Eyes or Iceberg.

Nick Paumgarten’s “The Message of Measles” (New Yorker, Sept. 2) is well worth reading for the importance of the subject, but Paumgarten is a lively writer with an eye for a good quote, and I was particularly struck by this:

For public-health officials like Zucker, measles was a clear and present concern on its own, but, more significant, it was a leading indicator of a societal failure. Mark Mulligan, the director of the Vaccine Center at N.Y.U. Langone, said, “This outbreak is the eyes of the hippopotamus.”

The eyes of the hippopotamus! What a great substitute for the hopelessly clichéd “tip of the iceberg”! I reproduce it here in hopes that it will get wider use (and perhaps become a cliché in its own right).

Comments

  1. Perhaps of relevance: the hippo kills more people than any other large land animal. More than icebergs, although not as many as mosquitoes.

  2. Two come along at once, oddly enough I just read an article about a man who says he was unexpectedly swallowed by a hippopotamus.

  3. Well, does anyone ever expect to be swallowed by a hippopotamus?

  4. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Mosquitoes may be large land animals depending on what you consider small, but icebergs?

  5. Trond Engen says:

    Nobody expects the hippopotamic deglutition.

  6. Trond Engen says:

    The image is good, not only because it renews a dead idiom but because it invokes a sinister beast lurking under the surface waiting to attack you with even greater stealth after the nostrils are gone.

  7. That hippo-swallows-man story has a couple of great lines:

    time passes very slowly when you’re in a hippo’s mouth

    and even better:

    Luckily, [his colleague] knew first aid and was able to seal the wounds in my chest with the wrapper from a tray of snacks

    I find myself wondering what snacks we’re talking about here. Could be life-saving information, should one ever find oneself in hippo-infested waters.

  8. Well, does anyone ever expect to be swallowed by a hippopotamus?

    You wouldn’t think so. But, sure:

    Could be life-saving information

    David L does.

  9. I had an impression that hippos were herbivores. Alas, they eat everything including other hippos. (There are photos on the internet for those who are not faint hearted)

    I think it is possible that they could indeed eat humans if they unexpectedly were swallowed.

  10. Goes against PETA’s explicit request, the one which elicited what I believe to be one of the top-five Twitter replies of all time.

  11. Almost completely unrelated, but this brought to mind the different “eyeball” stages of boiling water in Chinese: https://tea.slaughter.com/fish-eyes-in-your-kettle/index.html

  12. I find myself wondering what snacks we’re talking about here. Could be life-saving information, should one ever find oneself in hippo-infested waters.

    It could indeed – or if you encounter anything else that causes sucking chest wounds and tension pneumothorax. Any plastic or other flexible airtight material will do the trick. Tape it down on three sides to form an improvised valve. If you’ve got a chest seal in your first aid kit (and you should if you’re hanging around the sort of thing that causes sucking chest wounds!) then use that. It’s easy to do and will have rapid life-saving effects.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    “Swallowed”? That hippo just took him in its mouth.

    I walk past a hippo skeleton every day. Not a two-ton bull, but it’s obvious you could barely stick your arm into a two-ton bull’s throat, and probably not from the throat into the chest at all.

    Their teeth, though, are nothing to sneeze at.

    I think it is possible that they could indeed eat humans

    Hippos do come on land and scavenge if they get hungry enough. But that’s not what makes them dangerous. They kill so many more people than crocodiles do because crocodiles will kill you if they’re hungry, which doesn’t occur that often – while hippos will kill you for trespassing.

  14. Hippos do come on land and scavenge if they get hungry enough

    Actually, hippos do nearly all of their eating on land. They spend their days in the water to keep cool, but come out of the water every night to graze.The vast bulk of their diet is simply grass.

    Earlier in the year I stayed at a lodge on Lake Naivasha in Kenya where not long before a Chinese tourist had met his quietus after getting a bit too close to one. The lodge responded by insisting that all guests be escorted back to their rooms after dark, as hippos coming up to graze is a nightly occurrence.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    The vast bulk of their diet is simply grass.

    Uh, yes. I meant to say that when they do feast upon flesh, they don’t generally do it in the water like crocodiles, as would have been the case here.

  16. Woudn’t crocodile be a better symbol of a lurking danger? Not many are aware of the aggressive nature of the hippopotamus.

