Episode 17Brackish Belief & Eye Contact
00:00 / 23:14

Details and Transcript

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my glamorous family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the seventeenth episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. Just a reminder, I will hold another draw on my 20th episode for the most useful of coffee containers, the custom Metaphorigins mug, so look forward to that!

 

Okay. Today’s episode is about one of my favourite expressions, involving a practice of, let’s just say skeptical seasoning.

 

Let’s set up some creative context. In a fit of excitement, you throw on your coat and tie your shoes, practically run out the door. Today is the annual event you and your foodie friends have been waiting for since its announcement. The Inaugural Potato-Potata Festival is opening in your town, bringing you and your fellow residents only the best potato-related food inventions.

 

The potato is one of the most glorious of all starchy foods. It has so many forms, from fried, to baked, to mashed, and everything in between. In that sense, the potato just never gets old, and is slowly taking over meals all across the globe. They’re low in calories, averaging just over 100 calories in a medium-sized potato, rich in nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and also a great source of fibre and antioxidants. What a fantastic superfood!

 

You arrive at the event and meet your friends, all of which are participating in the festival with their renowned culinary skills. You first go to Ronald’s stand. It’s this large red and yellow tent with a red-bushy pom-pom on the top. Ronald, already quite a tall, pale man, is wearing large yellow shoes and a striped shirt, matching the tent decor. You finally make it to the front of the line.

 

“Wow Ronald!” You say, “What a great turnout! I really like how you’ve modelled your stand, looks like a friendly circus!”

 

“Thanks, heh-heh!” Ronald chuckles. “Would you like to try my special for today? It’s on the house, or should I say, tent, heh-heh!”

 

“Definitely!” You exclaim with a smile.

 

Ronald grabs one of the fresh, local potatoes from the pile to his right side. His specialty is the size of his potatoes, and the choice of frying. He places the potato in this machine and switches it on, instantly pressing the potato through the grid-like filter, which cuts the potato into long, neat lines. He then places them in a fryer to his left until they’re well and crispy. He takes them out and puts your order into a small tray, handing it to you.

 

“Here you go, heh-heh” Ronald says with a smile.

 

You take a bite and, after the initial crunch, the potato just melts in your mouth.

 

“What a great potato! Thanks again!” You wave, and move onto the next stand.

 

The next stand is your other friend, Joel. He has a more modern structure, with walls painted blue and red, and a white ceiling. Beside the counter, there’s a cut-out Eiffel Tower in which customers could take selfies with to promote the stand online. You see Joel, wearing his standard black beret, and he waves you to come to the front.

 

“Salut, salut! Comment vas-tu?” Joel asks.

 

“Ca bien merci, et toi?” You reply.

 

“Ahh, c’est une bonne journée! Est-ce que tu voudrais des pomme de terres?”

 

“Absolument!” You say with ethusiasm, hoping he doesn’t ask anything else in French as that was all the French you knew.

 

“Parfait, un moment.” Joel opens a giant pot of boiled local potatoes, steam suddenly filling the stand. He takes two out and places them in a smaller container to mash them up using a similar tool as to what Ronald had but on a stick. After a few seconds, he places the puree in a small container painted similarly to the stand, and hands it to you.

 

“Bon appétit, mademoiselle.” Joel says.

 

You take a bite of the mash and almost faint in satisfaction. The smooth texture of the potato is almost like having a potato shake, but obviously just not as weird.

 

“Wow this is delicious! Thanks so much Joel!” You wave, and move onto the next stand.

 

This time it’s your close friend Jean, whose stand kind of looks like a science laboratory. Her “kitchen”, if you could say that, consists of stove-top counters with viles and flasks similar to what you’d find in a chemistry department. Jean, wearing standard personal protective equipment like a lab coat and goggles to fit the ensemble. She sees you and also waves you to the front of the stand.

 

“Hey! I was wondering when you’d show!” Jean says.

 

“Hey Jean! I love the feel of this place, it’s like we’re in science class or something!”

 

“Yeah, I’m trying some revolutionary stuff here. I’ve got two items, my specialty and something I finally concocted last night after some, I suppose you could say, experimentation.”

 

“Ohhh I’ll start with the specialty. What is it?”

 

Jean grabs a peeled potato and, similar to Ronald, slices the potato into long lines. She places these in a deep fryer to make them nice and crispy. Once they finished, she places them in a tray and plops the tray on the counter in front of you. She also places another tray of a powder beside it.

