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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Historical Tidbit: Idioms Caused by Viking Pirates

Do you know...?

The origins of the phrase, Don't cut off your nose to spite your face?

This phrase is "used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem." (Source) This source has been around since as early as the 12th century and comes from many legends about women disfiguring their faces in order to preserve their sexual dignity.

The most well-known story is that of Saint Ebbe, the Mother Superior of the Coldingham monastery in Scotland. When the monastery got word that Viking pirates had landed on their shores and were ravishing the countryside, Ebbe gathered her nuns and told them to disfigure themselves in order to repel their would-be rapists. The residents of the monastery cut off their noses and upper lips as best they could. When the Viking raiders arrived, they were so disgusted that they didn't rape a single one of the nuns.

Of course, that didn't stop them from burning down the monastery from the ground, but the nuns achieved their goal and at least some of them--probably most--lived to tell the tale.

Now the term is widely used foolish, destructive actions motivated purely by anger or vengeance.

How do you think people personify this figure of speech today?


  1. Oh my -- what a painful way to deter their would-be attackers! Yeesh. Very interesting.

  2. Wow, I didn't know that Liesel. That quote makes even less sense now. How did it spite their faces?