  17. Well, they should be; that would be another benefit of popularizing the expression. (I must say, your moniker makes me just a teeny bit nervous…)

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Woudn’t crocodile be a better symbol of a lurking danger?

    No, precisely because hippos kill a lot more people than crocodiles every year – as mentioned above.

  19. Crocodilians have strong jaws, but their relatively short teeth give them little penetrating power. They mostly eat stuff they can swallow whole. When they catch something larger, they usually have to drag it underwater and drown it, unless they get lucky and snap they prey’s neck with the first bite.

  20. John Cowan says:

    For lurking menace, give me the Komodo dragon every time.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    It’s the eyes of the iceberg, the hip o’the potamus.The oar of the downside of eider is falsely dichotomous,

  22. That’s twice you’ve made me laugh in the last half-minute or so!

  23. Trond Engen says:

    For lurking menace, give me the Komodo dragon every time.

    I blame capitalism. Stop the komodification of dragons!

  24. Jonathan D says:

    No, precisely because hippos kill a lot more people than crocodiles every year – as mentioned above.

    Hippos do tend to live closer to larger populations than the most dangerous crocodiles do.

  25. Hate to be the fact-checker in such a boisterous party, but the BBC has crocs over hippos 2 to 1.

  26. A long time ago, in a country far far away, in a summer camp I’ve learned a song, which I’ve never heard before or since. The refrain was: “And now I am here and my legs are there // I was bitten by a hippopotamus”

  27. David Marjanović says:

    the BBC has crocs over hippos 2 to 1

    Link, please?

  28. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36320744, presumably.

    More here from the UN http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i1048e/i1048e00.pdf, who also put crocodiles first.

  29. The BBC I story I posted indeed puts crocs over hippos by 2 to 1, but it says says hippos are the deadliest ‘large land animal.’ Which seems a bit of a cheat, now that I think about it, because crocs and hippos both spend time on land and in the water. Perhaps they conducted a survey to ask the crocs and hippos whether they thought of themselves as primarily aquatic or terrarian(?).

  30. Today’s Guardian follows up Hippo Man with someone who was eaten a tiny bit by an alligator. Ignoring his discomfort Guardian commenters are instead outraged that the victim works at a “private naval academy” – private education being immoral in the Guardian’s view.

    More interesting is this article about a snake with 2 heads:
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/06/rare-two-headed-snake-nicknamed-double-dave-found-us

  31. I thought Guardian is a serious publication on the moderate-leftist side (I go straight to politics). At least they don’t have photos of (unknown to me) celebrities and half-naked women plastered over their site.

  32. The Guardian is the worst English paper, except for all the rest. It is extremely biased towards its own opinions in its news coverage. I agree with quite a lot of them, so I just have to bear that in mind, but it’s very noticeable when you come across one where you disagree (for me one was the election of Corbyn as the Labour leader – the Guardian hated that). I also look at the Irish Times for Brexit, and the New York Times (which has a well known anti-British bias and a peculiar, irritating style, but unlike the rest of the US press, it’s not so right-wing that it’s unreadable).

  33. The Times is good, but the Washington Post is better. It’s not so full of itself and so instinctively pro-establishment.

  34. There’s some reason why I haven’t read it. It must be a paywall. Maybe I’ll it a try anyway. It’s too weird just reading the Guardian.

  35. Yeah, they have a paywall. My brother sends me article texts via e-mail.

  36. John Cowan says:

    Yes, the WP’s firewall is ironclad and kicks in fast, so I don’t even follow links to it. I’ll look at the NYT if the issue is important enough; otherwise, the Guardian. But I don’t read any news source systematically; I look at Google News a few times a week at most when I don’t feel like reading something more serious. News, pffft. I used to say I got my news once a month from Scientific American magazine, but now I don’t even do that.

  37. January First-of-May says:

    terrarian(?)

    The word is terrestrial, I think.

    For what it’s worth, I am just reading the Guardian for my Brexit news, mainly because that’s where my first few Google searches ended up, and because it has a convenient landing page; it helps that I was a Remain fan ever since May 2016 or thereabouts (though, IIRC, for the next two years or so I mostly just forgot that the whole thing was going on at all, and only accidentally found out again in 2018).

    If you know of any other good source (in English or Russian) that allows unlimited full article reading without any payments or subscription involved, and isn’t fiercely pro-Brexit, I’d be happy to check that out.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Page 5 of the FAO document clears up what’s going on: crocodile populations have recovered, and they don’t leave much evidence.

