Monday, March 1, 2021

One Swallow Does Not Make A Summer (MY Eng #6)

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', blowing hot and cold' and 'no smoke without fire'.

On the last occasion, we explored on looking out for signs of impending crisis. So that we can brace ourselves in advance. Make the necessary preparations. Or take precautionary steps to avoid falling into the port-hole altogether.

And yet, we mustn't also be overly cautious. Paranoia can be paralysing. We can't be jumping at shadows (another idiom!). As much as need to be on guard against the unexpected, we can't get too ahead of ourselves and lose sight of the woods for the trees (this idiom already covered previously!).

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That's where the less-famous counter-idiom to 'no smoke without fire' come into play: one swallow does not make a swallow.

To non-avian lovers or non-science geeks, this idiom may seem rather cryptic. The starting point of comprehension is the migratory pattern of swallows - flying from one place to another over great cross-country expanse to seek out warmer climate as the chill of winter beckons. So when one see a flock of birds in the skies, it's often a reliable sign of the change of seasons.

But the idiom warns against making such presumptions too quickly. Seeing a single swallow does not necessarily mean that summer is coming. Maybe it got lost. Or cast away from its community (birds can be meanies too!). Or maybe it just got bored and brave enough to venture away far from home in search of adventure.

Everyday, our observant eye and social radar are trained to catch something amiss. People behaving strangely. A long silence when a response is required. And yet, there may be very simple explanations for irregularities. The person of whom you suspect of being wayward may simply be caught with something urgent, and uncontactable due to a dead phone battery.

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In short, be careful not to jump to conclusions based on sketchy information.

Your co-worker habitually missing from his desk? Maybe his line of work requires him to be on site or out of office. Don't assume people are skiving simply because they're not visible.

Your boyfriend acting rather cold and detached whole week? Maybe he's just going through a tough time at work, and doesn't feel like talking about it. Don't assume that silence signifies guilt.

So next time you gaze into the skies and spot a lonely swallow, don't immediately panic. For one swallow does not make a summer. A single exceptional event does not mean that the entire sky is falling down.

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