13 June 2008

Fight or Flight

Henry raised an interesting question in his comment yesterday.

Where does the phrase "on the lam" come from? I've seen it spelt "on the lamb," which raises humorous imagery of someone like Kobi Alexander saddling up a lamb for flight from the authorities.

The real origin is psychologically intriguing. The human mind seems to combine the verbiage of fight and of flight. Consider: I might "hit" my opponent, or I might "hit the road," before he shows up.

If I hit my opponent, that is also called a "beating." But if I'm the smaller and weaker of the parties involved, I might prefer to "beat it."

In Elizabethan times, it appears, the word "lam" meant "to hit." It came to mean "run away" in the same way that hit and beat acquired the above-mentioned extensions -- flight is dignified with fight language. In the case of "lam," though, the original aggressive meaning died away, leaving only the flight.

Except for the word "lambaste," meaning to criticize harshly. This, it seems, is a compound that includes the original significance of "lam."

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.