    The New York Times managed to fall for the painfully obvious lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It still occasionally shows this kind of amazing gullibility.

    The BBC I story I posted indeed puts crocs over hippos by 2 to 1

    Not really. It puts deaths caused by crocs at “several hundred” per year in Africa and “about 1,000” as the yearly estimate worldwide, with hippos “killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa.” Crocodiles occur from Central America to Fiji, hippos only in Africa and where Pablo Escobar’s menagerie used to be.

    The BBC I story I posted indeed puts crocs over hippos by 2 to 1, but it says says hippos are the deadliest ‘large land animal.’

    No, read again: it says “deadliest large land mammal”.

    terrestrial

    Yes.

  39. Stu Clayton says:

    What is the deadliest large land not-a-mammal, I wonder ? Anaconda ? The deadest large land not-a-mammal must be a dinosaur.

    There’s also the deadliest small offshore mammal to worry about.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    That would be Pseudorca crassidens, the false killer whale.

    Anaconda ?

    With the Nile crocodile split into two species (Crocodylus niloticus, C. suchus), the saltwater crocodile (C. porosus) might be a contender now, and so might the reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus).

  41. Stu Clayton says:

    And the most harmless medium-sized amphibian non-reticulated mammal ?

    My point: there’s something fishy about the way “deadliest” is being used here, when its counterpart “most harmless” seems unusable in that way. But maybe it’s just that “harmless” is uninteresting. You can cite as many millions of people as you want who were not harmed by a given type of animal in 2019 – that doesn’t make this type of animal a million times more harmless.

  42. any other good source (in English or Russian) that allows unlimited full article reading without any payments or subscription involved, and isn’t fiercely pro-Brexit
    January, you might try The Independent. It’s owned by Evgeny Lebedev, son of Алекса́ндр Евге́ньевич Ле́бедев which some might find off-putting.

  43. …There’s also BBC News, which is a left-of-centre by US standards site and less dogmatic than the Guardian tends to be. I saw this there today:
    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190903-linguistic-fluency-proficiency-second-language-learning

  44. John Cowan says:

    Crocodiles occur from Central America to Fiji

    C. acutus is found as far north as South Florida, though only in the southern tip: Alligator mississippiensis (Priscian’s head broken, film at 11) is far more common and has a wider range.

    Now that I look it up, alligātor, -ōris is a perfectly cromulent Latin noun meaning ‘one who binds or holds fast’, which is singularly appropriate. The true etymology, however, is < Spanish el lagarto ‘the lizard’, which must reflect an irregular change in Iberian Latin from lacertus to *lacartus. In Old French the vowel was preserved, and it became laisard > Modern French lézard, English lizard.

    Classical Latin used the feminine lacerta, and the modern Romance languages pick one at random, even to Portuguese lagarta vs. Galician lagarto. In the mainstream Goidelic languages it’s laghairt, feminine in Irish, epicene in Scots Gaelic; in Manx it’s jialgheer, short for jiolghan leaghyr, but I have no information about gender, and I don’t know the modern sense of either word, though obviously it’s the second that’s from lacertus/a.

  45. January First-of-May says:

    January, you might try The Independent.

    On literally the first article I tried to check there, I was hit by a “subscribe today to read this article” notice.
    So, alas, this isn’t for me (yet, at least) – for all of the Guardian’s faults, it at least doesn’t require me to pay them money just to read news on their site.
    (I actually thought this was represented in the qualifiers – did I miss something?)

    BBC News might work, I guess. Hadn’t tried them much yet.

     
    EDIT:

    Now that I look it up, alligātor, -ōris is a perfectly cromulent Latin noun meaning ‘one who binds or holds fast’, which is singularly appropriate.

    According to Wiktionary, it had even been borrowed into English (though the Wiktionary article does not give any examples of use in English).

  46. OED (updated September 2012):

    alligator, n.1

    Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin alligātor.
    Etymology: < classical Latin alligātor person who binds or ties < alligāt-, past participial stem of alligāre alligate v. + -or -or suffix. Compare alligate v.
    Obsolete. rare—0.

    A person who binds or ties something.
    1542 T. Elyot Bibliotheca   Alligator, he that byndeth.
    1706 Phillips’s New World of Words (new ed.)   Alligator, a Binder or Tyer of the Vines to their Stakes.

