Sunday, February 21, 2021

No Smoke Without Fire (MY Eng #5)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach' and blowing hot and cold'.

You can see grey wisps. You can smell something burning. But you don't feel any real heat. Nor see any orange cloud. No reason to panic?

Of course not! Chances are, there's a fire raging somewhere, beyond your sight. Flee, you fool! Sound the alarm! Save yourself!

* * *

When someone says that 'there's no smoke without fire', what they mean is that they sense something is going terribly wrong. They may not be sure exactly what, but they have a rough feel that something is out of place. Signs. Clues. Symptoms.

Take health. Your body feels warmer than usual. You're feeling lethargic. Mucus is flowing uncontrollably out of your nose. Most of us already know when the flu hits even before going to a doctor.

Of course, the phrase typically is used more in the social context. Problems at work. Relationship drama. Strain in a friendship. When someone behaves strangely. Or isn't quite the same person as before.

Also, it's easier to pick out hints off human behaviour. Lack of eye contact. Weak and unconvincing smile. A long outburst on Twitter. Emotions are hard to bottle up. Anger, sadness, happiness - they're all written on our faces.

* * *

To avoid being burned by human combustion, it's best to develop a good heat-detection system.

Loud noises coming from the bosses' office? Then better not bring up your long-awaited promotion during lunch later.

Your boyfriend's favourite football team lost a derby last night? Then better not bug him to go shopping later.

Ultimately, many conflicts can be easily avoided if we become more aware of our surroundings. Anticipate fire by the smell of smoke. Because there's no smoke without fire.

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