birds. Although I admit that’s my nickname for the birds that visit my feeders. I’m always happy to see the local birdbrains cracking sunflower seeds, splashing in the bird bath, and partaking of nectar from the hummingbird feeder.


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