 

“This is my specialty for the day.” Jean says.

 

“What… What is that powder?” You ask.

 

“It’s salt and potatoes. Take it with a grain of salt.”

 

“Salt?! Really? Now that’s a bit much, don’t you think?”

 

“I couldn’t really believe it either. So simple, yet it changes everything about the experience. You might think I’m exaggerating but you gotta try it and see for yourself.”

 

You pick up the tray of fried potatoes and taste one. It had a similar taste to Ronald’s earlier, but not as crispy and definitely felt like it was missing something. Puzzled, you look down at the tray of salt grains, back at your friend Jean, then back at the tray. You grab a pinch of salt and sprinkle a little in the corner. You grab a potato, slowly place it in your mouth, and start chewing.

 

Your eyes widen in surprise. The salt seemed to send your taste buds into overdrive, almost like tasting every delicious nutrient of the potato. You have another, and then another, and then pinch some more grains of salt on the rest of the potatoes.

 

“Jean, this is absolutely amazing! I can’t believe no one has thought about putting salt on a potato. I was skeptical at first, but wow! You’re a genius!”

 

“Haha thanks, I tried to harness my inner Shroedinger and think outside the box, or inside I guess in his case. Would you like to try my other item?”

 

“After trying that, of course!” You say, munching down on the remaining potatoes.

 

This time Jean goes to the back and brings out another similar sized tray. In it are similar looking fried potatoes that seem to have been salted already. On top of the pile is a few pieces of cheese curds, all of which are surrounded in fresh gravy.

 

“Jean, that smells great! What do you call that?”

 

Jean replies, “Well, it kind of looks like a pile of poop, and you need the tines on a fork to eat it. After a couple of minutes of brainstorming names, I decided to call it, poutine!”

 

And that’s how poutine, or pouTINE as other people around the world call it, was made. Jokes aside, the origin of poutine is an interesting Canadian (but mainly Quebec) story that I’d highly recommend looking into. But back to the expression. Today’s saying is really cool as it seems to be randomly associated to its true meaning. So why do we need a little taste of salinity when we should be skeptical of something?

 

What is the origin to the expression, “take it with a grain of salt”?

 

***Theme music*** 

 

 

Most of this information was obtained from different articles and forums discussing the definition and potential origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

We often forget to truly think about the words we are saying, the phrases we put together. And by think, I mean understand why sentences that mean one thing in one situation could mean something completely different in another situation. I hope that through this podcast, you have at least started to appreciate the beginnings of wacky idioms floating around our vernacular in modern day.

 

Food expressions are always a treat. I went through a popular “a piece of cake” in my previous season, which particularly had dark beginnings to which we uncovered. But expressions for the foodies don’t need to entice your sweet tooth. There’s also “two peas in a pod”, “cream of the crop”, “having all your eggs in one basket”, “in a pickle”… I can go on and on. And if you caught onto any of those, each have vastly different meanings, illustrating ideas of similarity, prestige, probability and inconvenience… This phraseology makes conversation lighter and exciting, perhaps even mouth-watering. 

 

Today’s expression is no exception. “Take it with a grain of salt”, or “Take something with a grain of salt”, or “Take something with a pinch of salt”, as defined by lexico.com, means to regard something as exaggerated; to believe only part of something. Oh, you say you were abducted by aliens last night in your crop field? I’m going to take that information with a grain of salt. You know Karen from accounting? She said she was at the shopping mall the other day and accidentally spilled her soy latte on Oprah Winfrey, but let’s take her word with a grain of salt. Trump says he’s going to win the election this year? Let’s take what he says with a grain of salt… I mean he can’t win again, right? Right?!

 

“Take it with a grain of salt” has some thoughtful interpretations. In a forum on stackexchange.com, one user surveyed their workplace about how people come to understand this idiom, what could it mean to take something with a grain a salt? One colleague alluded to its weight, balancing an issue or statement with a grain of salt leads to the realization of how important whatever was said, is. Some colleagues are aware that people add salt to coffee in order to reduce the perception of bitterness (although I’ve never known of anyone who adds salt to coffee). Both of these interpretations are, well, kind of correct.

 

Let’s backtrack and follow the yellow-brick road, or salt-grained driveway, if you will. The British English version of “take something with a pinch of salt” first occurred in print as recently as 1948. On a blog posted on YourLifeChoices, Amelia Theodorakis states that it was printed in F. R. Cowell’s “Cicero and the Roman Republic”:

 

“A more critical spirit slowly developed, so that Cicero and his friends took more than the proverbial pinch of salt before swallowing everything written by these earlier authors”.

