Ten Everyday Words and Phrases that Originate from Greek Mythology

We Use Phrases from Greek Mythology in the English Language and We Often Do Not Realize it

We use the following phrases, "Achilles Heel," "Between a rock and a hard place," "To have a Midas touch," "To rise from the ashes," "He's a mentor to me," quite commonly in written and in spoken language. But, where do these phrases come from? Did you know that they have a common origin in mythology? Read and find out about ten phrases we use today that owe their origins to the Greeks: 

10 Popular Words and Phrases in English that Originate from Greek Myths

1. Achilles's Heel
Achilles, an ancient warrior, a child of Zeus and protected by the waters of the river Styx, fell to his death by an arrow struck at his heel, his only weak spot.

The phrase has come to mean any weak spot of an organization, a person, etc., who is generally deemed to be strong.

Marvin's brother was the only one who knew that his Achilles's heel was his weakness for gambling the $100 slots at the casino.

Here is an example from an article on cooking apps for the iPad for the New York Times:
“BigOven’s community involvement may be its biggest asset, but it is also its Achilles’ heel.”

Cassandra warns Priam
2. To Be A Cassandra 

Cassandra was a priestess to Athena in ancient Troy. She warned King Priam that the Trojans should not take in the large wooden horse standing at their door (see, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts") but no one would listen to her.
"To be a cassandra," in present day language has come to mean someone who proclaims truth, or spreads a message, but no one wants to believe it despite its authenticity.

Another example of environmental Cassandras is a small coastal town that did not listen to the reports from a scientific recommendation to begin creating a buffer zone of trees to protect its estuary from the encroaching ocean waters.
Politicsdaily.com ran a story asking if Kathleen Parker was a Cassandra when she spoke out against the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.

3. Caught Between a Rock and Hard Place

Odysseus learns from the blind seer Tiresias that he must journey through a strait where the path breaks into two; no matter what path he and his crew choose, Tiresias forebodes, the outcome will be equally perilous. For on one side is the Scylla monster who gobbles up his men like chickens and on the other side is a gaping whirlpool with teeth called the Charybdis, which swallows his men alive. The Charybdis' cousin is the sand whirlpool in Return of the Jedi.

We say we are caught between a Scylla and a Charybdis, or between a rock and a hard place, when whichever decision is made, the outcome is hardly good.

A news article from The New Hampshire Keene Sentinel refers to refereeing teen bullying online, as caught between a rock and hard place because the school must choose between peer mediation, which seldom works because the bullying is not happening in school but at home online:
"We’re caught between a rock and hard place, disciplining them for what happens outside the school...”

It was easy to see Simone was caught between a rock and a hard place. If she chose Zack, tall and handsome, she would not have someone to discuss poetry, but if she chose Zed, a recent Rhodes Scholar, she would have to settle for a tepid body.

Et cetera:

It is also possible to use the phrase "Scylla and Charybdis" to mean caught between a rock and hard place, as in a San Fransisco Chronicle on global warming and stopping green house gases as a Scylla and a Charybdis.

4. Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
How is Health Care in this cartoon used as an example of "Beware ..."

The phrase originates from Virgil's Aeneid. Laocoon tells the Trojans, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" but they do not listen to him and allow the Trojan Horse to enter the city (see entries on Trojan Horse, Cassandra). After the Greeks sack Troy, as punishment for attempting to warn the Trojans, Laocoon and his sons are eaten alive by a sea serpent.

The phrase is heavily used in political language to describe situations where a particular political action is not as benign as it may at first appear. The expression can be used, however, in any situation where appearances are not always what they seem.

"I say beware of Greeks bearing gifts," said Troy. "Your parents pay for dinner only when they have bad news!"

Consider a recent article, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts," from the Heritage Blog about Hilary Clinton. In the article, the expression is used to warn policy makers about a seemingly benign Central and Eastern European endorsement of the United States in regards to foreign policy.

5. Herculean Strength
Hercules is a hero from the Greek panoply, famous for his seven labors. Hercule gave Atlas respite by taking a turn to carry the world atop his shoulders.

To say someone has “herculean strength” means they have strength that far exceeds that of a normal person. (E.g., sometimes seen as “herculean effort”)

Ned's ability to juggle three jobs, raise two twin boys alone, while at the same time serving as the Neighborhood Watch chairperson was considered by many in the community as a herculean effort.

Here is an example from an article about Facebook from Mashable, the social media online guide:
... [the] Social web has become increasingly complex — relating the full implications to a broad audience is a Herculean feat.

