This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.
The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.
In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.
That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.
Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.
The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.
It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,