 

That seems to carry the meaning of the expression we hold today. However, there is an earlier printed statement of the American English version. HowStuffWorks and PhraseFinder blogs mention that in an August 1908 edition of the US literary journal “The Athenaeum” has the following written:

 

“Our reasons for not accepting the author’s pictures of early Ireland without many grains of salt”

 

Now how bad would you feel to be the photographer, whether you submitted real or fake pictures of early Ireland to this journal, be forever attributed with the beginning of a common saying. Luckily though, not only does the photographer remain nameless, but even earlier writings have included this phrase with the modern meaning. Bloomsbury international mentions that English Anglican Bible commentator John Trapp wrote in 1647 that his own writings should be:

 

“taken with a grain of salt”. 

 

Scholars are unsure whether this statement pertains to the meaning we have today, despite it fitting well. Could this be the origin to our saline advisory? 

 

Not quite. We go even further into human history to the time of 77 AD. Gaius Plinius Secundus, also known as Pliny the Elder, was a roman author, philosopher and naval/army commander. He wrote the encyclopedia titled Naturalis History, one of the largest single works to have survived after the collapse of the Roman Empire. In it, he recounts the experiences of legendary Roman general Pompey, during his conquering of Pontus along the Black Sea. Now Pontus was ruled by Mithridates VI, now known for the practice of mithridatism in which one builds up immunity to certain poisons by self-administering non-lethal doses of it. Stated by etymologist and WorldWideWords creator Michael Quinion, “Pompey discovered an antidote to which ended in “addito salis grano” or the addition of a grain of salt. These ingredients would, along with fasting, allow one to be invulnerable to all poisons for that day”. Like a historic version of “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, “a grain of salt helps the poison go in”.

 

Later, readers of his text interpreted this to say that one should not believe this story about a king who had been a notorious enemy of Rome. This was further translated into medieval latin with “cum grano salis” or “with a grain of salt”, which sounds more like our saying today.

 

The expression is also interpreted as a misunderstanding of using salt for wit/wisdom. Salis or sal can mean both salt and wit, and therefore “with a grain of salt” could in fact mean “with a grain (or small amount) of wisdom”, to take something with caution. However this is just a theory with little evidence to back it up.

 

And so our tale of poisons and antidotes during the Roman reign seems to be the most credible origin story to the expression “take it with a grain of salt”. From the recounting of army conquests, to misunderstanding of mithridatism for skepticism, we now see why we need salt not just in ingesting food, but also in ingesting knowledge.

 

***Theme music***

 

 

For the science segment of this episode, I would like to talk about an article published in BBC Future titled: ‘Why meeting another’s gaze is so powerful”. The link to the article will be in the description.

 

What’s more communicative than looking through the window into someone’s soul? I have always been extremely anxious whenever I met someone’s gaze. Eye contact has been a fascination of mine since I was a kid, namely because I am so concentrated at looking at this person’s eyes that I forget to blink, causing my tear ducts to flood the channels like a collapsing Hoover Dam. I’ve wondered why this happens, leading to many times in which I look away, and continue looking away for a rude amount of time (always past the person). Luckily, this occurrence was shared with another person who wrote about their experience in a reddit forum, to which the top commenter replied “I only cry when I look at myself in the mirror”.

 

Let’s stem off that. There are studies out there that look at the impact of holding gazes with other eyes in dimly lit rooms. One 2010 study published in Perception by Dr. Giovanni Caputo and colleagues described a visual illusion where one’s own reflection in a mirror can become distorted and shift identity. Known un-ironically as the strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion, participants were asked to gaze at their reflection in the mirror and usually “after less than a minute, the observer began to perceive the strange-face illusion”. This led to dissociating one from their own identity, and the brain then interpreted (with a small amount of light cues) deformations and ongoing trait changes. Try it out on your own in a dimly lit room, at night, when no one is around… and let me know how that goes.

 

Another study by the same authors focused more on eye contact with other individuals. The study recruited 20 people (mostly women) to sit apart in opposite chairs in a dimly lit room and stare into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes. A separate control group had people stare at the wall instead. Participants in the test group experienced dissociation yet again from the idea of another person sitting in front of you. They also reported things like deformed facial traits, even visualizing aspects of their own face in their sightseeing partner.