  47. The true etymology, however, is < Spanish el lagarto ‘the lizard’, which must reflect an irregular change in Iberian Latin from lacertus to *lacartus. In Old French the vowel was preserved, and it became laisard > Modern French lézard, English lizard.

    I don’t follow. How is the vowel preserved?

  48. The word is terrestrial, I think.

    Well, yes, but terrestrial makes me think of Earthlings as opposed to Martians and Venusians. Who are either extremely deadly or impossibly wise and caring, depending which sort of sci fi you’re reading.

    deadliest large land mammal

    aha, missed that…

  49. David Marjanović says:

    Terrestrial is used in ecology as the standard “opposite” of aquatic (and semiaquatic/amphibious, scansorial, arboreal, aerial and many others).

  50. That’s odd about The Independent. I get it, and I could get his other publications, the Evening Standard and Новая газета, free. It might be because you’re not in the UK, but I doubt it; neither am I, but I use a UK location with a VPN most of the time. With the NY Times I have to remove its cookies from my computer after a few articles to continue for free.

  51. Obsolete. rare—0.

    The notation “rare—0” above means ‘Our only citations are from other dictionaries’ (as opposed to “rare—1”, which means ‘We only have one citation’. So I suspect that this alligator was never in living use in English even in writing, though it may have contributed something to the spelling of the other word.

    It’s clear, by the way, that the 1706 dictionary was drawing on the same source as the only cite in Wikt for the Latin word, namely Columella, De re rustica: “alligator, cuius officium est ut rectam vitem producat in iugum”. The unassimilated adligator also apparently existed, though Wikt has no citations for it: it collides with one of the inflected forms of adligo.

    How is the vowel preserved?

    I meant ‘preserved to undergo the normal French sound changes, as opposed to randomly lowered to /a/ before the second palatalization.’ But I should have unpacked it.

  52. What would it have been if it had come from *lacartus?

  53. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: For lurking menace, give me the Komodo dragon every time.

    A sunday picnic

    A Sunday picnic by a peaceful pond,
    a restless menace lurking in the deep,
    and then you dip or swim or fall asleep
    and it will strike from near or just beyond

    and grab you by the leg from underneath
    and fix its sturdy jaws and drag you down¨
    and hold you there until you almost drown
    and let your shinbone’s marrow grease its teeth

    and from a gland behind its sullen smile
    inject the deadly venom of a snake
    and watch you bleed and defecate and shake
    and then at last release you — for a while

    and eat you when your body’s almost still,
    the fierce anacomodohippodil.

  54. I have two comments about phrases like, “deadliest large land mammal”:

    First, the presence of “large,” meaning roughly, “larger than human sized,” is what limits the examples to non-humans. Obviously, people are far deadlier than any other genus on the planet.

    Second, the use of “deadliest” to mean, “responsible for the most [human] deaths,” finds an even weirder parallel in “winningest.” Usually applied to coaches, it means, “having the record with the most total wins.” The word feels malformed, in a way that deadliest does not. However, both usages still feel not quite right to me. I recall that, when he retired in 1988, Jack Ramsay was the second-winningest head coach in National Basketball Association history, but his 864 wins only represented a winning percentage of 0.525*. Analogously, I think it might be a better measure of deadliness to compare the number of people they kill to total hippopotamus and crocodile populations.

    * Henry Kendall, who won a Nobel Prize for the experimental demonstration that nucleons contained point-like electric charges (that is, quarks), told his students in the freshman physics lab to always write the zero before a decimal. A number starting with the decimal point is just much easier to misread. Out of respect for Kendall (who was also the long-time president of the Union of Concerned Scientists), I follow his dictum, even in sports contexts where it defies convention.

  55. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have been told that the Bisa people of West Africa believe (or believed traditionally) that they were descended from crocodiles, and that they would consequently not be eaten by crocodiles if they fell in the water.

    My informant (not himself Bisa) claimed that in a spirit of scientific enquiry he had tried to persuade Bisa acquaintances to put this theory to practical test, but that he had been unsuccessful to date.

    For science!

  56. John Cowan says:

    Or perhaps the ratio of kills to attacks. If 90% of all attacks are fatal, then that’s pretty deadly even if attacks are few. I think this is how deadly disease works.

  57. In cases like that I prefer ratio of kills to attacks multiplied by the total number of kills. I have no theoretical justification for that, but the result corresponds to my intuition.

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