Saturday, July 2, 2011

Exposure - the Word of Many Faces


by Kerry Schafer

Exposure.


Just another word stored in the databanks, until I stop to sit with it for a minute, and then I realize that this is a multipurpose, many layered word with a shifting array of connotations. Interesting to see where everybody went with it this week - sort of like that Freudian word association game, where your therapist says a word and you blurt out the very first thing that comes to your mind.

I'm curious what exactly would have been my first thought, but it's too late - I'd already been exposed to several posts by other Word Whores before I went back to check the calendar and see what the scheduled topic really was.

One word. Exposure.

When I sat down to write this post, my brain was inundated by the sheer multitude of directions we could go. You can expose yourself physically or emotionally, or you can expose somebody else. You can die of exposure, as Marcella pointed out. There's a double exposure in photography - which can lead to surreal and sometimes beautiful results. You can be exposed to radiation, or chicken pox, or too much ultraviolet light. Also, we talk of exposure to negative or prositive influences, education, philosophical ideas.

As writers, we seek exposure for our work, as do other artists.

A Google search might be of interest, thought I.

The first page turned up a Wikipedia article, explaining the concept of exposure in photography - "the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium." A rock climbing website, called Exposure. An online dictionary - freedictionary.com - with, as I'd expected, a long list of definitions. Ooh, and what's this? A whole list of expressions related to exposure, with their origins and with examples?

I'm fascinated. Forgive me. I tried to pick a couple of these to share, but I'd been over exposed and overwhelmed already. Here they all are, for your interested perusal (or not).


another lie nailed to the counter An Americanism referring to something false or misleading which is publicly exposed to forewarn possible future offenders and con artists. The popular story explaining the origin of this expression is that the keeper of a general store used to nail counterfeit coins to the counter to discourage future customers from trying to perpetrate the same fraud.

blow the gaff To divulge a secret; to reveal a plot; to blab, peach, or give convicting evidence. Blow the gaff is the British slang equivalent of spill the beans. As early as 1575, blow was used to mean ‘expose or betray.’ Blow the gab appeared in print in 1785, followed by blow the gaff in 1812. According to the OED, the origin of gaff is obscure, though gaffe ‘blunder’ is a common modern borrowing from French.

I wasn’t going to blow the gaff, so I told him, as a great secret, that we got it [the gun] up with a kite. (Frederick Marry at, Peter Simple, 1833)

blow the whistle To expose or threaten to expose a scandal; to put a stop to, put the kibosh on; to inform or squeal. This expression may come from the sports referee’s whistle which stops play when a foul or violation has been committed or at the end of the game; or from the policeman’s whistle which calls attention to a traffic or civil offense.

cackling geese Informers, warners; saviors, protectors, defenders. According to legend, the cackling of the sacred geese alerted the Roman garrison when the Gauls were attacking the Capitol, enabling them to save the city.

come out in the wash See OUTCOME.

debunk To expose the falseness or pretentiousness of a person or his attitudes, assertions, etc.; to divest of mystery, thereby bringing down from a pedestal; to destroy the illusions perpetuated by clever talk and feigned sincerity; to reveal the true and nonsensical nature of something. The root bunk is a shortened form of buncombe ‘nonsense, gob-bledygook.’ Thus, to “debunk” is to eliminate the nonsense, or as below, to “burst the bubble.”

Michael, after drifting round the globe, becomes a debunking expert, a pricker of bubbles. (Nation, October 10, 1923)

See also bunkum, NONSENSE.

Freudian slip A slip of the tongue; a seemingly innocent statement which has a concealed psychological significance. This expression comes from the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud, some of which hold that a person often reveals his true psyche in less than obvious ways, such as through slips in speech or through forgetfulness. In its contemporary usage, however, Freudian slip has been carried to extremes and is often used to call attention to any slip of the tongue, especially if such attention might be embarrassing (in a questionably humorous sort of way) to the speaker.

It was an odd little slip of the tongue … They call them Freudian slips nowadays. (N. Blake, Deadly Joker, 1963)

let the cat out of the bag To divulge a secret, often accidentally. Most accounts claim that this expression derives from the county fairs once common in England and elsewhere at which suckling pigs were sold. After being purchased, the pigs were sealed in a sack. Occasionally, an unscrupulous merchant would substitute a cat for the pig and try to sell the sealed bag to an unsuspecting customer at a bargain price. If the buyer were cautious, however, he would open the sack before buying its unseen contents, thus “letting the cat out of the bag.” This expression has enjoyed widespread figurative use ever since.

We could have wished that the author … had not let the cat out of the bag. (The London Magazine, 1760)

See also pig in a poke,SWINDLING.

a little bird See INTUITION.

murder will out The truth will manifest itself in time; the secret will be disclosed. Chaucer uses this expression in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale:

Murder will out, that see we day by day.