6. Mentor
Mentor is the form the ancient Greek goddess Athena takes to counsel the young Telemachus, son of Odysseus. Athena becomes a friendly, man who encourages Telemachus to go find news of his missing father who has been lost at sea after the sack of Troy.
The word mentor has come to mean a professional relationship where a more experienced person gives the necessary skills to a novice. Or it can mean simply an older person who guides a younger one.
In college I had a writing mentor who helped me to write a thesis statement.

The Associated Press uses the word to describe the relationship between the president and his former Harvard professor:

The Rev. Al Sharpton is a "lightning rod" for President Barack Obama on inner city streets, Obama's former Harvard mentor and friend said Saturday at a forum in Harlem.

7. To Have the Midas touch
In legend, King Midas turned everything he touched to gold. In the legend Midas’ wish is granted: his food turns to gold, even his own daughter. Horrified by his new found skill, he rushes to the river to wash his hands of his gift/curse, which is why gold is to be found in river beds! The original legend was meant to illustrate the folly of the rich man and teach a lesson to rich fools.

But, if someone has the Midas touch today, it means they are skilled at becoming rich, or, just seem to be really lucky. A synonym for the Midas touch could be a “lucrative entrepreneur”. The phrase can also mean someone or something which brings luck or success.

It seemed that Mike had the Midas touch: he had a stunning wife, three handsome children, and a 401k that paid steady dividends. The block was green with envy.
A headline reads “Britain's Got Talent Betting: Simon Cowell's Midas Touch.” Betters hope Cowell’s success on American Idol will bleed over to the British counterpart.

8. To Open a Pandora's Box
Poor Pandora lives with her family in a state of preternatural bliss but she opens the box she is explicitly told not to touch (similar to Eve eating of the fruit in the garden in Genesis). When she opens the box, corruption enters the world: death, decay, entropy, murder, war - but Pandora closes the box before everything that is horrible escapes and the one thing that is not stolen by is Hope.

Little did the popular girls at Ridgemont High know, uncovering secrets about the new kid in school was to open a pandora's box that neither of them had been able to anticipate.

We use the expression “Pandora’s box” to express an action, an event, an object, or a person that has been unleashed from its shackles and gotten out of hand.

The Huffington post ran an article about the crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as opening a Pandora’s box.

9. Trojan Horse
In the Aeneid, Virgil recounts how the Greeks were finally able to conquer the Trojans after ten years of brutal fighting. Odysseus, the wily entrepreneur, devises a hollow wooden horse to place Greek soldiers inside of and place it as a “gift” at the walls of Troy. The Trojans. thinking it is a peace offering, take the horse in their gates, celebrate their victory and go to sleep. The Greeks come out of the horse, murder the men and boys and make slaves of the women and children.

To call something a Trojan horse The phrase has been used to describe computer viruses that enter “the back door” of a closed system, veiled as a normal-looking file, but are actually malware hackers use to gain information, delete files, and basically wreak havoc on civilized humankind.

Equipped with walkie talkies, Blake and his buddies decided to inject Lane into the birthday party as their
trojan horse to signal to them when it was time to launch the water balloons en masse.

Federal News Radio reports on malware hackers have lured computer users to download onto their PCs from their iPads:

The link in the message leads to a Trojan horse that injects code into Windows' explorer.exe and opens a backdoor for hackers.

10. To Rise From the Ashes

As this detail from the Aberdeen Bestiary illustrates, the Phoenix is a mythic bird who every one thousand years immolates itself and is then born again from its own ashes. In everyday speech, we use this phrase to indicate a major life change or total makeover in a person's life. One could say Bill Clinton rose from the ashes to become a post-presidential celebrity despite the scandal of Whitewater and Monicagate.

Tip: Don't try this at home, kids.

After thirty years in the working world, Hannah decided to rise from the ashes and return to school to get a nursing degree.

A post on the Consumerist claims that the once defunct electronics chain will rise from the ashes:
Circuit City to Rise from the Ashes!

And another article from a life coach promises readers to learn how to change their lives and start anew:
Et cetera: How To Rise From The Ashes Like A Phoenix

Go to my Teacher's store to buy a ready-to-go educational resource on words and phrases from Greek Mythology.
Note: I will add to this post as I begin to compile more examples.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
Find a supercharged lesson plan on allusions to  Greek myths here 


Augmented Reality in Billboards in the Netherlands

I first saw this technology on aroundme for the iPhone. Now it's on billboards. Woah. Check out the vid and tell us what you think. Thanks, Mashable for the info.

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A Snapshot of the Adolescent Reader Today in 2010

Young people read more across
different types of genre and content 
I asked several young people what they like to read and how often they read different types of content. Their answers may surprise you!

