• Joanne Mason

Turn a Blind Eye

At my friend’s condo complex, you’re not allowed to have bird feeders.

She’s not sure why. It may be because bird feeders attract not only birds but squirrels and chipmunks. And mice, if the bird seed isn’t stored well.

But my friend loves feeding the birds, so she takes her chances with the rules. She hopes that her neighbors will turn a blind eye when the cardinals and goldfinches come to feast.

In other words, she hopes they will ignore the bird feeders or pretend they don’t know about them. If this happens, no one will file a complaint with the condo board.

Here are some other examples of turn a blind eye:

Example 1

Tanya makes a lot of personal calls from the office, but the boss turns a blind eye.

Example 2

I don’t know how Sherry can turn a blind eye to her husband’s many affairs.

Unlike so many other idioms, turn a blind eye has an origin we can pinpoint.

The story involves British naval commander Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who lost sight in his right eye while serving in the Mediterranean. Years later in 1801, under the command of Admiral Hyde Parker, Vice Admiral Nelson fought with the British against a Danish-Norwegian fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen during the Napoleonic Wars. At one point, Parker was standing on land and couldn’t clearly see what was happening with the battle. Thinking Nelson might be in trouble, he hoisted a flag to signal orders to withdraw.

Nelson thought these orders were unfounded and instead of obeying, lifted his telescope to his right eye and reportedly said to his flag captain Thomas Foley, “You know, Foley, I only have one eye – I have the right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal!” The British went on to win the battle.

Some say the story is just a myth, but the expression has stayed with us for over 200 years.

Have you ever turned a blind eye? What happened?


About.com – Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Copenhagen (by Kennedy Hickman)

Admiral Lord Nelson and His Navy – The Battle of Copenhagen

BBC History – Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson (1758-1805)

History.com – 10 Common Sayings With Historical Origins (by Evan Andrews, April 23, 2013)

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