From Greek mythology, do you remember how Hercules eventually died? He had killed a centaur named Nessus, and later on, Nessus's poisonous blood ended up on a robe that Hercules wore. And that was the end of him.
So, "a Nessus shirt," "a Nessus robe," or "the shirt of Nessus" is anything that seems normal at first but actually has the power to destroy you.
Part of speech:
(Countable nouns, like “bottle,” “piece,” and “decision,” are words for things that can be broken into exact units. You talk about “a bottle,” “three pieces,” and “many decisions.”
Likewise, you could talk about one Nessus or multiple Nessuses, but instead we usually use a phrase like "the shirt of Nessus.")
It’s also a proper noun, so you always capitalize the N.
How to use it:
Like with other terms from mythology, this one has a literary and formal tone.
Generally we stick to phrases like "a Nessus shirt," "a Nessus robe," "the shirt of Nessus," "a Nessus-robe," etc.
You can say that something is a Nessus shirt or becomes/changes into a Nessus shirt.
Or, say that the shirt of Nessus is on you, or that you're wearing the robe of Nessus, and so on.
Or, say that something is as bad as (or worse than) the shirt of Nessus.
What kind of things might you call a Nessus-robe? (Or a shirt of Nessus, etc.?) Usually figurative things: regret, remorse, jealousy; class warfare, racism, competition; the desire for more and more material things. Anything that envelops you and then destroys you can be called a shirt of Nessus.
The habit of excessive record-keeping gradually turned into a shirt of Nessus--I was spending more time writing things down than actually getting things done, and it was ruining my productivity.
For all the furious squirming my little girl does, you'd think I was trying to put her in the robe of Nessus instead of a dress and leggings.
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "Nessus" means when you can explain it without saying "poisoned robe" or "thing that destroys you."
Think of a habit, a feeling, or a desire that really messed things up for you, and fill in the blanks: "Because _____, I realize that (habit, feeling, or desire) was a robe of Nessus."
Example: "Because it wasted so much time for no good reason, I realize that spending an hour on my hair every morning before school just so it could look 'right' was a robe of Nessus."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
This month, we're sampling questions from Orijinz, an awesome series of games about the origins of words, phrases, and quotes. Click here if you want to check them out. Try a question here each day this month, and see the right answer the next day. Have fun!
"Guess the phrase!
Origin: After falling under the auspices of a governing body, rules developed for different styles of wrestling, allowing certain types of maneuvers while banning others. This phrase was used to characterize the original type of wrestling matches where there were no rule restrictions and the match was free form.
Definition: No restrictions or rules."
"The phrase is: No holds barred."
Try this last question today:
Guess the comedian!
“I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out.”
“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous, everyone hasn’t met me yet.”
“I had no friends. I remember the seesaw. I had to keep running from one end to the other.”
“With my old man I got no respect. I asked him, ‘How can I get my kite in the air?’ He told me to run off a cliff.”
A Point Well Made:
Korean proverb: "Even if you know the way, ask one more time."
1. The opposite of NESSUS-ROBE is
A. FORCE OF NATURE
B. SOURCE OF IMPROVEMENT
C. THE EARLY BIRD
2. Her desire to _____ became a robe of Nessus that _____ her.
A. remain neutral .. protected
B. win at all costs .. consumed
C. change careers .. advanced
Answers are below.
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Make Your Point is crafted with love and brought to you each day for free by Mrs. Liesl Johnson, M.Ed., a word lover, learning enthusiast, and private tutor of reading and writing in the verdant little town of Hilo, Hawaii. For writing tips, online learning, essay guidance, and more, please visit www.HiloTutor.com.
Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
Today we're checking out a dramatic term from Greek mythology. Another we've looked at is "D________," which describes scary situations in which terrible harm or disaster is about to happen. Could you recall this one? Like today's, it's always capitalized.
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