Miller (age 14)
I enjoy reading many different type blogs. I would not say I read them on a regular basis but I read them maybe once a week. The blogs I have read are very wide spread. Whatever I am in the mood for on that particular day, I will go on my iTouch and type it in on google. It can be about food, how to do something, hobbies I like, information blogs, musicians, and pretty much anything I want to know more about.


Passive Aggressive Email from Parent about how Kid is not Going to do Homework because of a Funeral

 Parent to me

date: Apr 14 8:08 PM
        subject: re: online quiz (to be done at home tonight)

When is this due? We are at a funeral and cannot do this right now. Last nights assignment came in after Koumba was already in bed so she didn't even know about it.  I won't be happy if she recieves "F's" for these. Let me know if she can do these tomorrow night. Thanks, 

C. Parent

Director of Consulting
Anysuch Company
Hey, LA


Notes from a High School Teacher-cum-Chaperone: Snazzy Prom

In this amazing blog post, I write about the night I chaperoned the Senior prom - and it wasn't pretty.
How would you feel if you were asked to turn away from your junior/senior prom because the school decided they didn't agree with your facial hair, choice of dress or even, in some cases, your selected partner?
High School prom dances are social experiments. Prom season creates news headlines when the desires of students do not coincide with administrative rules. Prom for me represents a tumultuous time for adolescence. Prom is the end of high school innocence. From the word, promenade, a vestige of the old-style formal walks, prom in America is still a showcase. At this school, a mixed group of middle-class to socially high class, black, mostly white, and a smattering of Asian and Hispanic groups, Prom is a smorgasbord.
I notice boys and girls who label themselves as gay at school are noticeably paired up with the opposite sex at prom night - or in some cases, going stag. A lone freshman looks confident, but out of place tagged with her junior date who keeps grabbing at his shirt collar legs.
One boy, dressed in tux asks me where's the keg? No alcohol, I say. He sniffs my straight cola. Another girl bemoans she's dateless. The seniors vote for the funniest, the friendliest, and the prettiest. One of the song choices is "Thriller." Young people bump and grind. The dean of behavior informs his teacher squad to watch out for indecent behavior.

The principal announces Prom king and queen. No blood à la Carrie. Thank god. No shaking of constitutional rights tonight. The chaperone shift is almost up. I go home to have a drink and read Stephen King.


Poem: Desk #1

Her eyes arch



while clocks

tick tock

as if doors are


for time lost

forgetting time is

a bitch

Desk # 3

She presses herself

firmly in her desk

thin marks of


- Or is it wear? -

marks her face

like a washed statuette

fresh paint

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Found Art: A Kid's Doodle of their Messy Teacher Found in a Notebook

So one of my students drew a picture of me and I found it in their notebook.

Some doodles found in a student's class notebook - can be fun - or, just shows you how much kids notice. They do see you everyday cuz you're always the front and center of the class. Duh.

Software Review: Google Squared

Learn about Google's newest search feature. It's called "Google Squared".

New Search Features from Google, Inc.
     Google has plenty of cool little features that populate its domain.
     The newest one to hit search is Google Squared.

What do you get when you combine a spreadsheet with a search engine?
    What Google has done is to combine spreadsheets with searching.
    Try it out.
    Google searches your query across the web and compiles your results into a spreadsheet replete with categories.
Snapshot of Google Squared results on bars in NOLA
    I tried to search for bars in New Orleans.
It could be helpful if you're creating a travel guide.

  1. How about Academy Awards for Best Picture?
  2. Recipes for grilled shrimp?

It does those queries pretty well.

How does Google Squared Work?
     Google extrapolates data from existing websites. For example, if I search for "Academy Award Best Picture winners" Google takes snippets from websites to create captions with visuals. The description for Best Picture winner comes by default from Wikipedia but I can alter where Google fetches results by choosing an alternative source.
     I can also add or delete fields as well. For my Best Picture square, I can add run times for each film, language, country of origin and other fields.
     Don't expect much for "future dates" or "winning lottery tickets" though.
     The search feature is cool though it's still obviously experimental. It's not so great when I need to modify data. I found it difficult to add new fields that Google had not created by default.
     But, it works well for getting started on a research project. Or for brainstorming quick ideas.
     It also works well when the search engine "understands" your query. Sometimes you create a square, say, best colleges for basketball scholarships, and you end up with a list of basketball players. Not necessarily what you're looking for.
     The great thing about Google Squared, however, is the ability to create a Square and export it as a Google Spreadsheet so you can save your work for later, tweak fields, or add data later to sophisticate your list. Once a Square has been exported, I can share my results, post to a blog, or even create a durable weblink like any other Google Document.

