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Word for the Wise January 23, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Mare's nest

A woman who stumbled across the phrase mare's nest in a crossword puzzle was puzzled about its meaning. We knew it named a place, condition, or situation of great untidiness, disorder, or confusion, but we had to admit we had no idea as to why mares would have ever been labeled poor housekeepers. (来源:EnglishCN.com)

As confused as we might have been about that, we were even more taken aback to learn that the meaning of a mare's nest has changed dramatically over the centuries. Originally—that is, back in the late 1500s—mare’s nest named "a wonderful discovery which proves or will prove to be illusory." Mare's nest was not the only such equine term with that meaning; horse’s nest was also around back then. Although we don’t know the story of those terms, we feel confident in saying that both horse's and mare's nests would indeed prove illusory.

But horse’s nest rode off into the sunset, while mare's nest came first to refer to a deliberate hoax and then to any place, condition, or situation of great disorder or confusion. Rudyard Kipling borrowed that phrase to title his poem about a suspicious wife and a horse-loving husband; the wife's suspicions are resolved, and the two—well, the three, counting the mare named Lilly—live happily ever after, once the mare's nest is all sorted out.

 
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