 

Now let’s return to the article. It was written by Dr. Christian Jarrett, an award winning journalist and senior editor at Psyche, a sister magazine to Aeon, and author of Great Myths of the Brain and The Rough Guide to Psychology.

 

Eye contact is an interesting experience, as there’s actually a lot happening in the moment of a held gaze. Extroverts are known to give good eye contact while talking and less when listening,  while introverts are known to give less eye contact while talking and more when listening. For me, the latter is usually the case, however my eye contact is also dependent on my conversation partners, and I often feel like I’m playing the childhood game of Who Will Blink First?

 

Generally, eye contact is highly regarded and sought for as a characteristic, since it’s known that Westernized people perceive those who give good eye contact as more intelligent, more conscientious and sincere, and more trustworthy. Knowing the last aspect in particular, although related to the others mentioned, can be used in a manipulative way. Mentioned in The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease (which you should get, by the way), lies with eye contact can go more unnoticed than lies without eye contact. Most good liars will look you in the eye, and therefore the common practice of, for example, getting your partner to look you in the eye and tell you the truth, is ineffective unless there is absolute trust between the two already, which you can imagine can lead to circular arguments.

 

Already well into this section, and I haven’t talked much about the article. Okay. It starts with a focus on the romantic side of eye contact, locking your gaze with someone across a noisy room. This may spark your heart rate and lead to other feelings of curiosity and even arousal. On the other hand, not making eye contact can lead to rejection, like if you pass someone in a public space and the person seems to not even notice your existence.

 

It’s almost like a desire for our brain to seek connection, and eye contact is this goal. Dr. Jarrett states, “meeting someone’s gaze almost immediately engages a raft of brain processes as we make sense of the fact that we are dealing with the mind of another person who is currently looking at us. In consequence, we become more conscious of that other person’s agency […] and in turn, this makes us more self-conscious.”

 

This steals are attention and increases the complexity of tasks that were normally simpler without an extra set of eyeballs. Another 2016 study published in Cognition showed that participants had difficulty completing word challenges only when a video of a face “appeared to be making eye contact with them”. Perhaps it’s our brain keeping aware that there are others aware of our situation. Is this person a friend? A threat? Why are the just looking at me?!

 

Are you wondering if there’s a desired amount of eye contact? Well, there’s a study for that too. Researchers in 2016 published an article in the Royal Society of Open Science that most people preferred 3 seconds of eye contact, and no one preferred eye contact lasting longer than 9 seconds. So stop it, Ellen DeGeneres, we know what you’re all about.

 

Now, to cycle back to the power of eye contact in regards to romance, there are a lot of studies mentioned in the article that discuss this in more detail. Remember how I said that several things happen simultaneously during an instance of eye contact? One thing is pupil dilation. There’s a widely debated effect known as pupil mimicry in which two people locked in eye contact will dilate and constrict their pupils in synchrony. This is widely debated, as some experts think this is solely due to the overall lighting or darkening of the room due to changes in another person’s pupil dilation (or, if one person dilates their eyes, this would overall darken the room and thus make you dilate your eyes too). Sticking with pupils, dilated pupils are perceived as more attractive. This has been known for a quite a while, used in many product campaigns to increase sales, and even by women who took belladonna plant extracts to increase the amount of pupil dilation to attract men.

 

One last documented effect regarding eye contact is the self-other merging effect. Published in 2018 in the Journal of General Psychology, participants would “rate strangers with whom [they’ve] made eye contact as more similar to [themselves]”. This consequence of empathy, of understanding through a simple action like looking into someone’s eyes, is the epicentre as to why eye contact is so powerful.

 

I continue to struggle with eye contact, but I am definitely better than I was before. Eye contact seems to be a skill that, although can be used for harm, can certainly be used for good. If you’re in a romantic, or even platonic relationship, with someone who isn’t having a great day, some controlled sequential 3 second eye contact with dilated pupils might be a silent but effective way of sharing that you care for them, that you feel what they’re going through and that you will be with them to listen and comfort.

 

Jokes aside, eye contact is a powerful skill. In my case, I’ll just need tissues for the both of us.

 

Thanks for listening to this episode of… Metaphorigins. Remember to rate and subscribe for more episodes and to follow the podcast on Instagram for updates on the next draw. But until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

***Theme music***

I'd love to hear from you.

  • LinkedIn - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle

© 2019 By Kevin Mercurio. Proudly created with Wix.com