Poem: Desk # 2

He widens his


to answer


like children who lean

into reading circles for


by Greig Roselli


In Memoriam: Mo

I taught a boy named Mo. He was fourteen years old when he died. This post is in his memory.
Mo is a fourteen year old boy.
A young man in our theater troupe died a year ago today. We called him "Mo". But his real is Mohammed Charlot. He was fourteen years old. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This page serves as a memory to him. The photograph was taken before he went on stage as Arthur in our high school production of Sword in the Stone.

Repost: The Shortest Story Ever Told

Never worn. For sale. Baby shoes.

-Ernest Hemingway
PDF Copy for Printing


Don't Tweet on Auto-Pilot

courtesy of Airplane! the movie
Status frenzy pervades. Twitter boasts 6 million registered users. Myspace will surpass 50 million in May. Facebook clocks 200 million users. So think before you tweet. I'm not saying censor what you tweet. I believe in the freedom of expression. But, please, at least make your status expressive and not dull.

For Twitter, 6 million does not sound like much action compared to the legion signed into Facebook. But, before you dismiss the power of Twitter, consider the difference between the two. They are not the same beast. Twitter is a status tool. Only. Facebook is many things. Bloat. Twitter does one thing and it does it well: tells the world what you're doing. Economy.

6 million people typing out what they're doing is pretty powerful, considering most of what people write, even what celebrities write. Type a few words like, "I'm cooking lamb chops for the kids" or more profound, "I am" then click update and everyone on the planet has access to the contents of your mind at that moment. Even the Library of Congress knows the power of status. They have begun to archive every twitter status update into a database designed to perpetually capture web activity for future posterity's sake.

Does that mean Lady Gaga is making history? We really care what she's wearing? Who will we care more about in the future? Will the blazing status of today measure up to the blazing status of tomorrow? So, who cares that in a hundred years, our future citizens will be able to read what you made for dinner?

So, for those of you who tweet on auto-pilot and add nothing new or creative to the online world, listen up. We don't want your "k" and "um" anymore.

It's time to brush up on our status-making skills.

Stuff to remember if you tweet on auto-pilot:
  • Make the mundane interesting. Instead of an "About to eat!" tweet, "The meatballs my mom cooks look like the face of my Biology teacher"!
  • Avoid speling errors. See how BAD my sentence looks? Avoid spelling errors. There. Much better,
  • Do not tweet by compulsion. In other words, only tweet when the feeling or need arises. It's a moment of, "Oh, let me tweet that!" not "Should I tweet that?"
  • Remember everyone probably has tweeted the most fascinating and provocative news bits from the web. So when you retweet, add your two cents to the headline. Retweet: Read this article, it's smexy! http://tinyurl.com/2w7s4sr
  •  Use tinyurl. Really. It's so much better than long-ass URLs. And you can use the less character usage to your advantage.
  • Make conscientious, well-thought-out responses to other people's posts. Don't be rude. Be kind. Mean people suck.
  • If you don't want what you say traced back to you, don't say it.
  • Don't tweet just an emoticon. :-)
  • Link your facebook to your twitter to share the love.
  • Link your website or blog to your twitter using feedburner to share what you've been creating to a larger audience.


Haiku in Honor of National Poetry Month

Oak Trees line a street in New Orleans.
Trees staring upward
Like tops spinning in circles
Empties our love out


Photograph & Rant: "Sharpen Your Mind!"

In this post, I supply a photograph I took of a battered pencil sharpener along with a short quip on a sharpener's importance in a teacher's classroom.
An orange beat-up pencil sharpener is affixed to a wall.
An orange, beat-up pencil sharpener is affixed to a wall.
Even in the age of computers, it is still nice to know pencil sharpeners have a use. Any classroom teacher will tell you that one of the more valuable objects in their possession is the pencil sharpener — many are affixed to the wall so no one will take it away.
image credit: Greig Roselli © 2010


How to open multiple webpages in tabs on startup in Firefox (3.6.3) on a Mac

If you want more than one homepage to load when you start Firefox, say your favorite news sites, for example, then this little tip may be useful so you don't have to manually load the pages every single time.
  1. Go to Preferences on Mozilla Firefox

2. Select the “General” pane in the taskbar.  In the location (s) field you probably already have your default home page.

 3.  In the homepage field type in your desired web pages separated by the | key.
4. Voila. You're done. Now when you open Firefox all your favorite web pages will open in tabs.

* Caveat: If you are not sure you want tabs to open with the same web pages EVERY time you start up Firefox, and you want more control over your morning routine, then click here to learn how to create a bookmark to open in tabs.