A later version appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. (II, ii)

It was once believed that a dead body would bleed if touched by the murderer. This and similar myths popular in the 16th century reinforced the belief embodied in this expression.

put the finger on To identify; to inform on; to point out one person to another who seeks him, such as a victim to a hit man or a criminal to a police officer; sometimes simply finger.

Frank Lee … had fingered many, many dealers to the Feds. (Flynn’s, December 13, 1930)

A related expression, fingerman, refers to an informer, one who puts the finger on someone else. Fingerman sometimes describes the person who cases (i.e., surveys or examines) a prospective victim or location and relays information to criminals such as thieves or kidnappers.

show one’s true colors To reveal one’s real character or personality; to strip one-self of fa├žades and affectations; to expose one’s true attitude, opinion, or position. Originally, colors referred to the badge, insignia, or coat of arms worn to identify and distinguish members of a family, social or political group, or other organization. Thus, to show one’s colors was to proudly display a sign of one’s ideology or membership in an organization. With the rise in piracy, however, the expression took on implications of exposure after attempted or successful deception. More specifically, showing one’s true colors involved lowering the bogus colors (i.e., the flag of a victim’s ally) and raising the skull-and-crossbones. Used figuratively, this expression carries intimations of asserting one-self after having vacillated; used literally, it means exposure after deception. Variations are come out in one’s true colors and show one’s colors.

Opponents who may find some difficulty in showing their colors.
(William Gladstone, in Standard, February 29, 1884)

See also sail under false colors, PRETENSE.

sing in tribulation To confess under torture; to act as an informer, especially when threatened with or subjected to bodily harm; to squeal. In the Middle Ages, a person who had previously refused to inform or reveal information was said to “sing in tribulation” when extreme suffering and torture finally loosed his tongue.

This man, sir, is condemned to the galleys for being a canary-bird … for his singing … for there is nothing more dangerous than singing in tribulation. (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605)

A related expression from the same work is sing in agony.

One of the guards said to him, “Signor Cavalier, to sing in agony means, in the cant of these rogues, to confess upon the rack.”

A widely used variation is the slang sing ‘to inform.’

slip of the tongue An inadvertent remark, an unintended comment; a verbal mistake, a faux pas. This colloquialism plays on the idea of a tongue having a mind of its own. Or, as in Freudian slip, it is implied that the slip reflects one’s unconscious thoughts or desires.

It was a slip of the tongue; I did not intend to say such a thing. (Frances Burney, Evelina, 1778)

The following anonymous verse advises how to avoid the problem:

If you your lips
Would keep from slips,
Of these five things beware:
Of whom you speak,
To whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.

A similar expression is slip of the pen, referring to a written mistake. According to OED citations, this expression appeared in print by the mid-17th century, antedating slip of the tongue by 65 years.

spill one’s guts To reveal one’s most intimate thoughts and feelings; to lay bare one’s soul; to divulge secret information, usually damaging to another; to confess or to inform on. In this expression, guts means bowels, in the latter’s senses of deepest recesses and pro-foundest feelings. This common phrase often implies that the revealed information was obtained through coercion, as in the interrogation of a person suspected of a crime or a prisoner-of-war.

spill the beans To divulge a secret; to prematurely reveal a surprise, often by accident. This expression is one of the most common in the English speaking world, but no plausible theory of its origin exists.

“Tell me the truth,” she says.
“Spill the beans, Holly, old man!” (E. Linklater, Poet’s Pub, 1929)

tell tales out of school To utter private information in public; to indiscriminately divulge confidential matters; to gossip. In this expression dating from the mid-16th century, school represents a microcosm, a closed society having its own standards and codes of behavior. The family unit is another such microcosm. These and similar groups usually encourage confidentiality. Thus, to tell tales out of school is to share with members outside of the group information privy to it.

A very handsome … supper at which, to tell tales out of school, … the guests used to behave abominably. (Thomas A. Trollope, What I Remember, 1887)

tip one’s hand To reveal one’s intentions, motives, or plans before the proper moment, to unintentionally or unwittingly give one-self away; also to show one’s hand.

He was perilously near showing his whole hand to the other side. (Bookman, October, 1895)

The allusion is to the inadvertent display of one’s hand to the other players in a card game.

wash one’s dirty linen in public To discuss domestic problems with mere acquaintances; to reveal personal concerns to strangers; to expose the skeleton in the family closet. This common expression seems to have come to English via the French 77 faut laver son linge sale en famille One should wash one’s dirty linen in private [at home, within the household].’

I do not like to trouble you with my private affairs;—there is nothing, I think, so bad as washing one’s dirty linen in public. (Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, 1867)


1 comment:

  1. "A lie nailed to the counter"

    I hadn't hear of this "Americanism" before. Learnt me sumpin new.

    What a fun spin on the week's topic. Thanks for the myriad of colloquialisms!

    ReplyDelete