How to set up a bookmark folder in Firefox (3.6.3) to open your favorite sites in tabs on a Mac

In a previous post, I demonstrated how to open multiple web pages in Firefox in tabs on startup, but if you're like me, sometimes it is just annoying to have your new sites pop up every time you open up an application, so this trick may serve people better who may only want pages to open in the morning and a certain set of pages to open in the evening. Or set up pages to open for a specific task, like research a paper, for example.


Photo: A Portrait by Casey

A photograph of Greig Roselli when he was about ten years old.
A family member took this photo of me when I was younger (c. the 1990s). Maybe I was ten years old? I still have the photograph. So here is a copy of it (after it went through the scanner).


Lesson Plan: Using the Apple 1984 Superbowl Commercial in the Classroom

The commercial is a fun clip to use in the classroom.
10 Iconic Super Bowl Commercial Stars: Where Are They Now?
Time allowance: 45 minutes
Teach students how to articulate abstract ideas.
Demonstrate brainstorming techniques
Analyzing multimedia using literary terms
Incorporating quotations into student writing

Note: this is a useful lesson as an introduction or a wrap-up to classes devoted to dystopian literature, like 1984, Brave New World, or The Giver or for teaching Thoreau's Walden, or any film or text focused on the tension between individual will versus societal hegemony.

Start the class off with a quick free write. Have the students write about the following prompt:

What is the difference between being in a group versus being alone?

After the students have had a few minutes to write, ask the class to brainstorm what is the difference between an individual and a group. Whip around the room and share ideas on interactive whiteboard or on class chart board. You can use the example I use to start a class discussion. If I walk into a classroom with a classroom of students dressed in uniform, how do I tell each student apart? What gives us away as individuals when we are in a crowd.

Beware. The discussion will begin to take a life of its own and you as the teacher will have to allow every student to talk. Community expression and individuality is an important topic among teenagers so be ready for some interesting comments from your students.
An Astronaut Frequents an Apple Store

After you have allowed the students to express their thoughts out loud, use the board to generate a chart of the advantages and disadvantages of community living and do the same for individuality. You might want to include a definition of both terms, which you can add to the board. Or, you can have the class come up with a working definition of both concepts.

After you have compiled the list, explain to the class, that many novels and films deal with the tension between community and individual and as a class explain to them that they will begin to analyze some important scenes from literature and film.

At this point, if you want, you can have the students quickly popcorn a list of films and books that possibly illustrate the theme a tension between the two.

Ask the students if they know what apocalyptic literature is or if they know what dystopian literature is. Read a definition from a literary dictionary or other reliable source and explain to the class that there is a genre of literature that deals with the fall of society, the community, and how this affects individuals.

1984 Apple Commercial
Use 1984 as an example. If you want, you can briefly explain the plot, which can be found here. Make sure the students know it is a novel by George Orwell and it is famous for introducing the phrase, "Big Brother is watching." Ask the students if they have ever seen the television show and ask them why they think the show is called by this name.

Explain the background of the 1984 commercial which can be found here. Have the students watch the clip several times, telling them to jot in their notebooks in list form everything they notice about the film: color, sound, tone, mood, dialogue, etc.

Apple Computer, INC produced an ad spot for the 1984 Superbowl to sell its new product, the Macintosh desktop computer. The computer would eventually inspire a long line of desktop computers boasting an easy-to-use GUI (graphic user interface) and the first computer to introduce friendly smiling icons and folders.

The commercial is a visual allusion to George Orwell's classic dystopic novel 1984. The short clip features a Big Brother figure imploring dull, grayed-out workers (played by skinheads) to stick to the status quo. It is hard to follow what he says, but he says something about a "garden of pure ideology" and something about being safe from the pests. It is obvious the drones are like IBM computers. The running gag line is PCs are conformists and Macs are individualists. Midway through the commercial, the Mac pest shows up, though, amidst the sound of an alarm, and a team of SWAT men chases her down really cool sci-fi corridors. She wields a hammer which she swings into the screen. The screen explodes and the commercial ends with the words: "On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."
More on Wikipedia

Pass out a handout of at least twenty quotes

You can use the following quotes if you wish, or you can research your own quotes about community.

Students in a group of three or four discuss each quote and relate its meaning to the concept of individual and community.
For each quote, students discuss, "Who wrote the quote? How does the thought express individuality or community? What quote(s) resonates with your generation?

Extension Activity: 
Have students write a creative piece on an advertisement that can be used to demonstrate the similarities and differences between abstract ideas. Or, they can write an essay on the 1984 commercial incorporating the quotations.